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Business Buzzwords and Corporate Lingo You Must Eliminate (and What to Say Instead)

Published on: June 2, 2022

woman pointing to a whiteboard and talking while a group of people stand behind her and listen

Are you bringing something new to the table at your next business meeting? Do you want to encourage your team to give 110% on your upcoming project? Maybe you are excited about embracing the new normal with virtual offices and telecommuting. What do all these questions have in common? They all use common business buzzwords and corporate lingo to ask a question.

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What Are Business Buzzwords, Lingo and Jargon?

Business buzzwordscorporate lingo and workplace jargon are those words and phrases that have relatively little meaning outside of the work environment but get used far too often within it. These are words and phrases that creep into the corporate vernacular yet don't have much substance. In fact, unless they are used properly, these words and phrases can actually limit the meaningfulness of your conversation and make it harder for you to get a point across. If you find yourself guilty of falling into the jargon trap, here’s a closer look at when it is and is not appropriate to do so, and a list of words that you should consider limiting in your workplace conversations.

Origins of Corporate Lingo

Corporate lingo changes, but it’s not really a new phenomenon. In 1994, Scott Adams featured the idea of corporate lingo in his Dilbert comic strip when Dilbert and his coworkers were given a “buzzword bingo” card to play during a meeting.

Corporate lingo and buzzwords have developed naturally as part of the evolution of the English language in the workplace. As workers found themselves using words repeatedly, they became part of the jargon of the workplace. New words weave their way into the conversation as the business world develops, and soon they become lingo.

Unfortunately, once they become lingo, many words and phrases also get overused. Overuse makes these words hurt your communication, even if you are using them properly. Yet not all lingo is bad, so you must learn to communicate in a way that people will understand and embrace.

Benefits of Business Abbreviations

There are times when business lingo has its place. For instance, abbreviations for technical or legal jargon can help streamline conversations and written documentation. It can help create a sense of connection and community in the workplace because everyone knows what the other is talking about when using corporate jargon.

Some examples of corporate jargon in the form of abbreviations that makes sense include:

  • B2B (business-to-business)
  • B2C (business-to-consumer)
  • CTA (call to action)
  • CEO (chief executive officer)
  • SOL (statute of limitations)
  • USC (United States Code)

These are just some examples of abbreviations that work well.

In addition, some jargon is considered socially acceptable. According to a poll by My Perfect Resume, the following phrases do not irritate listeners or readers quite as much as others:

  • On the same page
  • Scalable
  • Leverage
  • Deep dive
  • Robust

Though these are considered jargon, you can use them sparingly without creating communication problems.

Problems With Business Abbreviations & Jargon

Unfortunately, business lingo is often overused, and when that happens it loses its meaning and impact. For example, the phrase “leading edge” once evoked the idea of a truly innovative idea, but today it is simply a buzzword that has little meaning. People gloss over it as simply corporate marketing speak, and it has therefore lost its meaning.

Business abbreviations and jargon can cause businesspeople to become lazy in their communication. It can also allow the conversation to become exaggerated. If something is leading-edge, it should be at the cusp of innovation, yet this term is often applied to areas that are not that innovative.

Jargon can also create communication with less transparency and depth. Lazy communicators do not get their meaning across. In some instances, it can feel irritating and condescending. Thus, overused business jargon should be avoided unless the word or phrase really fits the situation.

Most Overused and Annoying Business Buzzwords

So, which buzzwords should be on their way out? In general, if you can say something without a buzzword, that is always a better option, but these are some that you really should try to avoid at all costs:

  1. Synergy Synergy is a combined value of two or more things that creates a greater result than the two individual parts on their own. This overused word has little meaning and is often used inaccurately. Often, collaboration does not necessarily create synergy, even if it is the best way to tackle a problem. Better words might be teamwork, collaboration and cooperation.
  2. I’ll ping you “Ping” is a jargon word that means to contact via phone or computer. To ping someone means to contact them via an online messaging platform with a short message. The word comes from the acronym PING, which is an IT term that means to check the status of another computer or server. Instead of saying you will “ping” someone, let them know how you plan to contact them so they can look for your communication on the right platform.
  3. Give 110% - When managers are trying to get more out of their people will often ask for 110%. This implies that the people can give more than their all. While it might feel inspiring to say this, it comes across as condescending. Instead, simply ask your people to give their best effort and work hard to a solution that benefits the entire team.
  4. New normal The “new normal” is a newer buzzword that came as a result of the pandemic. When virtual work became the standard, getting used to the “new normal” snuck into the conversation, too. An alternative to this really doesn’t exist yet, so simply drop it altogether.
  5. Grab the low-hanging fruit The low-hanging fruit is an agricultural term that means something easy to harvest. In the business world, this phrase refers to tasks that are easy to accomplish. It feels condescending, particularly for those who are asked to handle those challenges. Drop it altogether, and simply assign tasks as they are appropriate for your team to handle.
  6. Think outside the box Think outside the box is a cliché that most people understand, but it is still quite overused. While your meaning may be clear, the reality is you can find a different, less overused way to say this. You can simply say “think creatively” to get the same meaning across without being guilty of a cliché.
  7. Circle back To circle back means to come back to a discussion and revisit a topic after having further discussion on it. While this is a valuable tactic to use in business, the term is used too often. Instead, simply say you are going to revisit the topic and move on, coming back to it when you are ready.
  8. Win-win A win-win situation is one that benefits both parties in a negotiation. This popular phrase has been used so often that it has lost some of its impact. It also sounds a little like you are trying to make a sale rather than negotiate an important business deal. You could say, instead, that you are working toward a mutually beneficial resolution.
  9. Reinvent the wheel To reinvent the wheel means to create a new way to do something for which you already have a process. While this can sometimes be valuable if your process is not efficient, most of the time if you are doing something that works, there’s no need to revisit the situation. The reason this bit of jargon is frustrating to listeners is the fact that it is overused.
  10. Take it to the next level To take something to the “next level” means to improve on something that’s already working well. This isn’t ideal in the corporate world because it has little true meaning or measurement. Instead, you can simply say “make this work even better” or something more direct.
  11. Bring to the table This phrase comes from the world of negotiations, which often happen over the table. It implies that a party is bringing something new to the negotiation. However, it is too cliché. Instead, you can simply say that someone is bringing a new idea to the discussion.
  12. Company culture Company culture refers to the culture created within a corporation as the different members of the organization interact with one another. People are tired of this word because it gets thrown into conversation often without providing true direction or helping to create a positive company culture.
  13. Boots on the ground This phrase typically refers to people who are actively working in the field with customers and clients, but it comes from the military world. Your company is not like the military. Find another way to refer to your workers as respected employees rather than inferring they are order-takers.
  14. Blue sky thinking This phrase refers to a type of brainstorming where ideas do not have to come from reality. While that might help spark the creativity in your team members, the phrase is ambiguous and hard for people to understand. Find another way to refer to this type of brainstorming.
  15. Touch base To “touch base” with someone means to connect briefly to go over something related to work. This phrase makes it on the list because it is overused. Simply say something like “briefly discuss” to avoid falling victim to jargon here.

Tips for Improving Your Communication at Work

In most instances, avoiding business jargon is the best strategy. To communicate well in the workplace, you need to be straightforward and clear in your communication. Using buzzwords does not help with this.

Good communication at work goes beyond eliminating business jargon, though. You also need to improve your communication skills in general, and this starts with improving your listening skills. Learn to listen actively and appreciate varying communication styles within the workplace.

Whenever possible, aim for face-to-face communication. This helps you better appreciate both verbal and nonverbal communication, so you get the entire gist of what is said.

Keep business conversations to the point. Everyone at work has a job to do. Make sure that the people around you have the information they need to do their job well, but avoid the temptation to trap them in lengthy conversations full of jargon that prevents them from doing their jobs.

In all your workplace communication, stay professional. You do not want to be too casual, as this can hurt your overall image in the workplace. Stay friendly, but professional at the same time.

Finally, make sure your words are clear. Lack of clarity is often the biggest reason jargon and buzzwords need to be cut from your conversation. These words often muddy your meaning, so dropping them in favor of words that have more clarity will improve your overall conversation and communication success.

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