Watch Your Words

Business buzzwords often shroud the truth.

People value the truth. And when bad news comes their way, they’d prefer it be presented as plainly as possible. Yet the business world has embraced just the opposite, making use of a vocabulary that seems to exist only in corporate settings. Sometimes, polished phrases stand in for the clearer, simpler, yet hard-to-say truth. The facts come out in in ways that are, shall we say, “optimized” in less than ideal fashion.

We had a training meeting recently, a big group conference call to show everyone some new tech we’re testing out. Simple enough, right? So it was with a sense of bemusement that I accepted an invitation for “onboarding” earlier this week.

I’m not new to the bad business buzzword rodeo. I’ve touched base and reached out, found opportunities where weaknesses existed, etc. What I didn’t realize was how ubiquitous such terms have become – and how tired people are of them. I posted a quick question on Facebook: “What’s your least favorite business buzzword?”

I woke up the next morning with dozens of comments. People I haven’t heard from in years, old friends from high school, folks I’ve lost touch with since college; everyone had a say. It made me realize how many of these phrases I’m guilty of using, how easy it is for them to slip into everyday language. In truth, they are phrases invented to euphemize the unpleasant, which most of us do at times.

So, how many of these are you guilty of using?

Incentivize – money offered for work

Action item – assigned responsibility

Ask – as a noun, a request

Leverage - make use of

Downsizing – firing

Circle back – return to

On the same page – in agreement with

Lean in – act assertively

(And so many more!)

I bet I rarely get through a day without using one of these, in fact, and my primary job is communicating with people. I’m particularly guilty of “opportunity;” I like its optimistic take.

To some, clear wording really matters. The International Plain Language Federation (yep, it exists) describes its mission as prose, the “wording, structure, and design [of which] are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.”

Euphemisms have their place. But the sign industry is one that has always benefitted from a straight-shooting approach. I asked a friend today to take a look at my list of 25 most hated business terms and send his seven least favorite: “Opportunity. Opportunity. Opportunity. Opportunity. Opportunity. Opportunity. Opportunity.” Whoops. (If you have most-hated business phrases to add to this list, drop me a line!)

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