Communication skills

Help! I’m bogged down by corporate buzzwords!

- June 4, 2010 3 MIN READ

I can’t stand corporate buzzwords, jargon, clichés, corporate-speak or other forms of gobbledegook. They drive me spare.

They make me want to thrash open the window and shout out to the streets: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” – just like Peter Finch’s character in the movie Network.

You know what I’m referring to. Corporate buzzwords and phrases like:

  • Going forward
  • Who can speak to this?
  • Synergy
  • Core values
  • Key success factors
  • Thought leader

The list is endless and new corporate buzzwords and trendy terms seem to be added every day. The latest buzzword du jour is ‘space’. As in, ‘Our company operates in the XYZ space’. I read a corporate capability document not long ago that informed its poor readers that the company was ‘at the intersection of two expanding spaces’. Aaaagh!

You’ll see numerous examples of this type of language in annual reports, prospectuses, media releases, job ads, corporate mission statements, and web pages.

But it’s not just in the corporate world that we hear this rubbish. It’s all over the place.

Sporting clubs no longer just play footy or cricket or whatever; nowadays they put out a product, build a brand and have a mission. Their players are described as ‘assets’ (some ‘core’, others ‘non-core’) and when the assets misbehave, they are deemed to have rejected ‘core values’ and may then face an ‘involuntary career move’.

At the start of each season, players don’t just slog up and down sand dunes and lift weights, they sit down and establish ‘goals’ and ‘success factors’, and get together to workshop the team’s ‘core strategies’. When the season finally draws to a close, the assets are judged on their key performance indicators. How scary is that? Nothing strikes greater fear into a 110-kilo prop than to be faced with a set of damning KPIs.

Recently I heard cricket captain, Ricky Ponting, say that his team’s good performance ‘has stood us in good stead going forward’. To my battered ears, ‘going forward’ would have to be the most conspicuous example of a buzzword that has become ingrained to the point where people use it without thinking.

Want more articles like this? Check out the  communication skills section.

You’ll hear the phrase ‘going forward’ used at least three times a night by the smart young people giving the financial summaries on the evening news on behalf of their big bank employers. Bankers love ‘going forward’, and to my mind it vies with ‘at the end of the day’ as the granddaddy of all buzzwords.

I know I’m probably as guilty as anyone, but why do we do it? Do we use corporate buzzwords because we think it makes us sound smarter? Do we feel it’s necessary in order to make us sound more managerial? Do we use it to shroud our jobs in mystique or make ourselves appear more knowledgeable to our clients?

Why do we feel the need to invent terms? For instance, why does the prime minister use nonsense phrases like ‘programmatic specificity’ when no one has the foggiest what he’s going on about? Does he even know himself?

In his book, Death Sentence, The Decay of Public Language, Don Watson refers to the language used today as ‘debased, depleted sludge… that makes no sense to outsiders, and confounds even those who use it’. I couldn’t agree more.

My advice is to simply stop talking in gobbledegook. It doesn’t make you sound smarter; it just makes you sound like a robot or a parrot. If you must use corporate buzzwords, at least confine them to your spoken words and never use it in your published documents.

To deliver a message, the best approach is to write in plain English. Write with your target audience in mind and use words and expressions that are straightforward and commonplace. If you need some help getting started, these tips for avoiding business jargon are worth checking out.

I long to read business-related writing that doesn’t involve interpreting this impenetrable nonsense.

At the end of the day and going forward, I simply seek clarity.

Can you speak to this? Be a thought leader and be the first to add your comments below. You’ll be re-engaging with other members of the Flying Solo community at the emerging interface of an expanding space. Or something like that.

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"