Stop synergizing. Please don’t circle back. Step out of the new normal. And, for goodness sake, keep your bandwidth to yourself!
Those business buzzwords are some of the worst. And when you – or your boss or employees – lean on them too much, you can sound stupid.
Here’s the problem: Many people in the workplace find buzzwords meaningless, confusing, annoying or overwhelming.
Love-hate relationship with buzzwords
How overwhelming? Two-thirds of employees hear buzzwords and corporate jargon often or way too much in a workday, according to a survey from TrustRadius. But we do have a love-hate relationship with buzzwords. More than 70% of people use them intentionally at work, a Preply study found.
“By their very definition, buzzwords are words that spread – wildly and out of control – throughout our social networks. They start to mean everything, and therefore mean nothing,” says Tessa West, author of Jerks at Work: Toxic Coworkers and What to Do About Them. “The more popular they become, the farther they stray from their original meaning, like a game of telephone.”
So let’s look at the worst buzzwords, why each doesn’t work and some alternatives to the business jargon.
How: “Let’s circle back on this some time next week.”
Why: You realize that circling back is the most indirect way of getting anywhere?! It creates a never-ending cycle of checking in.
Better: Schedule a place, time and objective for the next meeting.
How: “We experience a lot of Quiet Quitting this year.” “I feel like my boss is Quiet Firing me.”
Why: “Quiet Quitting, Quite Firing, Quietly Slamming your boss on Slack instead of having an adult conversation – these trends promote passive aggressive behavior at work, and no one wins,” says West. “Not the person being ‘quiet,’ and not the person on the receiving end of their so-called quiet behavior.”
We doubt West is the only one sick of quiet everything this year.
Better: Let’s just leave this trend – and its buzzword – behind going forward. Let’s get back to healthy relationships with colleagues, bosses and employees.
How: “It’s a win-win for the client and us.”
Why: Unless you’re playing in a 3-year-old T-ball game, there is no win-win (and who are we kidding – you know parents keeps score at those games). This buzzword has been around so long, it’s a wonder people still use it.
Better: Acknowledge that what’s happened is a positive, without declaring victory. Try, “This works out for everybody (or everything).”
How: “Carley doesn’t have the bandwidth to handle the project this quarter.”
Why: It seems that when people don’t want to admit they don’t have enough time or knowledge to do something, they blame bandwidth.
Better: It’s best to be direct and admit that or ask for the resources that will accomplish the goal.
How: “He’s a good culture fit.” “The company culture has shifted.” “We’re in the midst of a culture build.”
Why: People voted this an annoying buzzword in the Preply survey because it’s overused to describe too much. While culture is important, you don’t want to shove it down employees’ throats.
Better: You can’t avoid the word entirely. Try to curb it by referring to specific goals, missions and values, rather a general culture.
How: “Your review is on my radar.” “I’m trying to fly below the boss’ radar.”
Why: Generally, when the word “radar” is used, it’s in a way that someone is trying to avoid something. “On my radar” says it’s not a priority. “Staying off” or “flying below” the radar suggests someone isn’t doing what he’s supposed to or she knows she’s in trouble.
Better: Let’s set priorities, make plans and hit goals instead of letting things float around or off a radar.
Bring to the table
How: “Daphne brings a lot to the table.”
Why: This phrase is guilty of underplaying someone’s abilities and talents. Although, it’s overused now, it’s a classic (much like these that fill an entire skit).
Better: List the actual talents or abilities someone has and how they’ll impact the job, project, company or whatever the proverbial “table” is.
How: “My work nemesis has been gaslighting me for years.”
Why: OK, there’s a reason gaslighting was Merrian-Webster’s word of the year. People were using it. A lot. Too much, maybe.
“Gaslighting, – another buzzword I’m ready to kill despite having a chapter in my book on it – used to mean something specific. That’s a person who lies with the intent of creating an alternative reality,” says West. “Now it just means ‘anyone who is mean to me at work’ or ‘anyone who tells me things I don’t like.’ Both are wrong.”
Better: As a leader, you want to take every complaint about disrespectful or mean behavior seriously, as they could be harassment allegations. But, be aware the term gaslighting – and abuse of it – is trendy now.
Bring your whole self …
How: “We want employees to bring their whole selves to work.”
Why: Now, to be certain, the idea behind this buzzword is important: Employees of an underrepresented or marginalized group should feel comfortable and embraced in their workplace. However, the phrase has also given people a license to bring unnecessary drama and conflict to the workplace.
Better: Perhaps, we can focus on encouraging employees to bring their best – personality, professionalism and efforts – to the workplace.
How: “The synergy between sales and marketing made this deal happen.”
Why: This is one of those terms that incomprehensibly keeps its energy. It’s simply overplayed.
“Synergy” is one of the business world’s most commonly-used buzzwords — so much so that the term has nearly lost all impact. While “synergy” is a useful word to describe the successful interaction between two or more entities, naming the actual positive result of that interaction is even more valuable.
Better: While you don’t want to overlook the successful interaction between people or groups, try to focus more on the positive result that interaction caused.
How: “Well, hybrid work is our new normal.”
Why: We arrived at the new normal a while ago. It might evolve – like any other workplace norms over the past hundred years – but it’s not new anymore.
Better: Now that we’re getting comfortable with what’s normal, get your team to focus on workplace best practices and sharing them with each other.