According to research, 86% of employees have used jargon, but 36% had no idea what the phrases meant.
And more than half of the employees encounter buzzwords in a typical workday.
This means that over one-third of employees don’t understand daily workplace communication, which isn’t good for business.
So, let’s change that.
In this article, I’ll identify workplace jargon that may be holding you and your business back and how you can change the communication culture.
How Common Are Business Jargons?
Think back to a recent meeting with your team, a company-wide presentation given by the business leaders to discuss corporate values, or even an email from your boss.
Did words like bandwidth, circle back, and critical takeaways punctuate the dialogue? Was there synergy in the room, guided by a thought leader who asked your team to pivot to meet next quarter’s goals using their core competencies? Were there topics to put a pin in, action items to gain traction on, or was everything buttoned up? Did you come away feeling empowered and engaged or highly confused?
If it is the latter, you are not alone. Euphemisms, buzzwords, and vague phrases are rampant in corporate culture and, frankly, really annoying. That’s why they’re such easy fodder for late-night talk show hosts.
Business jargon phrases plague nearly every industry, creating confusion for employees and reducing productivity because people don’t have a clear direction. A recent poll by myPerfectresume reported that 86% of employees in the United States said they’d used buzzwords even though 33% didn’t even know what the phrases meant.
So, what is business jargon, why is it so prevalent, bad for business, and how can it be eliminated? Read on.
What is Jargon?
Jargon is the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. In simple terms, jargon includes unfamiliar terms or phrases, acronyms or abbreviations, and made-up words—basically, jibberish.
On the other hand, slang is the informal use of words and expressions, primarily in social settings, where the common understanding is different from the dictionary definition. For example, suppose something is “dope.” In that case, it’s cool and awesome. The GOAT is the “greatest of all time,” not the barnyard animal, and fire is wonderful.
You’re probably not going to hear those that often at work. However, you might have a BHAG meeting where your boss asks you to finish the report by EOD.
*BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goal, is a term Jim Collins described in his best-selling business book, Built to Last, and EOD is the end of the day.
These terms may be quick and easy for those familiar with them. Still, they lack the professional tone required in most environments.
When Is It Appropriate To Use Jargon?
Jargon can be a necessary and efficient way to communicate information, particularly in industries where specific, technical terms are meaningful and necessary. Medical providers and public safety organizations must convey information quickly and accurately. We want dispatchers to use their shorthand codes to get an ambulance to the scene of an incident as soon as possible because lives are at stake.
Similarly, lawyers require precise language because of the legal implications of the words. For example, being actionable in a legal environment means there are enough facts or circumstances to meet the legal requirements to file a legitimate lawsuit. At the same time, actionable in corporate situations may imply that there is enough information to move forward.
These are industry sectors in which a particular vocabulary is part of the training. However, in most corporate environments, employees aren’t required or even trained with specific terms necessary to perform their jobs. And this is where jargon comes in. It creates needless confusion and even harms the employee and the business.
So why do we keep using it?
It’s a Cultural Thing
Remember when you wanted to use the right lingo and wear the correct clothing labels in junior high? That clothing was a ticket into the group of cool kids and was an endorsement that you were okay. Jargon is just a leveled-up adult version of junior high where everyone wants to be accepted as part of the workplace team.
Throwing around corporate buzzwords can help employees feel like they fit into the office culture. They want to be like their colleagues, particularly those in leadership when talking about the big picture, pushing the envelope, and moving the needle. They feel accepted and included, and by mimicking others, they show that they are part of the team.
Not only that, but insecure employees may also hope to gain standing or approval within the company by inserting buzzwords to sound more intelligent. They put on the corporate language, like they would an expensive suit or piece of jewelry, to impress others. It often backfires, and they come across as arrogant and pompous.
And research shows that jargon signals a lower-level status because it is used by those trying to appear higher. But those with higher professional standing are more likely to be confident and communicate clearly because they are less attached to how others perceive them.
So using jargon is a losing strategy for success.
Is Jargon Bad For Business?
This confusion, unnecessary or unclear lingo, hurts companies on several levels—both for the individual employees and the business.
First, decoding corporate gibberish is taxing for those who struggle to understand the information. These individuals tend to question their value in the company and why they cannot understand the terminology. They cannot do their job if they cannot understand the question. They are less productive, and time and resources are wasted simply because the communication is unclear.
Additionally, jargon isn’t inclusive. It separates those who understand and use it from those that don’t. It further alienates individuals from different cultures and backgrounds who speak other languages, which is not an effective strategy for a dynamic, diverse, and equitable workplace.
It can also create a negative work environment with lower performance and employee satisfaction. It can also result in poor morale and employee turnover. And the last thing business leaders want is to lose employees simply because the workplace lingo is unclear.
At its worst, corporate speech can mislead people and have legal consequences. Take, for example, this paragraph:
“We have robust networks of strategic assets that we own or have contractual access to, which give us greater flexibility and speed to deliver widespread logistical solutions reliably. We have metamorphosed from an asset-based pipeline and power generating company to a marketing and logistic company whose biggest assets are its well-established business approach and innovative people.”
That sounds like a lot of gobbledygook, right?
And it was. It was part of the final letter ENRON CEO Jeff Skilling sent to its shareholders reassuring them the company was in good shape—right before it went bankrupt, leaving a legacy of fraud and corruption.
The lesson there–stay out of trouble by minimizing business jargon in the workplace.
Most Common Business Jargon
Let’s look at some of the more common business jargon phrases. They’re easy to overlook because they’ve become so ingrained in our workplace culture that we don’t even recognize them. Consider these 40 frequently used jargon examples and look at the suggested replacements.
- Bandwidth – Capacity
- Bleeding edge – New or innovative feature
- Blue sky thinking – Brainstorm without limits
- Boil the ocean – Trying to accomplish too much
- Circle back – Revisit
- Deep dive – Examine
- Due Diligence – Research
- Empower – Give authority or agency
- First and foremost – Use one word or the other (it’s repetitive)
- Fully baked – Completely thought through
- Gain traction – Move toward the desired goal
- Game changer – New event, idea, process
- Get our ducks in a row – Have everything completed
- Giving 110% – Do your best work
- Heavy lifting – Difficult duty or task
- I’ll ping you – I’ll follow up
- Irregardless – It’s not even a word
- Leverage – Use
- Lipstick on a pig – Make this situation look better
- Lots of moving parts – Complex situation with changing details
- Low-hanging fruit – Let’s start with the easy tasks first
- Magic bullet – Solution to a complex problem
- Mission-critical – Unless you work at NASA
- Move the needle – Make progress
- New normal – New conditions, environment, expectation
- Open the kimono – Share information
- Paradigm shift – Think about this differently
- Parking lot issue – Items to discuss later
- Pivot – Change directions
- Pull the trigger – Take action
- Put a pin in it – Save it for later
- Raise the bar – Improve
- Reinvent the wheel – Change the process
- Run it up the flagpole – Ask management or leadership
- Strategic partnership – Simply use the partnership, as all partnerships should be strategic.
- Synergy – Collaboration
- Thinking outside the box – New idea or thought
- Thought leader – Expert or authority
- Top of mind – Most important idea or thought
- Win-win – Good for both parties
How To Eliminate Jargons In A Conversation?
Now that you know the jargon, you can eliminate the phrases from your conversation and writing for more effective communication.
Do a self-assessment
Take a look at one of your recent emails or presentations. How clear is your communication? Are you using lots of jargon, or is it straightforward to comprehend? Can you find one word that can replace several? If you handed this email to a new colleague of the company, would they be able to understand it?
Know your audience
In some situations, using acronyms to convey information quickly and directly is acceptable. But be sure your communication is appropriate for your audience and not unnecessarily vague or difficult for the recipient.
Establish a jargon-free culture
Your words matter as an individual and business leader, and you can establish a new tone for yourself and your company. Encourage a workplace where it’s acceptable to ask for clarification if something is unclear and where jargon is discouraged.
Lead by example
Write a note to your team, sharing your awareness of your use of jargon and your desire to prioritize clear communication. Ask colleagues to keep you accountable in a lighthearted way. One approach could be to agree to pay a penalty every time someone uses jargon, and the funds would go toward a coffee break or happy hour. Either way, your vulnerability will encourage others to consider editing jargon out of their communications.
Make it fun
Establish a space where colleagues can share the most frequently used and hated jargon on a collaborative whiteboard, in a document in the cloud, or with sticky notes on a wall in the break room. Come up with a way to celebrate the jargon-free writers at your next company-wide meeting to encourage a lingo-free culture.
Make it clear
Some companies have even created jargon reference guides to promote clarity using lighthearted examples. It’s a way to engage multiple people and change the environment.
For example, Asana’s jargon reference guide says, “Does anyone have the bandwidth for this?” which means, “Does anyone have time or resources to work on this?” But what it really means is: “Don’t leave me hanging here, guys.”
Can you think of similar examples in your workplace?
Make it happen
Now that you know what jargon is and why it’s bad for you and your business, commit to banishing buzzwords, building clarity, and encouraging a jargon-free workplace. You and your business will be much better off.