Susan Adams’ in her article, 8 Keys to Better Business Writing (Forbes, Jan 18, 2013) discusses the use of business jargon in modern business writing as she reviews the Harvard Business Review Press book, HBR Guide to Better Business Writing by Bryan A. Garner. Adams cites the following paragraph from the book.
“It’s mission-critical to be plain-spoken, whether you’re trying to be best-of-breed at outside-the-box thinking or simply incentivizing colleagues to achieve a paradigm shift in core-performance value-adds. Leading-edge leveraging of your plain-English skill set will ensure that your actionable items synergize future-proof assets with your global-knowledge repository.”
Using this paragraph as an example, Adams, explains why the usage of common business jargon is clichéd. Words or phrases that are classified as clichéd, indicate extensive overuse to the point of being ineffective. Phrases like “on-boarding”, “drinking from the fire hose”, “water cooler talk”, “get-give”, “dashboarding”, are some others that are also commonly used.
Larry Rudwick, a Business Coach at Business Tune-Ups, has created a website to help businesses make a positive change and lists some commonly used business jargon phrases, business slang and other related terminology used by people as analogies to something else. Rudwick lists phrases such as “10,000 Foot View” – a big picture view of things, “Bang for the buck” – a good and often immediate return on investment, “Shotgun Approach” – a broad approach, “Due Diligence” – adopting a proper investigative path to problem solving, “Learning Curve” – the time it takes to learn a new skill or technique and “Sweat Equity” – work that is compensated by a share in the company, particularly with startup companies. Rduwick cautions that everyone use these words or phrases carefully.
Mallet, Nelson and Steiner (Forbes, Jan 26, 2012) also compile a list of “The Most Annoying, Pretentious and Useless Business Jargon”. They list “Core Competency” – a firm’s or individual’s fundamental strength, “Buy-In” – trying to convince someone about a particular course of action, “S.W.A.T. Team” – a team of experts assembled to solve a business problem, “Boil the Ocean” – to waste time and even “Corporate Values” as examples of such annoying business jargon. The last one, “Corporate Values” is interesting, because it assumes that the corporation, an entity that consists of individuals, has the values, and not the individuals themselves.
But before we dismiss these phrases completely, let us explore for a bit why such phrases have fallen out of favour. People have always used analogies or metaphors to convey their thoughts and actions. In the business environment, where time is often scarce, an attempt is made by business professionals to convey a sense of urgency or importance to an event or action. Sports is often used as a ready source of such phrases because there is a lot of action in sports and athletes are rated by their performance. Athletes work hard and strive for success in their respective sports and business leaders seek to emulate such performance, and to inspire their employees to work hard and strive for similar successes in the business arena. But when such phrases get adopted widely and are used merely for effect, rather than actually meaning something, the phrases tend to lose their effectiveness. The person saying them does not appear genuine, and the people listening to such phrases do not really believe in them.
Many of these phrases are typical to a particular region of the English-speaking world. Most, if not all of them, can be found in North American business-speak (the spoken business language). However, in places like United Kingdom, Australia, South and South East Asia, parts of Africa and South America, these phrases and others could be adapted to the local customs and practices and have a heavy dose of local or regional cultural references. The problem then is that outsiders, not aware of local cultural references, will find it difficult to understand these words and phrases and that creates a definite communication barrier. The lesson to be learned from these communication episodes is that it is best to keep things simple and clear. A clearly phrased question will always allow the receiver to give a clearly phrased response, free of slang, jargon or other words. The communication is effective and work can take place with minimum interruption.
Kapish!! Now let’s head full tilt towards giving our maximum as we crest the wave. Write in and let everyone know about any such business jargon that you have come across and what it means.
Image by Author with the aid of a couple of clip art images (trees and cars) from Creative Commons – CCO Public Domain