Trade Talk: Say WHAT? It’s time to ditch those business clichés

“Let’s parking lot this” … “blue sky thinking” … “in the weeds” … ladder up” … “synergize” …

The words and phrases are some of today’s most ridiculous workplace jargon, according to a recent online survey conducted by Morar Consulting for New York-based American Express OPEN.

Of 1,061 employees queried, 64 percent of respondents said they use jargon many times a week, though 47 percent admit they frequently pretend to understand jargon that they don’t.

Jargon junkies said using the language makes them feel professional (48 percent) or intelligent (38 percent), while 40 percent said they didn’t realize they were using jargon; 35 percent said they use it for fun to secretly test people; 25 percent, to fit in; 24 percent, to seem smart; and 19 percent, to dodge questions.

Business clichés are nothing new. A survey three years ago found “out of pocket,” “deep dive,” “forward-thinking,” “dynamic,” “let me get back to you,” “pick your brain,” “employee engagement” and “LOL” were the most annoying clichés at the time. Meanwhile, buzzwords that refused to go away included “think outside the box,” “at the end of the day,” “circle back” and “synergy,” which were popular many years before.

According to my friends on Facebook, overused phrases that annoy them today include “and whatnot,” “code brown!,” “it is what it is,” “straw man,” “due diligence,” “anything Six Sigma” and the question, “Does that make sense?”

Said Oklahoma educator Julia Anderson-Holt, “I hate the word ‘impactful.’ To me, impact means to be hit in such a way that you are shrunken, like a smashed aluminum can,” she said.

Oklahoma City veteran public relations professional Steve Lalli said dovetail or dovetailed is so overused that he created his own Oklahoma versions: scissortail or scissor-tailed.

Along with simply being irritating, jargon can lead to communications breakdowns, workplace experts say.

Mike Crandall, of Sandler Training in Oklahoma City, said one client — prior to coaching — used so much jargon, acronyms or abbreviations in employment advertisements that the company struggled to attract quality candidates.

He said one sales rep lost a prospective client because the client didn’t know the wall-framing term “male studs.” Meanwhile, one customer service representative angered — and lost — a client over their respective interpretations for ASAP (as soon as possible). To the client, it meant later that day, when the rep was thinking next week.

“A team of 10 can have 10 different interpretations of ASAP from five minutes or right away to end of day and week’s end,” Crandall said.

Managers and employees, Crandall said, should ask clearer questions to ensure others share the same definitions and thoughts.

“You’ve also got to grant others permission to say, ‘I don’t know what that means,’” he said.

Said Richard Moran, Canadian author of “The Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters,” calls business buzzwords the language of laziness.

“By abusing clichés, you might be projecting an apathetic and lazy attitude without even realizing it,” Moran said.

For example, the subtext of the cliché “it is what it is” is: “I give up,” he said.

Similarly, going after “low-hanging fruit” is bad strategy, Moran said.

“The analogy of going after what requires less effort normalizes what is too easy and simply not existent,” he said, “The fruit on the top of the tree is ripest, and that’s where the greatest returns for your effort will be.”

Meanwhile, “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” is a verbal con-job, Moran said. “When nobody knows what exactly they want to do, it’s likely the group will settle on a decision nobody in the group wanted at all.”

Moran also recommends avoiding the all-too common phrases of “Really?” and “But.”

“When your go-to response is “Really?” when a co-worker asks for help, or you’re constantly using “but” to excuse your own responsibility or knock down something or someone else, you exude a bad attitude or are just plain irritating,” he said.

Lastly, The only thing that happens at the “end of the day” is the end of the day, Moran said.

“The truth is that given technology and workdays that never end, the end of the day is a myth,” he said.

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