A Vulture article that asked, “Why do corporations speak the way they do?” had us asking ourselves that same question. With all the corporate jargon and business buzzwords people rely on, it’s as if we have a different language for work than we do for the rest of our lives. Phrases like “let’s parallel path” or “find the white space” may seem like a way to sound smart, but more often than not, they lead to confusion rather than clarity. What’s more, they can make our interactions feel less human.
We asked our Thrive community to share the “corporatespeak” that gets in the way of clear, mindful communication. Which of these will you give up at work?
“I recently spent several months working on-site at a client’s office and was puzzled to hear everyone talking about ‘blockers.’ They would say, ‘Let us know what projects you’re working on and if you have any blockers this week.’ Instead of using understandable words like ‘obstacles’ or ‘constraints,’ it was always that word. I found it to be a strange example of corporate groupthink, and a way for people to distance themselves from their failure to follow through on an assignment.”
—Erin Lancione, copywriter, Seattle, WA
“Let’s circle back”
“Having consulted for corporates, it has always been a pet peeve of mine when I sit in meetings and people use jargon that no one fully understands. Some of these buzzwords include ‘blue sky thing,’ ‘mission-critical,’ and ‘Let’s circle back.’ These are the phrases that need stomping out so we can humanize the workforce again.”
—Michelle Raymond, human resources, London, U.K.
“I think we should give up the idea of referring to people as resources. I was in a meeting with a client recently when they said, ‘We’ve got a new resource joining the team next week.’ I was tempted to ask whether the resource had a name, or just a reference number!”
—Martin Galpin, business psychologist, Oxfordshire, U.K.
“The reality is…”
“In most business and societal circumstances, there are usually multiple realities that can be used to explain a particular situation. While saying ‘the reality is…’ is used to impart what the speaker believes is his or her strong belief, it can often suggest that a definitive statement of fact has been made, and can cut individuals out of the conversation.”
—Richard Citrin, organizational psychologist, author, Pittsburgh, PA
“Big hairy audacious goal”
“I always wonder why corporations still use this elementary-sounding term. Important goals do not have hair. They are not made to scare us into submission. It’s borderline insulting to those who have to work on projects where senior management refers to program or project goals and objectives as BHAGs, presumably in an effort to weed out the ‘topmost’ of all the other important goals.”
—Julie O’Connor, former corporate venture capital business development manager, Portland, OR
“The word ‘collaboration’ is becoming popular to the point that it may be overused or sometimes used without a purpose. While collaborating with others, I like to use ‘partnership’ instead, and I make sure to set expectations of what this partnership will look like, who is responsible for what, and what outcomes and goals we are chasing.”
—Isabelle Bart, marketing director, Irvine, CA
“Take a knee” (and other sports references)
“It is time for sports references to leave the corporate lexicon for good. They aren’t globally inclusive or straightforward. If I’m in a ‘sticky wicket’ should I ‘take a knee’ or go ‘full-court press’? Who knows?”
—Elizabeth Sandler, workplace investor, New York, N.Y.
“We’re working on it.”
“It would be a significant shift in workplace culture if leaders stopped saying, ‘We’re working on it.’ This is a particularly painful statement for employees to hear when there are major issues occurring in the workplace that impact the day-to-day culture. Leaders often think the problem has to be resolved before they can speak about it, but leaving employees in the dark only causes distrust and office gossip. Let’s stop telling employees that we’re ‘working on it.’”
—MaryBeth Hyland, workplace culture consultant, Baltimore, MD
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