Circle back. Synergy. Thought leader.
Whether you love or hate business buzzwords like these, you’re bound to hear them at some point. According to a survey by Preply, 2 in 5 respondents reported hearing corporate jargon in the office daily, with 7 in 10 saying they use it themselves. But why are these buzzwords so popular?
“A lot of people just repeat what senior leaders say because if they say it, it must be relevant or it’s part of the company lexicon,” theorized Robyn Duda, a workplace experience strategist.
However, just because something is commonplace doesn’t mean it’s effective: The Preply survey also found that 1 in 5 people disliked hearing business buzzwords, from the unclear to the overused to the downright cringey.
If you’re looking to communicate with your team more effectively, drop these 10 common business buzzwords from your vocabulary (or at least use them sparingly). [Read related article: 4 Ways to Improve Communication With Your Customers.]
References to the “new normal,” first seen in the post-World War I era, saw a resurgence amid the 2008 financial crisis. This phrase became increasingly commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between sheer overexposure and an ever-changing metric of what the “new normal” is, it’s better to skip this buzzword altogether.
Building a strong company culture is important to the health of an organization. However, speaking constantly of culture without explaining the values behind it can feel empty at best and stifling at worst. Simply saying an action or decision is “part of the culture” may signal to employees that the company isn’t willing to explain itself, nor consider anyone else’s input.
The phrase “circle back” isn’t just dismissive, but it also calls to mind a longer way of doing something: It’s much more efficient to take the straightest path to the destination rather than circling back to it. The next time you’re tempted to use this phrase, consider stating the actual intended timeline of discussing the topic, or at least let your employees know why the conversation can’t happen right now.
“[‘Circling’] back indicates the never-ending cycle of corporate hierarchical nonsense, filed with ‘putting a pin in it’ and ‘taking it up the ladder,'” said Duda. “[It] makes employees feel like it’s not a priority or their time was wasted.”
For better results, be clear about expected deliverables and the timeline in which tasks should be completed. Managing everyone’s expectations clearly improves coordination across teams.
While this phrase is intended to encourage employees, it often has the opposite effect. Jaime DeLanghe, as quoted in CNBC’s Make It, said it best: “Who has 110% to give in their work right now? A lot of people are already stretched to their capacities [and] hearing this can feel particularly grating, like you’re not working hard enough.”
Consider replacing “give 110%” with other positive, motivating language that doesn’t require your team to expend more than they have to give. Messages like “you can do this” and “let’s do our best” will better convey your desired intent. Also be sure to recognize the accomplishments of team members publicly to serve as an example to others.
Though this term is often meant as a compliment, calling an employee a “team player” can send the wrong message. Depending on the context, it can come off as passive aggressive (“you’re not a leader; you’re a follower”) or a directive (“overwork yourself to meet this goal”). Your employees will likely respond better to other words of encouragement, such as “thanks for being part of this team” or “I appreciate your hard work.”
“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.
Used both inside and outside of the office, the phrase “low-hanging fruit” feels obvious: Businesses will, of course, want to take care of the easiest tasks first and reap those rewards quickly. In addition to being readily apparent, this buzzword can also lose its meaning without the full context: Picking the fruit higher up in the tree requires more effort, yet it may yield a better harvest in the long run.
Those who are influential experts in their field, or those who have unique and intelligent insights to share, are often called thought leaders. However, if you parse the phrase, it begins to fall apart: An individual doesn’t lead thoughts; they lead others in their industry. Simply using the term “leader” or “expert” carries the same intent, and is more easily understood inside and outside of the business world.
With respect to an individual’s or team’s capacities, “bandwidth” is a buzzword your employees likely don’t have the bandwidth to hear over and over again. (This does not apply if you are discussing internet usage; i.e., literal bandwidth.) Being more specific about what’s lacking, whether it’s time or resources, can bring clarity and start a more productive conversation.
This is another corporate jargon term that rose to prominence amid the pandemic, even earning the distinction of LinkedIn’s 2020 “Word of the Year.” In the business world, pivoting describes a fundamental shift in direction for a company. However, the broad overuse of the term has cheapened its meaning. Describing the pivot, such as “adopting a new strategy,” will better communicate what’s actually happening in your organization.
Rather than relying on business jargon shorthand, explain your message directly to better reach your employees.
Here’s how to keep employees engaged without relying on nebulous terms that cause them to “switch off.” [Read more about chat tools for small businesses.]
Leaders don’t just tell employees what to do; they also listen and take their feedback into account. Challenge your employees to take ownership of their roles by asking them questions about the company and their role within it, as well as what they need from you to succeed. This practice not only empowers employees to communicate their wants and needs, but also clarifies expectations and enhances understanding between you and your team.
During a challenging situation or amid workplace conflict, it’s a very human desire to “fill in” any awkward silence. However, more communication does not always mean better communication, and can even make things worse. Rather than continuing to explain yourself or grilling your employees, take a pause (and allow others to do the same) to develop a thoughtful response or create an opportunity for employees to speak up.
Building strong communication does not come from the C-suite only; it must be consistently practiced and demonstrated throughout the organization. This means that managers and other leaders must set a good example for their teams.
“Our managers are constantly leading by example,” said Veetahl Eilat-Raichel, co-founder and CEO of Sorbet. “By actively ensuring that management is ‘practicing what they preach,’ our expectations become ultra-clear from the start and can’t be miscommunicated.”
Stating expectations clearly up front and then modeling them will help employees internalize and strengthen a culture of communication.
You don’t want to rely on overused cliches that don’t resonate with your team. However, some situations benefit from ‘internal buzzwords’ and companywide shorthand.
“Internal buzzwords can be viewed as a company’s own unique language, and professionals often speak it to show they’re a part of the team,” explained Eilat-Raichel. “By ‘speaking the same language,’ employees can better communicate with each other and share a mutual understanding of the company culture.”
If you use internal buzzwords, make sure your intent is clearly conveyed and well-understood across the team. Explain your language clearly, especially with new terms and new employees, to ensure continued effective communication and collaboration within your team.
Words have power, and the words you choose to use will either help or hinder your team. Always do your best to be as clear as possible and to articulate your expectations directly. Buzzwords often serve to obscure meaning or distract employees, so before you use jargon, ask yourself if it serves a purpose in getting your point across.