The problem with buzzwords

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over 1 year ago by Jessica Brown

The problem with buzzwords

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'Buzzword’, in itself a buzzword, has been the focus of a lot of discussion over the years. First used in 1946, the term relates to phrases that are most prominent within politics and workplaces, however Management Professor, Robert Kreitner, says that used within these sectors “they will drive out good ideas."

Also known as ‘management speak’, words and phrases like pivot, heavy-lifting, and circle back, have become a part of our everyday language, so why is it that they’re now turning up numerous times on lists of what we shouldn’t be saying?

Fabian Kaempfer, CEO of corporate gift company Chocomize, argues that words like 'engagement' are actually reducing our impact within the workplace environment, writing that they “dilute the success of your efforts with a vague statement that generalizes all of the resulting actions”. Brian Scios, Director of Communications at Public Agenda, takes a similar stance when it comes to the words innovative and groundbreaking. Writing “save the hyperbole and let me read about why it’s so special”, Scios, like Kaempfer highlights the oversimplification that can often come with buzzwords.

Possibly damaging our reputation, it’s not just that we are robbing ourselves of the chance to truly explain the benefits of our work, but that with the overuse of buzzwords has come the perception that they are in fact a mask to cover up subpar ideas and intelligence.

So much so that ‘thinking outside the box’, the most used of all buzzwords, has become a joke within corporate circles, with its use actually demonstrating the speaker is unable to follow his own instructions.

"Please ‘think outside the box’ and find a new way of saying this" – Tim McHugh, CEO, Saddleback Educational.

Used in almost 2/3rds of offices, according to the Institute of Leadership and Management, ¼ of us find buzzwords to be a pointless irritation, and yet they do have some undeniable advantages. Halden Ingwerson, a TEDx Presenter and former buzzword hater, says she’s come to the slow realization that words like bandwidth and leverage can be a pathway to bonding with others in your industry, allowing you to demonstrate a shared knowledge. Much in the same way readers of Harry Potter use the word Muggle or attendees at Comic Con dress as their favourite character.

Ingwerson’s assertions however can have their own negatives, with Chrissie Mahler, Founder of the Plain English Campaign, suggesting use of these ‘in-words’ are “isolating newcomers, who feel they have to learn the lingo, when they should be made to feel at home.”

Steele Champion, who runs the site TalkLikeTheBoss.com, a website dedicated to defining and mocking business buzzwords, calls this “conformity at its finest”, highlighting the use of management speak to dehumanize the workforce. Furthering his argument he writes “I find business buzzwords such as “headcount” particularly insensitive and inhuman… it transforms human beings into mere figures on someone’s spreadsheet”. Champion argues that it is this usage that allows changes such as large layoffs to be pushed through.

Despite their obvious overuse, it’s clear that popular opinion on buzzwords is that they are less honey and more vinegar. So when you next need all hands on deck in order to achieve a homerun, at least avoid ‘touch-base’ as research shows it’s the term most likely to make your co-workers action their anger.