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Corporate speak is bad for business

Jargon Much? Lose the Corporate Speak and Win Authentic Connections

October, 2022

By Sharon Bahravi
Head of Language Analyst Team, Pluralytics

What do you really mean?

Many of us have thought this after hearing a coworker say something like, “let’s circle back on this” or “let’s close the loop here.” There are tons of workplace acronyms and phrases that aren’t clear, but we don’t have the energy to ask, “What did you mean by that?”

Jargon and business catchphrases — what we’ve come to know as “corporate speak” — are everywhere. But we now know these shorthands are not really saving us time. And just because they’re commonly used doesn’t mean we like them. Instead, they can sow confusion, bordering on irritation, which illuminates the downside of using these jargony terms in or out of the workplace.

The words we use matter. They bring to life who we are and what we value, which is especially important for companies looking to connect with customers, employees, and prospective talent. People value authenticity, which arguably is the antithesis of corporate speak and begs the question: why have we adopted this professional jargon?

Now’s not the time to “circle back.” Let’s “do a deep dive” into corporate speak and how our words make a difference.

Corporate Speak’s Origin Story

Corporate buzzwords like “future-proof” and “out-of-pocket” have permeated the working world. This language is nothing new; corporate speak’s origins date back to the 1950s and 1960s. During this time, there was a flurry of mergers and acquisitions. Companies that wanted to win in this competitive marketplace sought a new way to inspire their employees. They introduced corporate speak to create a unified sense of purpose and boost productivity.

The specific words that professionals have used throughout the decades reflect emerging trends. The efficiency-obsessed 1950s focused primarily on how companies could get the most productivity out of their workforce, often referring to their people as “resources.” In 1989, Jack Welsh redesigned General Electric’s culture in a program that focused on how managers and employees can solve problems faster, introducing terms like “low-hanging fruit” into the corporate vernacular. The 1990s were ripe for technological innovation, so the popular term “disruptor” entered the fold.

The modern workforce continues using these buzzwords to communicate. While intended to build a more connected workforce that produced results, corporate speak achieves quite the opposite.

The Pervasive Question Marks Around Corporate Jargon

Corporate speak has lost its luster, and its continued use does not bode well for organizations that want to maintain profits and talent. For one, corporate speak breeds confusion, even among people who often use this language. Despite using buzzwords in their work life, 33% of US workers admitted that they sometimes don’t know what those words even mean.

Corporate speak confusion is not confined to the US. Among UK workers, 44%, on average, don’t understand common business jargon either.

A confused workforce is not an efficient one, nor is it profitable. Companies with 100,000 employees lost, on average, $62.4 million annually from miscommunication. In addition to communication breakdowns, corporate speak may incite feelings of employee distrust. Among managers who have limited to no corporate speak in their communications, they reported more trust and more positive attitudes from their employees.

We’re in the midst of the Great Reshuffling. With 60% of job seekers changing jobs because their values don’t align with their employer’s, it’s important to speak with authenticity. Consider using the power of AI technology that ensures you’re conveying your values consistently and deepening your relationship with your team. The meaningful connections may very well keep your employees from pursuing greener, jargon-free pastures.

Clear is Kind (and Good For Business)

Instead of using go-to jargon, simply mean what you say and say what you mean. Context goes a long way in driving understanding. For example, telling a coworker who is seeking your help on a project that “you don’t have the bandwidth” likely won’t do wonders for building that relationship.

Adding some context will get you a lot further. For example, say something like, “Thanks for thinking of me. This project does align with my skills, but I have three deadlines I have to meet this week. We can either meet next week or maybe we can have another teammate tackle one of my tasks so you and I can get this done.”

What if instead of “circling back,” we said, “I’m feeling a bit drained from a meeting-heavy day. Can we discuss December’s get-together on Monday morning when I can be more present?”

Context like this creates empathy, and a sense of camaraderie – and only takes a few extra seconds to convey. Well worth it.

Corporate speak sucks authenticity out of the workplace. Successful workplaces come from courageous communications and certainly more human ones. Author Brené Brown spoke volumes when she wrote: “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”

Let’s be kind to ourselves and our coworkers. Show our humanity by saying what we mean and providing context that connects us to one another. Don’t let your words get in the way. Strike the corporate jargon from your vernacular so people really hear what you have to say…

And that’s how you can effectively “close the loop.”

Don’t let your words get in the way.

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