Ever find yourself leveraging value-added buzzwords in an effort to move the needle or make your messages pop?
No? Neither have I. Because who talks like that in real life??
If you work in an office, though, you probably know someone who has. You may have even caught yourself repeating some of those corporate clichés in meetings.
Where did they come from and why does anyone still talk like this?
Bart Egnal, CEO of the Humphrey Group, a leadership coaching and training firm, has a theory. Corporate-speak, he says, works as “a shared social identity that acts as a barrier to entry…Once you’re in, it’s a badge of belonging.”
On the flip side, of course, it can be alienating and annoying to those on the receiving end—even when we’re aware of what the jargon means.
Eliminating corporate speak entirely may not happen anytime soon. But cutting these common offenders—some of which have been around for decades—from our collective vocabulary is a start.
Where it came from: Originating from the typical plane cruising altitude, this phrase means to “stop looking at things on a small scale and see the big picture,” Egnal explains.
In other words: “From a macro perspective…” or simply, “Without getting the details, what I see is…” works just as well—and won’t make us sound like corporate bots.
Where it came from: Egnal says this term first appeared way back in a 1967 NASA report.
In other words: It basically means “things that need to be done.” (So couldn’t we just say things that need to be done?)
Where it came from: Ahoy, matey? “Nautical in origin, this term is an order for everyone to assemble,” Egnal says.
In other words: Sure, let me grab my eye patch and sword, and I’ll meet you scallywags in the conference room.
Where it came from: “If your Internet connection runs out of bandwidth, you will have trouble performing basic operations,” Egnal explains.
In other words: Since we’re not cyborgs, there’s really no reason to refer to workload capacity as bandwidth. Why not just be clear about what we can and can’t take on, based on our current projects?
Where it came from: The origin is unclear, but if you’re not a baseball slugger, there’s no real need to use it professionally.
In other words: “It means you’ll fight on someone’s behalf, as in ‘I’ll go to bat for you and make sure you get a raise,’” Egnal says. Or I could just say I’ll “advocate for,” or “vouch for” you.
Where it came from: The most accessible fruits are close to the ground, so you don’t have to climb up the tree.
In other words: It’s an easy win. But why not leave the tree metaphor alone and be specific? “Let’s close the deal that we can complete the fastest.” Or, “We should upgrade the portfolio by cutting our lowest performing stock.”
Where it came from: The firehouse, we’d assume, where it actually makes sense.
In other words: At the office, “the phrase can mean fixing an existing issue,” Egnal says. “Sometimes it’s used to describe people who are reactive, and run around splashing water on fires rather than preempting problems.” Bottom line: It’s probably fine to let this one go up in flames.
Where it came from: It’s been linked to experiments by psychologist Karl Duncker in 1945 in which subjects were given a box of items to use, and many neglected to think of the box as one of them.
In other words: “This term is sloppy because it’s indeterminate,” Egnal says. “You’re telling someone to try a different approach, without clarifying what you want to change.” In other words, it’s time to think outside the box for some new phrases.