How (and Why) to Eliminate Buzzwords at Work

Buzzwords can get in the way of fostering an inclusive workplace. Here’s why you should consider eliminating them.

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How (and Why) to Eliminate Buzzwords at Work

Pain point. Next gen. Touchpoint. Synergy. KPI. Lean in. Growth hacking. IoT. Innovative. Unpack. Scrum. Blue Sky. Actionable. The list of business buzzwords goes on and on and on.

Buzzwords can be fun and create a sort of solidarity for everyone in the know … but what about for those who aren’t? Effective communication is critical to an effective company and buzzwords, while popular, can play a role in derailing that. Research from 2018 has even found that gender-based “enthusiasm gaps” in the workplace — the difference between active, vocal workers and those who fall more into the background — and the departures that result from the gap could have been prevented, in part, by better communication.

Especially in an age where diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is everything, it makes less and less sense to use unnecessarily ostracizing and confusing language. Even though buzzwords are well burrowed into the workplace, here’s the case for why cutting them out is a worthy endeavor and how to actually do it as well.

What makes something a “buzzword”?

While there’s no hard and fast definition, generally buzzwords are jargon-y words or phrases that become popular in certain times or contexts.

Buzzwords are one of those funny things that everyone more or less understands but are also difficult to plainly identify — it’s sort of a “know one when you see one” (or hear, rather) kind of a thing.

While there’s no hard and fast definition, generally buzzwords are jargon-y words or phrases that become popular in certain times or contexts. For example, “ecotourism” is one of the latest buzzwords in the travel industry. The same happens in all other sectors as well as in business as a whole.

But just because something is popular or has been around a while doesn’t mean there’s a good case for keeping it around, especially when the drawbacks are significant.

Buzzwords are confusing

Once we hear a buzzword used a ton of times, it eventually makes sense in its context and we even start using them ourselves. Buzzwords are certainly learnable, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less confusing for a newcomer.

Think about it this way: You worked your butt off for a new job and just started. You’re deeply excited and ready to hit the ground running. Of course, you want to impress as many of your new coworkers and new bosses as much as possible — the last thing you want to feel is like you don’t fit in. You go to your first meeting and words you’ve never heard of are being thrown around everyone and everyone else seems to get it except for you. Did you miss something? Are you not right for the job after all? The insecurity sets in and the absolute last thing you want to do is ask what these seemingly common words mean. You leave the meeting with a lingering confusion and some self-doubt, too.

If getting rid of buzzwords helps new hires fit in better, it’s practically worth it for this reason alone.

Buzzwords don’t translate cross-culturally (or even across industries)

Especially for businesses that are looking to shift from culture fit to culture add , finding a way to harmoniously bring people with differences together productively is probably a challenge you’re facing. Perhaps you’re bringing a laser focus to your DEI efforts these days. Whatever the reason, when you bring people from different backgrounds together, there’s some meeting in the middle that’s necessary. That can only happen when you get roadblocks out of the way and buzzwords are one of them.

Whether you’re bringing in people with different backgrounds and experiences, or even working with teams in different regions of the United States or parts of the globe, finding a common language is key. Because buzzwords are often industry and culture specific, they can be a barrier between the blending you’re looking for in a diverse team. Clear and concise communication benefits everyone.

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Buzzwords can hide inaction or inability

One of the greatest hazards of buzzwords is that they can communicate fluency, or even action and impact, when in reality there is none. Many teams have a smooth talking coworker who doesn’t really do anything useful, yet hides behind connections and conversations to propel them upwards.

Because buzzwords lack clarity, a lot can be hidden through assumptions that people have about their nebulous meanings. If you want to work towards ensuring that your business is a place where people advance based on merit alone, kicking buzzwords to the curb can help with that.

Many teams have a smooth talking coworker who doesn’t really do anything useful, yet hides behind connections and conversations to propel them upwards.

How to cut buzzwords out of work

Ok, you’re sold on why you need to get rid of buzzwords at work … but how? Here are a few easy steps you can take to start:

  1. Communicate the same way that you actually talk. Whether that’s in text, email, presentation, or a one-on-one conversation, focus on communicating in the same way that you speak. You can still be professional while using less corporate speak. The goal of communication is to communicate and speaking plainly and without unnecessarily confusing words helps get your point across.
  2. Be specific. It can be a tough pivot to make in the beginning, but putting in an effort to be as specific as possible can help eliminate buzzwords naturally. Buzzwords are inherently somewhat vague, so the more that you go for specificity, the more you’ll lean away from using imprecise buzzwords to communicate.
  3. Give examples. It can be hard to stop using words cold turkey that we’ve relied on for years. So, even when you find yourself struggling to ditch the words or be more specific, supplement buzzwords with examples. That way, if people aren’t tracking what you’re saying, you can help them understand with examples. Then, listen to how people respond and the words they use to talk about the same thing. Picking up more specific language from your coworkers is a great way to wean yourself off of jargon-y buzzwords.

Making a company policy against buzzwords is likely an overly paternalistic and prescriptive approach. That said, leaders can lead by example. Once the higher-ups start leaving buzzwords in the past, others are likely to follow. You can also gently encourage people to say more about what it is they mean when they use buzzwords so they can get some practice in cutting them out, too.

This might not be the most important thing on your business radar, but luckily, it’s an easily achievable goal that you can start acting on right now.

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