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Don’t be alarmed by the subject line. I joke. This post is about the overuse of buzzwords in business communications. The words in my subject line were all taken from a global survey of the most used business buzzwords in 2013. This information is all available at the following website if you are interested in the rest of the list:
Moving forward, I literally want to use transparency to ping you seamlessly for your feedback about this topic before you go offline.
Okay, I’ll stop now. I promise.
Some time in the near future, I plan to write a similar blog post about acronyms because buzzwords and acronyms are the cousins that attempt to thwart our clear communication. I would also be very interested to research how prevalent this phenomenon is in other countries. Business people in the U.S. seem to never be content to just speak English. Rather than using the English they have been given, they feel the constant need to invent new English.
The word “ginormous” was added to Webster’s Dictionary in 2013. In fact, my WordPress spell checker accepted its spelling without hesitation. Alternate English belongs in casual social settings, not in standard-setting dictionaries, and not in professional communication. This is mostly because those words are used to sound clever, and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, less is more when attempting to be clever in business. If your client does not understand your terminology, it will be difficult to make progress and add real value to the project.
This also introduces the idea of embarrassment. Not everyone is courageous enough to speak up in a business meeting if terminology foreign to them is being “used” (Notice I didn’t say “utilized” to sound clever). It is an opportunity for the speaker to remove confusion and roadblocks simply by being clear and concise.
In addition to using words the audience does not understand, there is the phenomenon of using words the speaker himself does not understand in an attempt to appear clever. Seriously, if you don’t know what an algorithm is, use a simpler word. Don’t suggest that people eat, spin, throw, or circumnavigate the algorithm. Your audience will appreciate you for it.
We all want to be perceived as being clever, but the people who are fully understood by everyone are the most clever of all. I will not embarrass anyone by naming names, but I will never forget the business meeting years ago when my team was directed to pick off all the low hanging fruit first. It inevitably resulted in widespread laughter in the room. The speaker was ahead of his time, yes, and a very intelligent and accomplished professional. We just simply didn’t understand that kind of English.
Although overuse of business buzzwords has been a chronic nuisance throughout my project experience, it also has its value. All kinds of things that are not necessarily valuable are popular. Although some of these buzzwords may have little real meaning in terms of adding value to communication, there are legions of professionals who adhere to them faithfully.
Popularity can drive meaning sometimes. Let’s test this theory. Let’s see how many more views I accumulate on this post than previous posts where I did not use these popular buzzwords. Would your reaction to the subject line have been the same if it was “People Using the Internet Together”? Perhaps we can have a follow-up discussion in a few weeks to discuss the results!
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