Sign In
Business buzzwords you should never use again
​​With LinkedIn recently releasing its ‘most-used words list for 2018’, maybe now’s the time to reflect on your company’s lingo. Is ‘management speak’ ‘downright dangerous’? Chrissie Mahler, the founder of the Plain English Campaign, seems to think so. Countless studies have been done proving just how much employees despise buzzwords. But we keep using them. We ‘deep’ dive’ into those ‘core competencies’ and trot out ‘we’re on a journey’ (to be read in a Morgan Freeman-style voice) in every meeting. But to what end? When you’re hiding behind words, it sometimes insinuates there’s something to hide. 

In a time of smoke, mirrors, fake news and questionable ethics, people appreciate straight-talking honesty more than ever before. Businesses that use superfluous jargon just don’t get that simplicity really is the ultimate sophistication. As a general rule, the better you understand something, the more simply you can explain it. That’s the true test for real proficiency.

These are some of the three reasons to ban the buzzwords: 

  • ​Peter Thiel, billionaire venture capitalist and partner at US-based Founders Fund believes buzzwords prove a company is ‘completely undifferentiated from its competition.’ Basically, buzzwords indicate lack of imagination in language and in a business model.  They don’t set you apart, they ‘pen’ you in.  
  • ​This is the first time four generations are potentially working together simultaneously. Collaboration is critical and the way we speak to each other plays a big part in orchestrating this. With social media and shorthand texting already widening the communication gap, it’s important not to alienate people further through exclusive terminology that not everyone is ‘in’ on. 
  • Being obtuse and confusing clients often costs companies new business – no one’s going to want to work with a company that ‘drives strategic innovation’ if they can’t explain how this ‘innovation’ translates into actual profit.

Here are some of the buzzwords to ban from your vocabulary:

Innovation/Innovative: It seems everyone’s an innovator in the start-up space. Arguably ‘innovators’ are the new ‘disruptors.’ When a word gets used over 6 million times in a year, it tends to lose its impact so, if you really are doing something ground-breaking, don’t use the word ‘innovative’ to describe it. 

Empower: While South Africa is slowly making positive strides in workplace equality, many companies tend to tick the B-BBEE quota box as a business necessity rather than as part of a long-term, big-picture strategy. Thus empowerment has become a broad term, widely used and not always authentically meant. Before you use it, really think about what your business is doing to uplift staff in terms of continuous learning opportunities, leadership development and the mentoring of up-and-coming diverse talent.  

Best practice: With scandal after scandal wracking the business world, perhaps there’s still a place for this one. Then again, resorting to best practice ‘platitudes’ doesn’t necessarily catalyse best practice behaviour. Buzzwords don’t bring about an ethical business; a leader does, through scrupulous behaviour, open communication, a clear vision, and on-going ethics discussions and workshops with staff. 

Deep Dive: Accountemps - a specialised staffing service - conducted a survey with managers in different industries. This revealed ‘deep dive’ is one of the most overused words in business. Unless you’re actually donning a diving mask and heading undersea, maybe let this one drift out your vocabulary.  

Paradigm shift: This term actually describes “a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline” according to its inventor, Thomas Kuhn, American physicist and philosopher. Are you responsible for a scientific revolution? No? Then shift to a different phrase perhaps. 

While these words all have their place, the lesson is that overused buzzwords often hint at incompetence and conformity, detracting from how brilliant your business actually is. Make sure everything you say adds value and is put as simply and concisely as possible.
In an ever changing business world, knowledge extends beyond buzzwords and jargon. For more information on how to expand your knowledge and understanding of Leadership and Executive Management today, check out the programmes offered by USB-ED.

Email address: