Reinventing The Wheel: How To Stop Using These 10 Horrible Business Buzzwords

By David Mizne

Today’s business world is suffering from an epidemic that is negatively impacting innovation and workplace communication. I am referring to one of the most loathsome staples found in corporate America: the business buzzword.

Sure these metaphors were clever the first hundred times they were used – initially permeating the business lexicon as a way to create emphasis, connection, or to communicate more succinctly. Now they are having the opposite effect.

I see several problems with using these annoying little phrases. They create disconnection because people feel a lack of specificity, or that the buzzword user doesn’t care enough to elaborate. Why don’t you just explain to me why this is important, instead of saying it’s “mission critical”?

Buzzwords also set the brain on autopilot, preventing us from entering more of a free-form space where creativity and innovation can flow. And over time they also lose their potency, like any other phrase that is said over and over again. Like any other phrase that is said over and over again. Like any other…

Below are 10 business buzzwords you should stop using immediately, along with alternatives to help you achieve the business outcomes you desire. 

1. Let’s hit the ground running.

This sounds very dangerous for your knees. That type of team-wide injury could really impact absenteeism and dramatically increase your company’s health-care premiums.

I understand that you are trying to instill a sense of urgency. Try personalizing the conversation by discussing the list of activities that will prepare each team-member to be successful right from the start.

2. I need you to give 110%.

Not only is this mathematically impossible, but it’s the kind of thinking that leads to overwork, stress, and lack of work/life balance. You say 110%, and employees hear 80 hour work-week.

Again, specificity is key. Employees should expect to work long hours from time to time. Setting clear expectations around an intense product push or a firm deadline allows people to realistically plan their work schedule and their personal matters.

3. She’s a total rockstar!

I suppose you mean this person is creative or inspiring. If she were a real rock star then she would show up late to meetings, drink excessively at the office, and regularly give you the finger. Is this kind of behavior conducive to a high-performing, professional environment? 

When leaders highlight the specific strengths of employees, instead of using euphemisms for success, those people feel seen and appreciated. They are encouraged to be more productive and engaged, and others on the team will also be aware of how they can also contribute more value to the business. 

4. Let’s take this offline.

Offline!? Where does this magical place exist? Please tell me because I would love to go there. Everything is online these days. Mobile phones, tablets, and laptops are ubiquitous. Instead of saying this completely meaningless phrase, create an opportunity to deepen workplace relationships by saying something like, Let’s discuss this in-person later. 

5. He brings alot of value to the table.

When is the last time you brought value to the table? I use mine primarily for eating food. How can vague statements like this be adequate in a business environment, a place where hard data rules decision making?

6. Go after low-hanging fruit.

Be honest, when is the last time you picked fruit? This phrase is an attempt to convey that a task can be accomplished easily and quickly, with a sweet reward. Admittedly, I think this buzzword is pretty good. But it’s a non-sequitur in a business environment – even in our environment where we actually get fruit delivered.

7. Let’s think outside the box.

Oh you mean this box?  The one that you just put us in by using this cliche? Nothing kicks off a creative brainstorming session like mundane language. Don’t reference the box, instead create a unique name that gets people curious. Hold an inspiration session, or a zone of genius meeting. 

8. I don’t have much bandwidth right now.

We only have a handful of precious years remaining before the singularity emerges and The Matrix actually happens. Perhaps we can describe our lives in human terms for just a bit longer.

If you don’t have time for something, say no in simple terms. This is the perfect opportunity to request support around initiatives, get clear on goals and priorities, and maybe find some much needed breathing room. 

9. Let’s get the ball rolling.

This metaphor is just lame. When in your life have you done anything of consequence that was even remotely related to a rolling ball? At the very least, this buzzword is inefficient overkill. You could save time and be more direct by saying, let’s do this.

10. Pull the trigger.

This is my least favorite business cliche of all time. In the age of excessive gun-violence, do we really want to plant this image in people’s minds?

I define power as creating something. In the business context, products and services are created all the time. When we use this phrase in this manner, we are usurping destructive language to allude to a creative process. There is no such thing as destructive power. Destruction can only occur by force. Confusing force and power even subtly is a dangerous practice.

As a writer and linguist I am biased. But you, my beloved reader, benefit greatly from that. I go through each blog post and remove repetitive words and phrases to improve flow and readability. Driven by a desire to improve your experience when we interact, I want you to feel connected and important.

So the next time you use a business cliche, ask yourself what impact it’s having. Are you motivating and inspiring your team or just making them want to place your latest growth-hack on the back burner?

Additional Resources:

Corporate Jargon and Buzzword Generator

Wall Street Journal Business Buzzwords Generator

The Corporate B.S. Generator

David is not a fan of the terms “thought leadership” or “content marketing”, but he’ll keep using them…for now. Follow him on twitter @davidmizne.



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  • Britta Waller Melton

    Fun post! You could have listed 40 more, I’m sure.

    • Mizne

      Thanks @brittawallermelton:disqus! Quite a few hit the cutting room floor 🙂

  • Tim Jones

    Thank you! Take it offline?!? I remember hearing a manager say that on a conference call when they were being challenged by one of the other sales team members. The sales guy replied with exactly that “offline, where is that, we are online now lets keep it here.”

  • Love it David! We actually made a tool that removes buzzwords from messaging (makeapoint.org -it’s in closed beta but I’ll be happy to hook you up -I’m betting you’ll fall in love)

  • crtfly

    David,

    Thank you! “Pull the trigger” bothers me a lot. As a kid, I had a stepparent who was always threatening me with loaded guns. He was often one twitch away from actually pulling the trigger. For people who have been shot, hearing that expression must be even more distressing than it is for me.

    Chris

    • Language choice is so important, because we never know how what we say might impact the listener.

Leadership

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