Apr 25

WHY You Should Avoid Business Jargon and Clichés Like the Plague

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OK, so I used a cliché in the headline, but there is definitely a pestilence of business jargon in today’s workplace.

This epidemic is evidenced by the popularity of the video, “Stuff Business People Say,” the infographic, “50 Horrible Clichés You Need to Stop Writing and Saying Right Now,” and the dozens of articles with lists of words you should strike from your business vocabulary.

So we all recognize that jargon and clichés are overused and often times annoying. But why not use them? All my friends are using them. If I don’t, I’ll be the only one not using them. After all, they are just words, and unlike sticks and stones they will never hurt you, right? Wrong.

Here are four good reasons you should stop using jargon and clichés in your speaking and writing:

  1. Word choice is one of the strongest tools you have for making your “story” and yourself original. Whether you are writing an email, speaking in a meeting, or creating original content, the more you use clichés and jargon, the more you sound like everyone else. Every time you speak or write, you have the opportunity to express an idea or suggestion that is distinctly your own. Why would you waste that chance using stock phrases that people have heard before and probably find annoying? Convey your message in an original way, and it will be more engaging, memorable and meaningful to your audience.
  2. Empty speaking conveys empty thinking (and it is contagious). The video, “Stuff Business People Say,” does a good job of summing it up. The people in the video are talking, but their words mean nothing. What does it really mean to “leverage assets” or “move the needle?” Does your company even have a needle? When you start looking at the origin of some of the phrases, you see that the way they are used in business is far removed from the original intent. One of the worst is “drink the Kool-Aid” which has become to mean to go along with the group or to fully embrace something, but is a really a tasteless reference to a mass murder/suicide in Jonestown in 1978.
  3. Vague language generates less trust. A study from psychology professors at New York University revealed that abstract language leads listeners to believe a speaker is lying more often than concrete language does. It makes sense. If you don’t truly understand what a person means, how can you believe what they are saying? It is not just vagueness that can create less trust, it can be the actual words. I worked at a company where it became common for people to say, “Well, to be perfectly honest” and “Frankly.” Wait, does that mean everything else is a lie and the person is not typically honest and frank? You can see how careless use of jargon can be damaging. Which leads to the next reason:
  4. Office speak can be perceived as aggressive or discriminatory. When you think about it, much of the jargon we hear is either related to war or sports. “Teeing it up.” S.W.A.T. team.” “Bleeding edge.” “Behind the eight ball.” In your wheelhouse.” “Rules of engagement.” “Battle plan.” The issue with these phrases is that they can create a “boys club” environment. In spite of the strides women have made in the workplace, they are still expected to use softer, more inclusive language, according to an article in The Guardian, and it is hard to fit in if you don’t speak the same language as your coworkers. Arianna Huffington has even called for a ban on the phrase “killing it,” as she says the “language of war that is introduced into everyday corporate America is just totally detrimental.”

Of course, there will be times when the occasional business jargon or cliché slips out. Just remember though, that when you do use them, your audience may be confused and uncertain about what you are really trying to say. Or worse, you may discredit yourself by appearing vague or offensive. So next time you are tempted to “push the envelope” or “make a paradigm shift,” think about what you really mean to say, and then say that.