Say Goodbye to Business Buzzwords: Simple Strategies for Better Business Conversations

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Imagine sitting in a meeting with your team when your manager says, “Let’s circle back on that idea to leverage our core competencies and create a paradigm shift that will disrupt the market and yield maximum ROI.” If you’re left scratching your head, you’re not alone. Buzzwords and jargon have become all too common in the business world, often leaving us feeling confused and disconnected. In this blog post, we’ll explore the origins and consequences of overused business language, discuss why we should avoid these terms, and suggest alternative ways to communicate more effectively. We’ll begin by looking at the origins of business jargon and the etymology of a few popular overused terms.

The Origins of Business Buzzword Jargon

Business jargon emerged from specialized fields like finance, management, and marketing, each with its own technical terminology. Over time, these terms began to spread and become part of everyday business communication, often serving as shorthand for complex ideas. Using jargon helped professionals convey concepts quickly and efficiently within their respective industries. However, as these terms became widespread, they evolved and sometimes strayed from their original meanings.

Let’s take a closer look at the etymology of some popular business jargon words:

  1. Bandwidth: In its original context, “bandwidth” referred to the capacity of a communication channel to transmit data, such as in telecommunications and computing. However, in the business world, it has been adopted as a metaphor for a person’s or team’s capacity to handle tasks, projects, or responsibilities. While the term may have initially helped convey the concept of limited resources, its overuse has led to ambiguity and confusion.
  2. Low-hanging fruit: This phrase derives from the literal act of picking fruit from trees. The “low-hanging fruit” is easily accessible and requires minimal effort to pick, unlike the fruit higher up in the tree. In a business context, it refers to tasks, projects, or opportunities that can be achieved with little effort and result in quick gains. However, its frequent use has diluted its impact, making it a cliché that can detract from the intended message.
  3. Think outside the box: Its origins are uncertain, but it is believed to have stemmed from the “nine-dot puzzle,” which requires participants to connect nine dots with only four straight lines without lifting their pen. The solution requires “thinking outside the box” or approaching the problem unconventionally. This phrase has become synonymous with creativity, innovation, and unconventional thinking in the business world. However, the term’s overuse has ironically made it a cliché that fails to inspire creative thought.

Business jargon often originates in specific industries or problem-solving situations, evolving and sometimes deviating from its original meanings as it spreads. Overusing these terms has resulted in ambiguity, confusion, and even clichés. Understanding their origins and why they are popular is crucial. Still, we must also be mindful of their potential pitfalls and strive for clear, direct communication.

The Role of Jargon in Society

In Western cultures, like the United States, I’ve observed that buzzwords and jargon have become deeply ingrained in both professional and popular culture. They’re often used to demonstrate expertise or belonging to a particular group, fostering a sense of shared understanding and connection among those “in the know.” However, this practice isn’t exclusive to Western cultures. In many other cultures and languages, I’ve noticed the use of specialized language, including buzzwords and jargon, in various professional settings. For example, the buzzword synergy in English is also often used as business jargon in the Spanish language sinergia, with the same meaning that the combined efforts of individuals or organizations can lead to results more remarkable than the sum of their actions. 

One of the primary reasons people like you and I use buzzwords is to signal expertise, create a sense of belonging, and simplify complex ideas. However, overusing buzzwords can have unintended consequences, leading to confusion or miscommunication. For example, when I use “synergy” to describe teamwork or collaboration, the listener may not fully grasp the intended meaning, leading to misunderstandings about my team’s goals or processes.

In some cases, buzzwords can create barriers between different cultures or languages. For instance, when English business jargon is used in a multilingual or multicultural setting, non-native English speakers like some of my colleagues may need help comprehending the intended meaning, resulting in a communication breakdown.

Research supports the idea that excessive use of jargon can hinder effective communication and even reduce understanding. Tan et al. (2019) explain in their study that jargon decreases investment willingness for investors without industry knowledge because it decreases understanding. In his book, The Plain English Guide, Martin Cutts argues that jargon and other complex language forms can impede readers’ understanding of written communication. Cutts emphasizes the importance of using clear and simple language, particularly in professional settings, to improve comprehension and avoid confusion.

Buzzword Overload and Why We Should Not Use Them

Unfortunately, buzzwords have become so commonplace that they often dilute the meaning of the original concept. This overuse can make communication unclear, cliché, and even frustrating for the listener. It’s essential to recognize when we’re relying too heavily on jargon and make a conscious effort to simplify our language. As a professional, it’s crucial to realize the potential pitfalls of relying on buzzwords and strive for clear, direct communication that fosters understanding and collaboration. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons we should avoid using business jargon.

business buzzword illustration of two people talking.

  1. Clarity: Jargon can be confusing, especially to those who are new to a particular industry or field. Using straightforward language ensures that everyone understands your message easily, which leads to better communication and collaboration.
  2. Authenticity: Relying on buzzwords can make you appear insincere or inauthentic. Using simpler, more direct language demonstrates that you value genuine communication and are not trying to hide behind fancy words.
  3. Inclusivity: Overused business terms can create barriers to understanding and alienate team members or clients unfamiliar with the lingo. By replacing jargon with more accessible language, you create a more inclusive environment that welcomes diverse perspectives and experiences.
  4. Precision: Buzzwords often need more specificity, which can lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations. By using clear, concise language, you can better convey your ideas and intentions, reducing the risk of confusion or miscommunication.
  5. Avoiding clichés: Overused phrases can make your communication seem unoriginal or even lazy. By finding alternative ways to express your ideas, you show that you have put thought into your words and that you genuinely care about the message you are trying to convey.
  6. Adaptability: Business environments constantly evolve, and the language used should reflect that. By retiring outdated jargon and embracing more precise language, you signal that your business is adaptable and ready to face new challenges and opportunities.
  7. Professionalism: Overusing jargon can make your communication appear unprofessional, as it can seem like you are attempting to impress or appear knowledgeable rather than focusing on conveying a clear message. Using straightforward language demonstrates that you prioritize effective communication, reflecting your professionalism well.

Let’s take a look at two examples of the same dialog. A manager in the first scenario uses business jargon, and in the second scenario, uses plain language. You judge which scenario sounds clear and to the point and which sounds confusing and forced.

Scenario with Business Jargon (Buzzword Overload):

Manager: “In order to optimize our bottom line, we need to leverage our core competencies and create synergistic solutions. Let’s focus on the low-hanging fruit, streamline our processes, and utilize outside-the-box thinking to drive growth and increase our market share.”

Scenario with Plain, Straightforward Language:

Manager:“To improve our profits, we should focus on what we do best and work together effectively. Let’s tackle the easiest tasks first, simplify our work methods, and come up with creative ideas to grow our business and attract more customers.”

Which scenario made the task explained by the manager easy to understand? You are correct if you said the scenario with plain, straightforward language.

By avoiding overused business words and embracing clear, direct language, you can create a more effective, inclusive, and professional communication environment that fosters better understanding and collaboration.

List of Buzzwords to Drop and Their Alternatives

There is No one solution that fits all business communication situations. At times, using the following business jargon is the best choice for what you are trying to communicate. However, the goal is to use buzzwords sparingly, shifting your communication to a more inclusive and straightforward use of language.

Below is a list of commonly used business buzzwords and alternative word choices in simpler language. My challenge to you is to use the more straightforward words often, if not always, to get your point across quickly and effectively.

Overused Business JargonAlternative Words to Use Instead
synergycollaboration, working together
paradigm shiftfundamental change, new perspective
disruptiveinnovation, ground-breaking
leverageuse, take advantage of
game-changersignificant change, major impact
think outside the boxcreative thinking, original ideas
value-addedbeneficial, improved
circle backfollow-up, reconnect
touch basecheck-in, communicate
low-hanging fruittargets, simple tasks
going forwardin the future, from now on
bandwidthcapacity, availability
best practiceseffective methods, proven techniques
scalableadaptable, expandable
end-to-endcomprehensive, complete
core competencieskey strengths, main skills
ROI (Return on Investment)profit, financial gain

Final Words

As we wrap up this discussion, let’s remember the impact of clear communication in the business world. We’ve explored the origins of business jargon, its role in society, and the consequences of relying on overused buzzwords. In the end, the key takeaway is that we should make a conscious effort to simplify our language and embrace more direct, authentic communication.

I’ve shared a list of buzzwords to avoid and their alternatives. I encourage you to use these suggestions in your daily interactions, whether it’s with your team, clients, or colleagues. Using plain, straightforward language will create an inclusive and productive environment that fosters understanding, collaboration, and success.

As you head into your next meeting or write that important email, remember the manager’s example we discussed earlier. Be mindful of your chosen words and strive to communicate effectively by avoiding buzzwords and jargon. In doing so, you’ll positively impact your business relationships and contribute to a more meaningful, efficient, and professional communication culture.

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