When to avoid buzzwords in the workplace




Buzzwords and jargon work magic on Jack Donaghy, but does it work on your coworkers and employees?

If jargon, idioms, and cliches get you ahead in the workplace, then by all means use them. In fact, there are instances when jargon is beneficial and even necessary.

When jargon is preferred?

  1. When technical language is more accurate.
    Think of experts in specialized fields. Alpha Bravo Charlie is a much better way to say “ABC” to avoid interferences and confusion in the aviation world. Many professionals need to use common phrases and vocabulary to communicate more efficiently

  2. When you can gain some authority or “level up”.
    Using technical language in the correct way can help you sound confident and educated on a topic or within your field if the entirety of your team or audience is familiar with the buzzwords or jargon, or you can simply explain the meaning.

When you should “put a pin in it” (postpone—or just stop with no thought of returning)

  1. When it puts up a wall.
    Another reason to ditch office buzzwords is globalization. As many companies are embracing hybrid work, and welcoming new talent from around the world, adding localized and unfamiliar language to the mix unnecessarily complicates things.

    Clarity is best, and that means leaving behind particularly regionalized cliches and esoteric jargon.

    Using phrases like, “let’s hammer it out” in a meeting with worldwide team members and leaders may not be the most effective or clear communication.

    If you use jargon, cliches, or idioms, use them in small and personal spaces where coworkers and employees feel comfortable asking for clarifications. Perhaps the worst place to use buzzwords are formal, large, and hierarchical situations.

    The understanding of a team or audience is of the utmost importance and using jargon can make new recruits or others feel ostracized or divided. Inclusivity should be the goal.

  2. When it makes you look disingenuous and feels evasive.
    This is a sign of ineffective communication. Think of a leader saying that they’re sticking with any given strategy because it’s "results-oriented"…

    That’s always the goal, right?

    Using buzzwords and jargon can feel very much like an authority figure saying “because I say so” or to end a conversation and avoid questions. It emphasizes one of the major loopholes / problems with buzzwords—they’re too general.

       Question: “How are we going to fix this. . . .?”
             Answer: “Synergy . . . “
             Answer: “We’ll take a deep dive into the data”
             Answer: “We’ll give it 110%”

To be an effective communicator and leader, you must give clear context, expectations, and definitions. What do your employees need to specifically analyze and take a “deep dive” into the data? “Synergy” between what? What goals/numbers do your employees need to hit in order to give “110%”?

Overuse has diluted the meaning of many phrases. If you’re constantly told to give your projects ‘110 percent,’ over time it will lose its power and effect. Our goal should be to use such jargon sparingly, and when the moment calls for it.

Let’s “level-set" (or come to a mutual understanding)

We’ve all used jargon at work before, whether out of habit or not. Some have probably even used it without even understanding what it means.

Boss: “Let’s not boil the ocean.”

Us: “That sounds violent.”

Translation: Let’s not boil the ocean means “Let’s not waste a lot of time on this.”

So unless we’re using specific buzzwords a.) to give our work bestie a laugh, b.) because it’s technically more accurate, or c.) because it’s used more intimately among a team who all clearly understand the vernacular, let’s:

  • Avoid using phrases, idioms, or jargon we don’t understand.
  • Stop using phrases, idioms, or jargon to “test people’s knowledge.”
  • Ask the speaker for clarification when we hear cliches, idioms, or jargon we’re not familiar with.
  • Take a look at the jargon, idioms, and cliches we use and figure out which ones we're guilty of frequently using, and brainstorm whether there’s clearer language to use in its place.
  • Pause for a moment before using vernacular, a cliche, or idiom to see if there’s more effective language that could communicate our thoughts.

And if you must use jargon, be considerate. Provide definitions for those unfamiliar with the word or phrase, and always provide ample context and specifications to illustrate expectations. Finally, use buzzwords at appropriate times and places. Don’t pack in all your favorite buzzwords during the company all-hands, for example.

Increase communication and inclusion

We’re not trying to censor or deny you the pleasure of colorful or casual language. But we can all be more aware and deliberate in the language we use. Avoiding buzzwords or using them appropriately is an actionable strategy to improve your communication in the workplace so it becomes more inclusive and effective. For even more tips on how to be a clear, effective communicator in a hybrid workplace, see this blog post.

Your company can buy the most innovative communication technology, but effective communication must begin with the language you use.