Three Reasons to Avoid Buzzwords in the Workplace


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

If jargon, idioms, and cliches gets you ahead in the workplace, then by all means use them. But what if it hurts you? Looking at the recent study conducted by Jive Communications and OnePoll, the American workforce needs to seriously reevaluate buzzwords in the workplace.

We’re all guilty of it

According to Jive’s survey of 2,000 American workers, 71% have used jargon at work before, and about a quarter of employees use jargon, a cliche, or an idiom at least once a week.

“We’ve all been guilty of using these phrases, whether out of habit or not,” senior vice president of Jive Communications John Pope said.

Why? A majority (72%) say it’s habitual. But that habit then pressures 22% of your coworkers to use jargon, cliche, and idiom for “assimilation purposes.” It’s clear that people are desperate to fit in when 44% of the 2,000 surveyed freely admitted they’ve used workplace jargon without even understanding what it means.

All of these statistics show that a large majority of the American workforce use buzzwords at work. Now the question is whether it’s a good thing. After analyzing the results from the Jive survey, you should avoid using buzzwords in the workplace for three reasons.

#1. A negative perception

When asked about workplace jargon in general, must of the responses were benign: 36% were amused, 26% found it enjoyable, 27% stopped paying attention, and 24% felt nothing at it. But that’s just the overall feeling associated with cliches, idioms, and jargon. What do your coworkers and bosses think when you use it?

When asked, “which of the following do you feel when someone uses workplace jargon?” the results were polarizing. Some (24%) see this language as ethos building, and over half (54%) see it negatively. When you use jargon, cliches, and idioms in the workplace, your coworkers believe you’re “not credible,” that you’re “making things up,” that you’re “not knowledgeable,” and/or that you’re “faking it.”

When half of your coworkers see that language as a sign of your incompetence, and you’re only convincing a quarter that you’re competent, is it worth it? Strictly from a numbers perspective, it serves you better to avoid this kind of polarizing language all together.

#2. A more globalized workplace

Another reason to ditch office buzzwords is globalization. Recently, Jive Communication was acquired by LogMeIn. There are many striking similarities between our companies (which make it such a great match), but there are natural differences. Adding localized and unfamiliar language to the mix as we’re trying to come together would unnecessarily complicate things.

Clarity is best as our companies grow and diversify. That means leaving behind particularly regionalized cliches and esoteric jargon.

Not to mention that the Jive family includes offices in Guatemala, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada, and the LogMeIn family includes offices in Europe and Asia. So saying “let’s hammer it out” in a meeting with worldwide LogMeIn leadership 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—like meetings. (Of course, 28% of Americans hear workplace jargon during meetings.)

#3. Ineffective communication

Ten percent of workers cleverly leverage jargon and idioms  “to avoid questions.” It’s a brilliant strategy, and 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 to take a “deep dive” into the data?  “Synergy” between what? What goals/numbers do your employees need to hit in order to give a “110%”?

John Pope also points out that “overuse has diluted the meaning of many phrases. If you’re constantly told to give a project ‘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.”

Giving 110% to avoid buzzwords in the workplace

Let me clearly communicate what giving a 110% looks like in avoiding buzzwords in the workplace.

  • Don’t use phrases, idioms, or jargon you don’t understand.
  • Don’t use phrases, idioms, or jargon to “assimilate” or “test people’s knowledge.”
  • When you hear cliches, idioms, or jargon you’re not familiar with, ask the speaker for clarification.  
  • Take a look at the jargon, idioms, and cliches Jive has identified. Figure out which ones that you’re guilty of frequently using, and brainstorm clearer language to use in its place.
  • When you feel vernacular, a cliche, or idiom about to come out of your mouth, stop. Pause for a moment to find a more effective language to communicate your 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—not meetings.

Increase communication and inclusion

We’re not trying to censor or deny you the pleasure of colorful or casual language. We just all need to be more aware and deliberate in the language we use at work. At key moments at work, avoiding buzzwords is just an actionable strategy to improve your communication in the workplace. There are also clear benefits to avoiding buzzwords in the workplace: your language becomes more inclusive and effective.

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

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