You could be the most genius person in the world but if you don’t know how to convey your ideas, you’re not going to get anywhere. Communication is at the heart of everything we do. Making sure you understand someone else’s viewpoint and ensuring that you’re understood is about using the right words, whether in spoken or written form.
Nowhere is this more pertinent than in the business world. And yet, that is precisely where we’ve decided to complicate things. The business phrases and sayings prevalent in our professional lives, these days, are both confounding and amusing if you think about it.
How Did Convoluted Business Phrases And Sayings Evolve In The First Place?
No, you don’t need any etymological background to figure this one out. Convoluted business phrases and sayings evolved due to our need to seem smarter, cooler, and more intimidating. Someone somewhere decided that using foggy analogies and bigger phrases that confuse others makes them seem like a more knowledgeable individual. Then, someone somewhere else simply decided to copy.
And so, the rot spread to a point where everyone in the business world seems to be using these phrases and terms. What people don’t realise is that these words hinder communication. As a result, they hamper the efficient use of the biggest resource of any company – its workforce. If your subordinates and associates don’t understand what you’re saying or have to spend time figuring it out, then that is time wasted.
Do you want to prevent your peers from scratching their heads and focus instead on getting things done? Here are some terms you should eliminate from your dictionary.
Actionable literally means ‘affording grounds for legal action’. Therefore, when it is used it in the business setup, it sounds pretentious. In the business context, what people want to convey by using this word is something that can be acted on.
In a way, everything is actionable. It is just a matter of how deep you go into it. For example, all forms of intelligence are actionable intelligence. Replacing actionable with words like workable, practical, or realistic would be… well, more “actionable”.
#2 Core Competency
The word competent means adequately suited to something. It almost always hints towards mediocrity. Yet, in the business world, the term ‘core competency’ is used to denote something that is the fundamental strength. Therefore, the term is misleading because it is being used in the wrong way.
A sentence like “our core competencies include” would be better and easier to understand if it is rephrased to “we’re excellent at” or even “we’re best at doing”. This will not only make it clearer but also be better from the psychological angle. After all, first person and second person speak are known to yield better results.
Using a word like this will not only make the person look like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about but also make it seem that he’s trying to be cool. Guesstimate is a word that was useful when it was new simply because of its novelty. Now, it seems dated and very unnecessary.
Replacing this word with a “rough estimate” would be much more dignified. Or better yet, don’t offer rough estimates, be accurate with your figures and you’ll be taken more seriously.
#4 Mission Critical
Someone who uses this term is doing it to seem more authoritative by invoking militaristic parallels. There are so many better ways of conveying this sense of importance. Consider just critical, vital, important, and crucial.
#5 Paradigm/Seismic Shift
So, you’re either changing people’s visual spectrum or creating earthquakes. Wouldn’t it be better to use ‘fundamental change’, ‘significant change’, or even ‘massive change’?
If you use this word in any other setting, it will be considered negative. Can you imagine a student telling his teacher how ‘disruptive’ he is or even a candidate using this term in an interview? And yet, no one bats an eyelid when it is used.
It is supposed to mean that you have changed the market. If you, your business, or your product has really changed the market, then it will be self-evident. It is better if other people use terms like disruptive for your work rather than you doing it for your own self.
Buy-in is used by business professionals to get someone to agree to their plans and ideas without seeming like they’re doing it. In fact, this term implicitly says that “I didn’t involve you in the decision-making process but now need you to agree to it without making too big a deal about it”.
It is insulting in the way that it leaves so much unsaid. It would be far more honest and simpler to just ask someone for their support or agreement.
This is another insulting term used by people higher up in the business hierarchy. It inherently means that “I have the power and am assigning some of it to you”. It implies domination in a subtle way. It also hints that ‘without me, you wouldn’t have this power and I’m doing you a favour’
It would be far easier on the subordinate and definitely more dignified for the senior to use terms like ‘delegating’ or ‘assigning’ responsibility. This would especially be true if there are other people around.
#9 Drinking the Kool-Aid
This one is just classless because of its roots. This term came about because of the Jonestown Massacre where a cult leader made his followers drink Kool-Aid laced with poison. The term implies blind acceptance of something including the company policy, philosophy, claims, or even marketing message.
At one point, using this term at someone is derogatory and, at another, it shows insensitivity to the people who died in 1978. It is far better to be more tactful while implying something of this magnitude. Have you considered just saying “he has accepted the philosophy” instead of saying “he is drinking the Kool-Aid”?
#10 Touch Base / Reach Out
These two phrases can be interchanged in the business lingo. They also share the fact that they’re vague and unclear. You use these business phrases when you don’t want to commit to the specifics of future engagements but don’t want to seem like you don’t.
If used with customers or clients, they’re even worse because if you’re not versed with the business lingo such phrases can come across as being incredibly impersonal and non-committal. A better way would be to be more specific as to whether you’re going to meet, call, email, or even text.
#11 Outside the Box
This business phrase is irony personified. Initially, it became popular because by using it you were practicing what you were asking the other person to do. The phrase was new which meant that it was creative in the other person’s eyes.
However, it has become such a cliché in the business world these days that when you use this business phrase, you’re showing your lack of creativity. It has effectively turned into an oxymoron. It would be better to replace it with a simple “something different”.