From coast to coast, cubicle to cubicle, workplace jargon is collectively despised. Words like value add, impactful, and brainstorm usually induce more cringes than work product. That’s why crossing certain words off your workplace vocab list could help you cross things off your to-do list.
The Problem With Jargon
Workplace jargon is more than an annoyance; it’s a time-eater. Language has the power to shape thoughts and action, and when meaningless words and phrases are thrown around, those thoughts and actions are less likely to be productive. As Jennifer Chatman, a management professor at the University of California-Berkeley, told Forbes, “Jargon masks real meaning. People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction they want to give others.”
For example, holding a meeting for the purpose of brainstorming is a sure fire way to make sure mask the real goals of that meeting because, really, what does brainstorm even mean? Instead, identifying clear objectives will ensure everyone is on the same page and working toward the same purpose. Although brainstorm might be appealing as an easy label, the ultimate time lost in muddling the true purpose might not be worth it.
In addition to empty meanings, jargon can also decrease trust in the workplace. A 2011 New York University study concluded that vague language leads listeners to believe a speaker is lying more often than concrete language does.
What to Cut
To ensure productivity, avoid mistrust, and just to make the workplace a little more bearable, here are a few of the worst offenders to avoid in your office speech:
• Core Competency
It’s supposed to mean a business’ or person’s fundamental strength. But competency is a baseline for being able to get a job done. As Bruce Barry, a professor of management at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Business puts it, “Do people talk about peripheral competency? Being competent is not the standard we’re seeking. It’s like core mediocrity.”
• Think Outside the Box
Thinking outside the box means to take an unconventional approach. But why would you ever confine thinking to a box in the first place?
A recent article in The Atlantic outlining the origins of workplace jargon says that the word synergy was coined by a British psychologist in the 1960s and used by the consulting industry as a purposefully instilled management tactic. The term was originally a Protestant word for cooperation between the human will and divine grace.
The word impact actually became popular in the workplace because most people don’t understand the difference between the words “affect” and “effect,” according to Brian Garner, the editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary. So rather than risk mixing them up (or learning how to use them properly), they’ll say, “We will impact our competitor’s sales with this new product.”
• Take It to The Next Level
What does the next level look like? No one knows, so there’s no way to tell if you’ve reached it. Try to gear your work toward something a little more specific and, therefore, attainable.
Touch base, circle back, utilize, value-add, incentivize, paradigm shift… the list goes on. At the end of the day, if it makes you cringe and you’re not really sure what it means, take a step back and think about how to articulate a concept in a meaningful (non-cliché) way. As a result, you might just get fewer grimaces and greater productivity.
The experienced lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys are here to help with all your workplace needs. Contact an attorney today.