In this instalment of Words that Bite, I look at problems with using corporate jargon and provide some particularly irritating examples of corporate gobbledygook.
I don’t like jargon, especially business jargon.
My belief is that if something can’t be explained in clear and concise language, then there must be something wrong with the concept.
Recently, a client approached me, wanting assistance with some blogs for her business. Interestingly, the blogs were about an area that tends to be haunted by corporate jargon. We discussed the project and she explained that she wanted help creating copy that would attract new clients. We agreed these articles should avoid the use of jargon, because this would not only make it easier for clients to understand what she was offering but help her distinguish herself from her competitors.
I drafted several articles and sent them to the client for her approval. To my amazement, they came back completely rewritten, with a heavy sprinkling of corporate jargon. It turned out that she was too frightened to break away from what everyone else was doing, so, in the end, her articles looked just like her competitors’. It seemed like a wasted opportunity to stand out from the crowd but I understood why she might be reluctant to swim against the current.
What makes good business writing?
I believe that good business writing should express an idea or concept in the clearest and most concise way possible. In short, it should make the idea or concept easily understandable.
What is wrong with corporate jargon?
Corporate jargon has one major problem – it does the opposite of what good business writing should be doing, because it:
Sometimes, business jargon can be used to disguise a nefarious intention. For example, it can be used to try to put a positive spin on something that is quite negative. For example, your boss might mention that she wants to support ‘coopetition’ within the team. It sounds civilised. However, it may mean that she wants to create a situation where each member of the team appears to be working harmoniously towards a common goal but in reality everyone is running around stabbing everyone else in the back.
How do people react to corporate jargon?
There are three possible reactions people have to the use of corporate jargon.
First, people may dazzled by your wizardry with words and assume what you are saying must mean something, even if they aren’t sure what you are saying, and are too polite or scared to request a more detailed explanation.
Second, people lose interest, or become annoyed, because what you are saying is difficult to comprehend.
Third, people see what you are doing and come to the conclusion that you are using jargon to disguise your less-than-honourable agenda.
Ten examples of corporate jargon that are jarring and should be avoided
1. Best practice
You might hear a managing partner of a company saying to a coveted client or customer, ‘At our firm, we adopt the best practices for the industry.’ Apparently, this refers to a method or technique that delivers superior results compared with other methods and techniques. The problem is that it is meaningless unless the methods or techniques used by the corporation are specified.
This is what you tell someone when you have an idea or plan and you haven’t consulted them about it, yet want their support for it. You might say, ‘Hey, I’d really appreciate your buy-in on this.’ It is simply a manipulative way of asking them to support you without giving them time to consider your idea or provide feedback.
3. Core competency
This is an annoying term that an corporate employee will often encounter during their performance reviews. It refers to a person’s greatest strength or most important skill. The problem is that this is not what the word ‘competent’ means. Is the expression ‘core competency’ an attempt to glorify mediocrity? Should we also talk about ‘ancillary competencies’ meaning other, less important skills?
4. Corporate values
Here is another meaningless term. How can a corporation have values? A corporation is not a living thing, even if legally it has the same status as a person because it can sue or be sued. Presumably, the people working within the corporation have values. However, is it correct to give the impression that all the people working within a particular corporation have adopted those values?
5. Drill down
This is a phrase often used by a supervisor who wants something examined more closely. Instead of saying, ‘Can you go away and come back with a more detailed analysis of that issue?’, your boss might say, ‘Now, this is great but I’d like you to drill down into this.’
6. Giving 110 per cent
This is illogical. No one can give more than everything, and ‘everything’ equals 100 per cent. If your boss says, ‘I’d like you to give 110 per cent,’ it is their way of saying, ‘Even if you give everything, it won’t be enough because I am a bottomless pit that always wants more.’ If anyone ever asks you to give 110 per cent, you will know that not only are they unreasonable, they are innumerate.
This is a good example of the mutilation of language through turning a noun into a verb. ‘To leverage’ something in this context apparently means to take control or manipulate something. A good example of the use of this word in a sentence is, ‘We should leverage our assets in the mining sector,’ instead of saying, ‘We need to review and evaluate our assets in the mining sector’. Personally, I believe that the word ‘leverage’ should remain a noun.
The word ‘solution’ has come to mean anything, from solving a mathematical problem to designing a space-saving storage system. In short, the word is so overused that it has become meaningless. Another concern is the number of businesses calling themselves ‘______ Solutions’. It seems just about anyone can add the word ‘solutions’ to what they do; every day, I see businesses calling themselves anything from ‘IT Solutions’ to ‘Fencing Solutions’. There are now companies that offer solutions to anything from kitchens to waste management.
This is merely a pretentious way of saying two heads are better than one.
10. Reach out
A pompous way of saying, ‘Let’s set up a meeting’ or ‘Let’s talk to this person’.
There are lots of other annoying examples of corporate jargon. They include:
… I could go on forever.
If good writing is about explaining things in a clear and concise manner, then corporate jargon (which obscures meaning) should be avoided. If you are interested in selling a product or service, then you should think carefully before you use corporate jargon. If copywriting is about attracting people’s interest through words, and corporate jargon does nothing more than obscure meaning or sound pretentious, then everyone should have the courage to avoid using it.
Do you need assistance with your copy? Are you keen to avoid using corporate jargon? The Pink Rottweiler can help. If you would like a no-obligation chat about your business writing, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.