The Most Annoying Business Jargon We Should STOP Saying!

The next time you feel the need to reach out, shift a paradigm, leverage a best practice or join a tiger team, by all means do it. Just don’t say you’re doing it, because all that meaningless business jargon can make you sound like a moron.  (These are my top 15, but there are 30 more included below. Just click the link.)  

Core Competency: This awful expression refers to a firm’s or a person’s fundamental strength---even though that’s not what the word “competent” means. “This bothers me because it is just a silly phrase when you think about it,” says Bruce Barry, professor of management at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Business. “Do people talk about peripheral competency? Being competent is not the standard we’re seeking. It’s like core mediocrity.”

Buy-in: Agreement on a course of action, if the most disingenuous kind. Notes David Logan, professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business: “Asking for someone’s ‘buy-in’ says, ‘I have an idea. I didn’t involve you because I didn’t value you enough to discuss it with you.

Empower: What someone above your pay grade does when, apparently, they would like you to do a job of some importance. Also called “the most condescending transitive verb ever.” It suggests that ‘You can do a little bit of this, but I’m still in charge here.: I am empowering you’”, says Dr. Jennifer Chatman, professor of management at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Drinking the Kool-Aid: A tasteless reference to the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, this expression means to blindly accept something, such as a company’s “mission statement.” Robotic allegiance is bad enough; coming up with tactless expressions for it is horrendous.

Move the Needle: This beauty, which has nothing to do with heroin, is a favorite of venture capitalists. If something doesn't move the needle, meaning that it doesn’t generate a reaction (like, positive cash flow), they don't like it much. So when pitching VCs, make clear that you intend to move the needle. Or you could just say, specifically, how your plan and product are superior to your competitors’.

Lots of Moving Parts: Pinball machines have lots of moving parts. Many of them buzz and clank and induce migraine headaches. Do you want your business to run, or even appear to run, like a pinball machine? Then do not say it involves lots of moving parts.

Corporate Values: This expression is so suffused with phoniness it churns the stomach. Corporations don’t have values, the people who run them do. Click here to cast your vote in the Forbes "Jargon Madness" bracket.

Think Outside the Box: To approach a business problem in an unconventional fashion. Kudos to a reader who suggested: "Forget the box, just think."

Ducks in a Row: The saying apparently comes from the earlier days of bowling before machines set pins automatically. One needed to get his “ducks in a row” before hurling a weighty ball down the alley. Better: At work, “make a plan”; then later, if you’d like, “go bowling.”

Leverage: The granddaddy of nouns converted to verbs. ‘Leverage’ is mercilessly used to describe how a situation or environment can be manipulated or controlled. Leverage should remain a noun, as in “to apply leverage,” not as a pseudo-verb, as in “we are leveraging our assets.”

Window of Opportunity: This breezy expression refers to the amount of time, usually brief, in which to take action; when the window shuts, dreams of freedom die. Better scramble through that sucker. Or at least “take action.”

Low-Hanging Fruit: You’d rather not have to climb the tree to get your apple, so you curb your hunger by picking the low-hanging ones. Same goes for business tasks and opportunities. Except that no one knows which tasks and opportunities you’re talking about, or whether ticking them off, easy as that sounds, is a good idea in the first place.

Take it to the Next Level: In theory this means to make something better. In practice, it means nothing, mainly because nobody knows what the next level actually looks like and thus whether or not they’ve reached it.

Synergize: This word has infiltrated nearly every cube and conference room in the country. Blame Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. (No. 6 is Synergize.) Of this habit, Covey writes, "To put it simply, synergy means two heads are better than one." The same advice was preached several decades earlier on the hit show Sesame Street. Big Bird called it "cooperation."

It is What it Is: This one is WAY beyond outdated, and an indication that you do not know what to do or say about a situation.


Did we miss any? Leave a comment below! 

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