5th June, 2017

4 pieces of business-speak you’ve been using overusing

The worlds of comms and PR are often filled with jargon, from the sensible to the overused and the misunderstood.

While some jargon may be necessary to facilitate speedy communication and understanding across all members of your team, sometimes jargon can mask your message and affect your reputation. If a potential client finds your correspondence confusing or unintelligible, they’re unlikely to seek your services—it’s a damaging first impression to make.

With that in mind, here’s our take on some common business jargon offenders. Are you guilty of overusing them?

1. Solution(s)

Real meaning: Things

As noted by the MD of Houston PR, Hamish Thompson, “most jargon starts with a genuine impulse to find a new way of explaining things”—and we think that’s likely the case here. “Solutions” is used frustratingly often to describe all manner of products and services. Although it is somewhat understandable, it serves no purpose other than to make your offering seem more confusing. For example, labelling something as an “entrance solution” actually obscures the details of the offering. What, exactly, do you mean? (In this case, the phrase was used in place of the far simpler “door”).

This nugget of jargon has also been singled out as especially bad by Forbes: “[It] has come to mean everything from the traditional way to solve a mathematical proof to a suite of efficiency-enhancing software—and it is the epitome of lingual laziness”. They go on to quote Glen Turpin, a communications consultant, who states that the word “usually refers to a collection of technologies too abstract or complex to describe in a way that anyone would care about if they were explained in plain English”. We agree!

2. Blue sky thinking/thinking outside the box

Real meaning: To think freely, creatively, differently

“Blue sky thinking” and “thinking outside the box” have become very overused terms that cause people to roll their eyes. If you want people to think creatively and ambitiously, why bother making your wording more complex and less creative? This is a good example of style over purpose; in any communication, whether it be with colleagues, clients, customers, or other, the main purpose should be to convey your meaning clearly and engagingly. Terms such as this do the opposite.

3. Curate

Real meaning: Choose/put together

This came high up Houston PR’s 2016 list of annoying business jargon. Thompson expanded on this to “Somebody stands up and says ‘I’m going to curate a cheese sandwich’ and the audience thinks ‘nice use of curate’,” he says. “Then, in the time it takes to make a cheese sandwich, everyone is using the word ‘curate’ and it becomes wallpaper.”

In our opinion, in this case there’s little to be gained by arbitrarily elevating your language; curate does have a specific meaning and may be relevant in art, design, or event management, but curating a sandwich—to use Thompson’s example—is nonsensical.

4. To reach out/touch base

Real meaning: Communicate/contact

Some class these phrases as the most annoying pieces of jargon possible: why not just say, “shall we meet and chat”? We do see this perspective, but also agree that its usage is probably fine as a catch-all phrase to encourage some kind of communication (a coffee, phone call, email, formal meeting). This wording is also appropriate for communication at any level, be it a CEO or office temp, whereas “let’s chat over coffee” runs the risk of coming across as disrespectful if you don’t know the recipient especially well. Either way, given that there are numerous less cliché ways of phrasing this—“let’s discuss further”, “shall we meet”, “can I treat you to lunch”—there really is no need to resort to such tired corporate lingo.

Do any of these drive you crazy? Are there any we missed? We’d love to know—leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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