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Buzzwords - have we forgotten how to communicate?

How many of us adopt various buzzwords in our business dialogue and written correspondence? Then ask yourself how many of these buzzwords are actually meaningful and how many could be avoided. Buzzwords, it would seem, can do more harm than good and their overuse may well make you stand out for all the wrong reasons. 

In our second blog in the series on verbal communication (our first blog is entitled 'Barriers in business: Mind your language') we discuss how we often rely on ambiguous terms to try and get our meaning across. It's no wonder, we often talk at cross purposes.

As we’ll learn in this blog, it’s worth giving buzzwords a wide-berth (have we just fallen at the first hurdle? And there’s another (!)) - their meaning can be misconstrued, misinterpreted and worse still, irritate the recipient of such language. Let’s keep communication simple; reduce jargon in everyday conversations and give more thought to how we speak.

Overuse of buzzwords will exclude some of your audience

It’s interesting to ponder that in times gone by, it was formulaic job applications with terms such as ‘team player’, ‘results-driven’ and ‘forward-thinker’ which candidates would rely on to sell their worth. Now, it’s the turn of employers to come ‘under the microscope’ (another one!). The bottom-line (!) is that we should all be thinking more about our use of language and not trying to use buzzwords to fill in the gaps.

Not only should we all be using our brains more and stop taking communication shortcuts, we should give some thought to those for which English is not their first language, or neurodiverse people trying to circumnavigate meaning and semantics. For example, what does ‘to be honest’ say about its use? Both in everyday and business life, many could quite legitimately ask, ‘Has the user been dishonest up until now then?’ Arguably the use of buzzwords excludes a proportion of your audience immediately or at the very least, confuses them.

Avoid buzzwords in your job advertisements

A recent survey by Preply has identified the top 10 buzzwords employers should avoid when advertising for positions.

Unsurprisingly, almost 69% of job applicants were influenced by job advertisements reliant on buzzwords and 20% decided not to apply altogether.

Which words are a turnoff? Which clichéd terms create a negative impression? 

Here’s the top 10 worst buzzwords to use in the initial recruitment process. 

  1. Rockstar
  2. Wear many hats
  3. Thick skin
  4. Work hard, play hard
  5. Schedule TBC
  6. Urgently hiring
  7. Ninja
  8. Hit the ground running
  9. Fast-paced environment
  10. Overachiever

Potential job seekers may interpret ‘wear many hats’ as a requirement to cover more than 1 job; a small team required to cover a workload too large. The attribute to have a ‘thick skin’ could well indicate a volatile and stress-laden work environment. Let’s not even go there with the use of the term ‘Ninja’ - it has all sorts of negative interpretations - and no, we don’t think it’s a term which applies to a highly skilled employee. We’re thinking in terms of a stealth bomber, a covert co-worker ready to spill the beans on unsuspecting colleagues.

It’s easy to see how one person's adjective can be another’s negative.

Common buzzwords in 'business speak'

Now let’s turn our attention to the regular buzzword offenders and see how many of them you are guilty of relying on to communicate. This pitiful list was deemed to include the most common (and annoying) buzzwords from that same sample of respondents:

  1. Win-win
  2. Culture
  3. ASAP
  4. Think outside the box
  5. Moving forward/Going forward
  6. Circle back
  7. It’s on my radar
  8. On the same page
  9. Bring to the table
  10. New normal

Oh dear, oh dear, yep, hands-up, we’re guilty! Buzzwords that didn’t make the most used top ten include ‘At the end of the day’ and ‘Let’s take a holistic approach’. The first statement is completely meaningless and demonstrates a lack of thought whilst the latter requires the receiver to understand the meaning of ‘holistic’ in the first instance. Further interpretation/brain processing power is then needed to grasp its meaning and apply context.

Other personal ‘favourites’? 

‘Let’s take it offline’. In an age of virtual meetings, its meaning once made sense, where perhaps a discussion didn’t need to include everyone on the call. Yet if you’re using it face to face the buzz-term then begins to irritate; it begins to make little sense and makes the user look like a David Brent wannabe. It may also signal to colleagues that you’re seeking to avoid a discussion about an issue completely - not a good look. Needless to say, if, as a manager or business leader you rely on terms such as these you’re in danger of not being taken very seriously.

Buzzwords demonstrate a lack of thought and creativity

There’s also an argument which says a reliance on buzzwords demonstrates a lack of independent or original thought, an uncreative mind and dare we say it - but a disinterested participant in the conversation altogether? 

We’re on the side of simple, jargon-free communication - of the spoken word and the written word. Give this some thought. When you’re watching a journalist report a story - how many of them will say ‘Well’ before they start their account. How many newsreaders say ‘thank you very much indeed’ at the end of the report and how many people use the word ‘so’ (or our personal bête noire ‘like’ in front of every sentence uttered?) All of them are a means of delaying the real content of what you have to say. Why not pause, slow down your speech and think?

Let’s campaign for considered, intelligent and thoughtful speech. Let’s make dialogue meaningful and accessible to all participants and stop this need to use buzzwords as an indicator of intellect and business prowess. Buzzwords can irritate, disengage the desired audience and scupper creative thought and action. 

You have been warned!

At The Digital Doctor, our whole ethos is about delivering projects to our clients in straightforward, jargon-free terms, so if this blog has you 'champing at the bit' (sorry) to work with designers and content writers who think the same way as you do, then contact us.

We love a chat!


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