Don’t Talk To Your Customers with That Mouth (Why Business Jargon Has to Go)

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If there’s one thing I hate, it’s business jargon.

Not only is it full of clichés used ad nauseam, but it emits an unsettling combination of arrogance and insecurity. Using phrases like “circle back” and “core values” make you sound like a pompous ding-dong, and also suggests that you’re couching your words (read: you seem untrustworthy).

For instance, when you say something’s “a burning platform,” what you’re really saying is, “we’re in deep s***.” When you call something an “action item,” you’re probably trying to make it sound more important than it is.

And while I loathe business jargon, what I truly despise is when companies use it to communicate with the public. It’s one thing to use it as short-hand office lingo (if you want to sound like the voice of the guy in the “mature business man shaking hands with his colleague in the office” stock photo–it’s a real photo, BTW–be my guest), but…

Don’t you dare talk to customers with that mouth.

When a potential customer reads your jargon-laden sales pitch/website/whatever, three things happen: First, they don’t understand what you’re even talking about, second, they’re turned off by your tone-deafness, and finally, they dismiss you–all in a few seconds.

So while Corporate Bill thinks “synergistic” sounds all fancy and important in his company’s mission statement, he’s failing to realize that many people don’t know, let alone care, what “synergistic” means. They’ll let the big word sail right over their heads, or worse, misunderstand you. Silly Billy.

And even if a person does know what “synergistic” means, Silly Billy shouldn’t expect him or her to decipher a phrase like, “Work in a synergistic relationship with internal and external customers to conceptualize multi-faceted business solutions to complex points of issue.”

(Even writing that was exhausting…)

Here’s the thing: If a reader, no matter how literate, can’t understand you immediately, he or she isn’t going to waste time trying. They’re also not going to be accepting of your pretentious tone. People don’t like being talked down to.

So, the moral of the story is: do yourself and your audiences a favor and eliminate all corporate-speak from your vernacular.

Here are 10 words or phrases to cut ASAP (and why):

1. Leading

As in, “ABC, Inc. is a leading strategy company specializing in XYZ.”  So many companies call themselves “leaders” now that it’s a meaningless term. Not to mention it’s a misuse of the word. Lead means “to go before or with to show the way; conduct or escort.” So, you lead a hike or a choir, but you don’t lead your competitors to success. 

2. Utilization

People think adding “tion” to the end of a verb makes it sound more professional. Newsflash: It doesn’t. It just makes you sound like a ding-dong (ding-dong is the word of the day, FYI). You don’t utilize something, you use it, and there is no such thing as “utilization,” just “usage.”

3. A lot of moving parts

Your business isn’t a pinball machine, so don’t talk about it like one. Instead say, “it’s complex.”

4. Core values

People often talk about a company’s “core values,” which is stupid because companies don’t have values, people do.

5. Strategic plan

The redundancy here is award-winning. Plans are inherently strategic, albeit some more so than others.

6. Process management

*slaps palm on forehead* What does this even mean? I think it means how you get the job done, but I’m not sure. The vagueness is overwhelming.

7. Objective

Just say goal.

8. Innovative

Innovative is another word that’s been used so many times it no longer means anything, aside from “eyes glazing over.”

9. Synergy

This aberration of word makes me think of bad, Internet Explorer graphics from the early 90s. It’s so corporate it’s laughable. Say “working together,” or “collaborate.” Anything but synergy, please.

10. Scalable

Unless your selling boulders, the only thing you’ll do easily with this term is confuse your audience.


There are hundreds more awesomely bad business buzzwords, so if I missed your favorite please leave me a comment below.

*BONUS* If you’re feeling particularly sassy about corporate jargon after reading this, check out the Corporate B.S. Generator.

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