Fads wash over many areas of life. Most are harmless – even fun; others are downright irritating; some even dangerous. The management field has its share of all of these, but one area that requires constant watching is the faddish use of business language. This drains most affected words of any meaning, leaving behind only a mind-numbing droning sound in our ears that blocks any meaningful communication that may have otherwise been present.
The best source for identifying these weasel words and what they may really mean is John Phillips‘s regular rundown of Corporate BS, an enlightening – and humbling – compendium of phrases you and I use in business every day, together with dead-on descriptions of what we think we’re saying, and what is really being heard. This is only one reason to be sure to be a regular reader of John’s site, The Word on Employment Law.
Others have pitched in recently. Michael Wade, the Execupundit, published a list of 10 show-stoppers in his regular U.S. News & World Report column. The one that jars me the most from his list is “my bad” – which is yours? Michael’s site, by the way, was recently selected as the best all-around business blog of the year – and most deservedly so; please stop by yourself to find out why.
Steve Roesler, of All Things Workplace, spun out his own list a short while later. One of the great characteristics of Steve’s site is the active and thoughtful commentary his writing attracts. This was no exception, prompting two more posts on the topic – see them here and here. There is a lot in these three posts and the commentary to pick from – well worth your time to see who shares your pet peeves (or what of your favorite expressions are among them) – the one in this collection that I always cringe at is “going forward” – a common phrase used in the securities industry, still spreading malevolently into other fields.
Rather than further inundating us with such tiring terminology, Eclecticity seeks to arm us with weapons to combat it. An initial effort in this campaign was his pointer to anti-corporate-speak software. And just yesterday he offered us his own hilarious “jargon generator” you can use to create your own wall of business blather to try to neutralize the waves of nonsense headed your way.
I was reminded of all of this by two things. One was a recent encounter with the presumptively triumphant, but devastatingly inane declaration that something is in someone’s “leadership” or “corporate” DNA.
The other was the republication of a classic column by Dave Barry in which he, in his guise as Mister Language Person, defined ”synergy” as “one of the key words used by business professionals to indicate that they have no clue as to what business they are actually in.”
And that’s largely the problem: people who use such jargon are really trying to disguise the various things they are probably clueless about, don’t you think?
Today’s tip: Speaking of phrases that have lost whatever meaning they may have once had, how about board oversight? Please see this article about one executive‘s ill-timed effort to get his board to pay him a $10 million bonus this year, and this opinion piece about the willful reluctance of another board to hold its CEO accountable for corporate under-performance – both from the WSJ.
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