Friday, 22 June 2012

Buzz-off Buzzwords

It’s been an interesting few months. I’ve travelled from one end of the planet to the other 3 times (soon to be 4), visited with family and friends, met loads of new people, worked with some amazingly talented individuals and had what can only be described as an overabundance of stimulating conversation. 

Some of those conversations have included more than their fair share of buzzwords. It’s reminded me just how widely buzzwords, phrases and consulting speak are used. The fact they’re used isn't really an issue. It’s how, when and why they’re used that causes problems.

Why can't people just use plain language? Why do they have go populating everything with vacuous words that actually add no value to the sentence let alone the conversation?

No doubt you’ve heard about Buzzword Bingo. It’s usually played by people who are bored. Bored of hearing the same rubbish. Bored of listening to others pepper their presentations and conversations with meaningless phrases and terms because information and ideas are limited or there's an attempt to cover for a lack of knowledge. While Buzzword Bingo helps alleviate the boredom and it makes us laugh, there’s a far more serious message coming out of its use.

As leaders and managers we want people to comprehend our intention and expectations from the words we speak. For this to happen we’ve got to use words and phrases that are clear and make sense. We can start rectifying this in ourselves by listening closely to others and observing the body language of the audience. As the audience shifts in their seats and roll their eyes it’s pretty clear they’re not listening let alone interested in what it is they might be asked to do.

For example... Management can achieve more by talking less about “empowerment” and letting people get on with what it is they’ve been hired to do. If you rely heavily on buzzwords in conversation and documentation, take an objective look at why you use them. Are they communicating your intent? Do they make any sense in the overall context of your message? Did your audience go away any more informed than when they arrived? 
Here are some examples I’ve come across recently. I even own up to using some of them; perhaps more to make a point than any other reason. No doubt you’ll recognise a few…

One team
Herding Cats
Best Practice
Heads up
At the end of the day
Moving forward
Blue sky thinking
Pain points
Green fields
Touch point
Voice of the customer
The Cloud
Low hanging fruit
Traffic lights
Out of the box
Let’s take this offline
Business Case is underway but go ahead
On the same page
Gap analysis
You are SO right!
The A Team
Choose your attitude
Yes I am listening
It won’t happen overnight but it will happen

Some are funny, many are used as slang or to parody other people, most of them are used with double meaning. Let’s say buzz-off to buzzwords. Let's make a conscious effort towards buzzword free discussions, presentations and documents. In the meantime, join in, have a rant about the buzzwords you hear and while you’re at it, add your favourites to the list.


  1. I couldn't of said it better myself Deanne. My biggest one has the be "the cloud".

    These buzz words aren't here to make life easier they are made to selling things and that is all it boils down to.

    You could argue that they sum up a system or way of doing something in a single word has its uses.

    On the other hand, ask your boss what the cloud actually is and most would come unstuck. They don't realise that essentially its just a way of storing files over a group of servers instead of individual ones.

  2. Appreciate you taking the time to comment, Maria. You're right that people come unstuck when using buzz words. Not only do many people not have a clue what the word means, the words themselves end up being overused. Someone who's connected to their audience will see eyes glaze over and quickly switch tack.