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Manage Without Buzzwords

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Utilizing result-driven verbal communication can steer a company and its leader toward an undefined paradigm. In other words, using buzzwords like the ones in the preceding sentence won’t make you a better manager.

Instead of padding your language with unnecessary and often meaningless words and phrases (i.e., “globalize,” “push the envelope,” “intellectual capital,” “core competency”), consider ways that will help you speak and write with more clarity and less jargon. By communicating more clearly you give your employees, customers, and prospective customers a reason to listen. And in today’s crowded and competitive marketplace, getting someone’s attention is key.

Here are 10 proven strategies that will help you break the buzzword habit:


  • Stop pretending. Some people use jargon (vs. real words) to sound intelligent. This works up to a point, but eventually somebody figures it out. Like the boy who announces that the emperor has no clothes, it only takes one person -- though hopefully not a customer -- to recognize that buzzwords do little more than inflate plain-sounding facts.
  • Be brave. Just because everyone else is “thinking outside the box” doesn’t mean you have to join in. Show some courage by putting a moratorium on the use of buzzwords. Eventually, clarity will take over and become the norm.
  • Speak (and write) by example. Show your employees how to talk clearly by minimizing your reliance on buzzwords in communication to your managers. Resist using phrases like “strategic fit,” “out of the loop,” “24/7,” “redeployed people,” “brain dump,” and “core competencies.”
  • Monitor and beware of the clear-speaking competitor. If you’re not careful, a competitor that uses clear and plain language to describe its products and services and why they are important may muscle its way into your territory. Once you lose your spot it’s not easy to get it back.
  • Jargon-proof your products and services. Minimize your use of buzzwords in product literature and you’ll lower the number of support calls from customers. Rereading something you don’t understand wastes time. Don’t waste your customers’ time by making it harder to figure out exactly what your products do and how they make life easier.
  • Don’t forget the customer. As you practice using jargon-free language among your staff, do the same in your direct communication with customers. They’ll notice the change and may adopt their own moratorium on buzzwords.
  • Avoid clichés. If it’s trite or overused, it’s probably a cliché and should be avoided. Clichés lose their meaning, which ultimately turns them into buzzwords. Consider phrases like these forbidden and outlawed: “when push comes to shove,” “feel the pinch,” “fit to be tied,” “bend over backwards,” “nuts and bolts,” “blaze a trail,” and so forth.
  • Don’t use $60 words. “Utilize” may sound more important than “use,” but it’s clunky, pretentious, and one of the most offensive buzzwords around. Big words are not equivalent to smart words. Keep it simple: the less syllables the better.
  • Find an editor. Have a trusted colleague or employee review your written communication to make sure it’s free of buzzwords and jargon. Using an employee as an editor will also help to cascade down to your team the importance of not relying on buzzwords to communicate.
  • Establish a “buzzword kitty.” Each time you or an employee use a buzzword, throw a quarter in the company kitty. At the end of the month buy a case of alphabet soup or, better yet, donate your collection to a local literacy fund. It will be a good reminder that buzzwords can be costly.

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