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Office Jargon – Can We Get Over It Please?

By Matthew Zane - Mar. 21, 2018
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It happens in meetings; it happens in memos; and it happens in casual conversation in the office. Those trite phrases, often called ‘jargon’, that continue to get bantered around.

After a while, they become nothing more than irritants. Some of them are related to projects, tasks, ideas, etc. Some of them are just knee-jerk responses. Either way, it’s time for them to stop.

Can we just get back to clear, precise, honest conversation? Here are 15 phrases that really should be dumped.

1. Run it up the flagpole

What this really means, as we all know, is that someone has come up with an idea or strategy that they want others to look at and consider or discuss. Who exactly is at the top of the flagpole? And is that the final decision-maker? And once an idea has been run up there, how is it determined that it is good or bad?

How about someone just say, “Here’s a new idea. Everyone needs to take a look at it, give me their feedback, and then we’ll discuss whether it is viable or not.”

2. On the same page or Singing from the same hymn sheet

Literally, this means that everyone is in agreement, whether that refers to information, data, opinions, messages, or decisions. So how about just saying, “Is everyone in agreement on this?” It’s really so simple. What page are we talking about, and not everyone goes to church and sings hymns! Furthermore, hymns are in books or on large projection screens now.

3. I’m tired

This is the standard individual response when asked, “How are you?”

Get over it. We’re all tired in the morning. Either we didn’t get enough sleep, or we had to slog through getting kids ready for day care or school and then fight traffic or an otherwise unpleasant commute. Either find something more unique and engaging to say or just ignore the question entirely. The “I’m tired” response is just a habit, and it’s become meaningless.

4. Blue sky it

Sure, I’ll be happy to. This phrase invites staff to visualize and/or state the ideal situation. It’s a fun exercise, of course, but one that rarely results in more than just that. Your employees are probably tired of hearing it, and would probably prefer that someone just say, “What would be the ideal if you could have it?” But maybe, they don’t really want the answer to that. It might include a huge pay raise, a four-day work week, and amazing benefits.

5. Think outside the box

I am never quite sure what box I am in when I hear this phrase. We assume that people are asking us to stop the limited thinking that goes along with standard conventions and be more creative. When I hear this, I always think up rather dastardly thoughts like getting rid of upper management and putting me in charge.

How about just asking me to see if I can come up with some new and different solutions to a problem. People who can do this are usually rewarded by responses like, “there’s no money for that” or “that would mean a complete re-organization.” Yes, actually, that’s what I had in mind!

6. Let’s action this project

What? First of all, “action” is a noun, now being used as a verb. Of course, we all know what it means. “Let’s get going on this project.” Is there anything wrong with just saying that?

7. Strategic fit

People probably nod their heads in agreement to this phrase, because they don’t want anyone to know that they really don’t understand its meaning. I know I don’t, unless we’ve been discussing how a specific activity may assist in achieving some kind of goal. And even that may not be right.

8. Results driven

Here’s how The Urban Dictionary defines this term: “A results-driven organization concentrates on meeting objectives, delivering to the required time, cost and quality, and holds performance to be more important than procedures. 2. sets specific, measurable improvement goals and match resources, tools, and action plans to the requirements of accomplishing success.”

Aren’t you glad this has been clarified for you? Put more simply, it means that what we do on the job is all focused on the end goals. So, we look at each task and make sure that it is in line with the outcomes we are trying to achieve.

9. Idea shower

Really? Everyone knows what “brainstorming” is, and even that is a trite and irritating phrase in itself. But now to change it to “idea shower” seems as though someone is trying to be “cute” and appealing. Can we not get over these terms? There’s an issue or a problem, and we need everyone to think about possible solutions.

10. Low hanging fruit

The easy stuff; the easily converted customers. It’s kind of a catchy phrase, but overuse means it has outlived its “cuteness.”

11. Getting the ball rolling

If you’re on a bowling team, and it’s your turn, then you should get the ball rolling down the alley. Transferring this concept to business activity may be pretty clear, but it is overused, and people would probably be happier just hearing, “Let’s get on with it.”

12. It’s not rocket science

No, it isn’t. But this a term that is not only irritating but also a bit demeaning. To state this to an individual or a group implies that they may not be as adept as they should be.

13. Drill down

This is probably an apt analogy for doing more research, coming up with more detail, or analyzing something further. Often it refers to gathering more data in order to make better business decisions. It may not have been around long enough to be irritating, but give it some time – it will find its place.

14. Touch base

Here’s one that been around forever. And it has become irritating, because it is used in more than just work environments. It is now viewed as being insincere and disingenuous. When someone says, “Let’s touch base again soon,” they are probably attempting to extricate themselves from a conversation or a circumstance with you, and they don’t really mean it.

15. Game plan

A lot of office jargon is borrowed from sports terminology, and this is one of those. It is right up there with “win-win,” “going the extra mile,” “hit the ground running,” and “shifting the goalposts.” Nothing is wrong with using sports analogies, but the phrases have been so overused, they are not received well.

These are just 15 examples of office jargon that people say they dislike. On the other hand, a recent survey showed that 64% of Americans in the workforce admit to using office jargon often. That same survey reported that 88% of American merely pretend to understand the jargon that is thrown at them.

Maye it’s time for us to step back and take a look at how jargon can be replaced by clearer and simpler terminology. My own opinion is that people who make a habit of using a lot of jargon in the work place are attempting to compensate for what they may not understand themselves. Work life is complicated enough – there is no need to irritate or confuse people when there are many traditional and “easy to understand” words. After all, it’s “not rocket science”!


Matthew Zane

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Employee Relations