“Touch base”; “Par for the course”; “Game changer”; “On my radar”; “Synergy”…
We’re all guilty of it – we all have our go to phrases, we all have the buzzwords that make us wince, and the ones we just don’t understand. This corporate language doesn’t just fill our zoom meetings and office spaces, it litters our emails and clutters our webpages. Jargon is everywhere! But does corporate speak really reflect how professional we are? And if we all find it so annoying then why can’t we just put it on mute?
Jargon is a form of language. It is special words or expressions used by a group that can be difficult for others to understand. The use of business jargon is usually criticised for its lack of transparency and sincerity. Instead of improving understanding it is often used as a filler, a lazy way of articulating ideas, or a way to mask meaning. And some business terms get so overused they just become meaningless and cringeworthy.
So Why Do We Do It?
So, what is the incentive to speak gobbledegook? From an anthropological perspective this habitual nonsense all boils down to wanting to fit in. We want to speak the language of our tribe, have a corporate identity, bond through words. Every culture has its own vocabulary because every culture has its own ideas and you’ve probably noticed yourself, how your ‘dialect’ changes based on whether you’re at a football match or the hairdressers.
Jargon either makes us feel like we belong or makes us feel like a complete outsider.
We’re human (we’re social animals, we want to belong, we don’t want to be left behind) and for this reason alone corporate speak may never be a thing of the past. Terms may go out of fashion but will simply be replaced by others.
Another aspect of this very human tendency is how corporate speak has evolved to keep civility in the workplace. Many of us have been brought up to be polite and respect others and so we can’t just, for example, demand to know why another colleague hasn’t kept up their end. Some jargon allows us to ask politely for someone to “follow up” or “circle back” on an outstanding issue without being, well, just plain rude.
In fact, it is not the corporate speak itself that annoy us. Words associated with business jargon are euphemisms for all the frustrations we harbour about work, colleagues, office politics and even the daily onslaught of communication. It’s just easier for us to take out those frustrations on a phrase and in this sense, it does make us more professional. Unless we want to go back to our pre-school days of taking our friends lunch or snatching toys, we’re going to have to keep some business talk to keep the harmony.
The Darker Side
We use language to serve a purpose and the flip side to harmony is the deliberate use of ambiguous terms – this is sometimes referred to as ‘doublespeak’. This fluff jargon is a way of lying by obscurity and allows for confusion and corruption to hide in plain sight – it is what politicians are renowned for and is what we need to look out for.
So, the next time you’re a recipient of professional gibberish don’t be afraid to ask for more clarification and push the speaker to be more specific. Or if you catch yourself using too much fluff ask yourself how you can present your ideas in a more simple and effective way.
Interestingly the noise of corporate speak is measurable. In 1946 Dr Rudolf Flesch designed a formula that calculated how easily understood something is, otherwise known as the Flesch readability score. Today it is usually included in your SEO plug in – give it a go. The higher the score the easier to read and understand, the lower the score the more difficult it is. As a reference this blog piece is 66.2 (ok – could do better).
What The 1PS Team Think
I asked the team what they thought about ‘corporate speak’ and what were their most loved, or most hated turns of phrase:
Georgia is not a fan of “ping it over to me”; Bea dislikes “Blue skies thinking” and “paradigm shift”. Bonny loves “Teamwork makes the dream work” and even uses at home! And I think “open the kimono” is kind of hilarious but would never have the guts to use it.
Meg said how she can’t help but refer back to the typical phrases:
“Please find attached”; “Hope you are well?” “As per my below email”
But says “I feel rude if I don’t use them so find myself in a difficult situation of business like speak.” Meg also mentioned how she notices her language change subtly, depending on what department she talks to.
Bonny added that: “you to need know your audience, some people love corporate speak, and some people don’t. Personally, too many phases make me cringe, but I do think it depends on how the person delivers it. “
So, it seems that sincerity is what is appreciated, and we can all try harder at this. But as the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said: “Language is limited- and we will never be able to obtain absolute truths with the use of language”. Therefore, until there is a philosophical paradigm shift, or we develop inoffensive telepathy, corporate jargon is here to stay. So, I guess we’ll just have to learn to live with it.