Money Work How to avoid death by corporate jargon
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How to avoid death by corporate jargon

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Most of us have sat through at least one interminable staff meeting where we felt verbally assaulted by senseless corporate slogans and clichés.

Perhaps you were implored to “think outside the box”, “get match-fit”, do some “blue-sky thinking” or were even instructed, helpfully, that “there is no ‘I’ in team”.

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Management speak – and its attendant clichés – is one of the modern scourges of office life, and it litters our inboxes and meetings with their cheery, yet meaningless, calls to some kind of vague action.

“The thing about clichéd management speak is that when it is analysed it doesn’t actually mean anything,” points out Peter Noblet, Senior Regional Director at Hays Recruitment.

“Why use 15 words when you can use five?”

A recent survey by the UK-based Institute of Leadership and Management revealed “management speak” is used in almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of offices, with nearly a quarter (23 per cent) considering it to be a pointless irritation.

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Repeat offenders

While it is natural for a few clichés to slip into our meetings and memos, it is clear that some phrases have become over-used.

Mr Noblet heard the phrases ‘bio-break’ and ‘comfort break’ in a meeting recently, which made him bristle.

Don't let these goomers get away with it anymore.
Don’t let these numpties get away with it. Photo: Shutterstock

“Why not just say, ‘Let’s stop in case anyone needs to go to the bathroom’?” he says.

“We have perfectly good words to describe these things.”

PR and communication consultant Craig Eardley spends much of his time advising clients on how to communicate effectively – which often means stripping the jargon from corporate documents and speeches.

“There are documents out there that are just about making someone look busy and could have been half as long,” he says.

Mr Eardley frequently comes across words such as “engagement”, “consultation” and “strategy” and argues they have become euphemisms for workplace inaction.

“Of course be strategic but write a plan that will actually deliver an outcome,” he says.

“Sometimes I think too, in some sections of government, these words are used to sound busy but they are an excuse for a lack of action.”

Who is to blame?

Mr Noblet argues that the reason management speak jars so much is that it is often a direct import from the US.

“A lot these terms – things like ‘stepping up to the plate’ – have come from the US and they do not translate well in Australia,” he says.

No 'thinking outside the box' allowed.
No ‘thinking outside the box’ allowed. Photo: Shutterstock

“So I think it comes down to being aware of what is appropriate in some cultures and workplaces is not always going to sit well in others.”

Not only does a reliance on jargon fail to communicate a message clearly, it is also off-putting for many staff members.

“It not only dilutes what you are trying to say, it actually alienates the staff you are talking to,” Mr Noblet says.

Mr Eardley blames the “invasion” of management speak on the increasing superficiality of much of our world.

“On a broader level, we are living in the age of celebrities and at a time when we value fluff over substance in general,” he says.

“I have been doing this for some 20 years, but I think it has gotten worse in the last five.

“Or maybe I am just becoming a cranky old man.”

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