Why Workplace Jargon is Bad

By Koh Wanzi

Many of you probably remember your first job – the moment you officially joined the workforce and got sucked into the vortex of office culture and its attendant meaningless phrases and buzzwords. With phrases such as “touch base”, “360-degree thinking” and “streamlined work flow” bandied about left and right, it’s hard not to get caught up in a world of fuzzy metaphors.

These buzzwords are supposed to convey new and energetic ways of thinking and doing work, but they do little but obfuscate – covering up their lack of substance with a fancy dressing. Not only do these phrases sound a lot more impressive than they really are, they also promote sloppy thinking and undermine more concise but austere terms in favour of slick but empty metaphors.

Vague Words Make You Appear Less Trustworthy

A 2011 study conducted by researchers at New York University found that abstract language caused listeners to believe the speaker was lying more often than concrete language did. The fact that so many people use these vague phrases doesn’t change the fact of their abstractness, and listeners are still able to sense that these phrases aren’t packing much meaning at all. Even though you may be a well-meaning adept at such jargon, your listeners may still view you as less trustworthy than you really are. This is particularly important for those in positions of leadership, where the trust of your subordinates is crucial to running an effective operation.

Open-ended terms such as “incentivise” and “cutting capacity” tend to veil their true meaning – they are buzzwords for motivating employees and firing people respectively. Leaders who are fond of such terms lead their employees to think that they are hiding something, which doesn’t bode well for employee productivity and morale. Furthermore, the use of such jargon gives the unfavourable impression of trying to inflate your task and make it sound more important and complicated than it really is. Either way, if you want to sound like a straight-talking worker or leader with concrete plans, you should definitely avoid using such language.

It Hinders Productivity

Corporate jargon can seriously hinder clear communication of messages, and consequently, prevent workers from carrying out plans efficiently. Even if you do have a concrete plan, when you use terms such as “pain points” to mean “problems”, or “action points” and “deliverables” to mean “things we need to discuss and implement”, you introduce a large dose of ambiguity to what should be a clear and concise statement.

Why would you say that we need to “synergise” when you really mean that we need to “work together”? These amorphous phrases prevent workers from drawing a clear path from the plan to the intended outcome. It becomes harder for them to act on their tasks quickly and efficiently, as no clear action or goal was ever properly outlined for them. Add that to the fact that people are simply less likely to listen to leaders who routinely sound like they are full of empty talk, and you have a demotivated and confused (what are you really saying?) office on your hands.

Your Language Makes You

It’s a common line of thinking that our language shapes our thoughts and vice versa. If you fall into the habit of using such fancy but meaningless phrases, your thoughts and ability to plan clearly ahead might also suffer – to the detriment of your work and those around you. While “synergise” and “action point” might sound more concise, they really aren’t. It pays off to use more words to communicate, if it means that your message gets across clearer and lifts the jargon-riddled fog from everyone’s eyes.

What other phrases at work do you dislike? Share with us in the comment box below!

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