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Corporate Speak: Between Sweet Spot and Wheel House

These days, business speak surrounds us. It doesn’t discriminate against company size or position status. College interns and CEOs alike find themselves dropping buzz words in conversation. But to what end? When is enough, enough? The next time you want to move forward, deliver, or buy-in by all means go for it. But don’t expect people to know what you’re talking about. The more time your employees spend guessing the meaning behind your jargon, the less productive they are. Ben Franklin sums it up best:  “Time is money.”

Ever heard someone say “That’s in your wheelhouse” or “Our sweet spot is medium to large companies?” Perhaps, but what do these expressions actually mean? Oddly enough, the original meaning of both words has nothing to do with business. Wheelhouse is the small house on a ship that contains the steering wheel. From there (somehow) it morphed in baseball to describe a player’s “strike zone” where the batter had the most power and strength hitting the ball. Sweet spot also began as a sports term meaning the place to hit a ball with a bat or racket with the most force. In business, these terms take on entirely different meanings. Wheelhouse is the company’s key strength or area of expertise. Sweet spot is often used in finance and economics to mean the right price to yield the highest earning potential. It’s funny, though, because both terms are so overused and so diluted from their original meaning. Wheelhouse and sweet spot aren’t alone. There are numerous cringe-worthy business phrases used in offices across the world. In fact, Forbes even created a Fantasy Football-esque bracket to showcase the worst offenders. Among the top are “core competency,” “buy-in” and “S.W.A.T. team.”  There are may good reasons to avoid business speak. Below are three of the top reasons we’ve found.

It becomes a habit.
Although annoying, jargon at work happens. However, allowing this behavior to occur regularly can have a negative impact on your business. Using abbreviations and buzz words internally is one thing, but using buzzwords in front of a prospective client is very different. Imagine, as the Forbes piece points out, if you accidently told a client to “open the kimono.” This seemingly harmless comment, meaning to divulge all known information, can be very offensive. What if this person were a woman, wearing a kimono, or both? Not only would you have a sexual harassment claim against you, but it’s a safe bet you definitely wouldn’t get her business. So keep your kimono securely fastened and just ask your prospect to tell you everything she knows. Trust us on this – direct and no-buzz word language is a lot better than the possible humiliation that can ensue if your buzzwords are interpreted incorrectly.  

It’s vague.
As a technical writing company, we are all about direct and precise – we have to be; it’s our business. But what people fail to realize is the same principle can be applied to all workplaces. Direct saves time. For example, there are many different ways to interpret “moving forward.” Obviously this means in the future, but when exactly? Tomorrow? Next week? Right now? How can you tell someone it’s important to keep “moving forward” and expect him to know what the timeframe is? Think of a computer programmer. When speaking to a client would he use acronyms like BPS, DNS or ISP (Bits per second, domain name system, internet service provider) – lets hope not! Rather,  he should speak in a way that allows his clients to understand what is going on. His explanation needs to be clear and direct, not clouded with programming slang an outsider wouldn’t understand.

In addition to possible misinterpretation, speaking in corporate jargon to outsiders oftentimes comes off as condescending and belittling. Talking in abbreviations or using unclear phrases infers the other person should already know what you are talking about, when more times than not this isn’t the case. You could be talking about what a great CRM team your company has, but unless the person you are speaking to understands that CRM stands for customer relationship management, and more importantly, what a customer relationship management system is, this term won’t mean anything to your listener. Or, let’s say you’ve hired someone within the last year. When these employees are left guessing as to what BRB, WIFM, or RFP mean, they waste valuable time that could be spent on something more important like working. Or worse, they start using the phrases too and use them incorrectly. Yikes!

Jargon masks incompetence.
Actually, no it doesn’t – Using fancy business lingo to hide your lack of knowledge on a subject just makes you sound like an idiot. Everyone knows someone who is similar to The Office character David Brent. David is famous for speaking in jargon that makes absolutely no sense, yet, sounds important when you first hear it. When a colleague asked David’s advice on a problem, David responded, “A problem shared is a problem halved, so is your problem really yours or just half of someone else’s?” This doesn’t make any sense and isn’t helpful solving the colleague’s problem. Or take some of these real life examples we’ve been privileged to overhear:  “By leveraging our assets, our processes will gain value and ensure continued success in the increasingly competitive marketplace.” Or this one, “You know how we dialogue around here.” Or, “Let’s socialize this idea and see what they say.”  Huh?

Should corporate speak be abandoned completely? Yes. Corporate speak is toxic. It is so infected with big words and general nonsense that when you actually need to express a valid thought, you haven’t the slightest clue where to begin. You shouldn’t go through life speaking this way! Using jargon creates opportunities for miscommunications and turns people into blubbering idiots. At the end of the day, nothing compares to communicating in simple, time-tested English.  


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