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Buzzwords are a load of bull


Performance Matters

Andrew May is a performance coach who has spent the past 15 years working with elite sportspeople.

View more entries from Performance Matters

Do managers try to hide behind fancy words or do they think it's actually impressive to roll out barrels of business cliches?

Do managers try to hide behind fancy words or do they think it's actually impressive to roll out barrels of business cliches? Photo: istock

I was in a meeting with a potential client innocently discussing an upcoming conference program when 'Mr Buzzword' slimed me with the worst management speak I've ever heard.

"Let's stir-fry that in the ideas wok!"

I looked around in horror at the other people in the meeting (all employed by Mr Buzzword) as they all just nodded accordingly, thinking that stir-frying in the ideas wok was a perfectly legitimate cause.

So why is it so many seemingly reasonable people resort to management speak? Are they insecure and trying to hide behind fancy words or do they think it's actually impressive to roll out barrels of business cliches?

I worked in a fitness centre many years ago and our manager's nickname was Bullshit Bob. In meetings we'd play Bullshit Bingo (you know where you have a list of all the management speak and you cross it off as the meeting progresses) which was one of the only ways to try and stay engaged as he rolled off the usual clichés “singing from the same hymn book”, “pushing the envelope”, “blue sky thinking”, “all in the same boat”, and “skin in the game”.

A 2010 study conducted at New York and Basel Universities observed the effect linguistic influences had on judgments of truth. The research indicated that when a statement was expressed in concrete language, it rated as being more truthful and authentic than when it is was expressed in abstract language.

The study found that subtle linguistic modifications alone were sufficient to affect truth judgment.

So in layman's terms: speak normal English and people will believe you more than when you use ridiculous management speak.

Here is my pick of the top 10 worst buzzwords – and feel free to add your own…

1.     Stir-fry that in the ideas wok

You stir-fry chicken and vegetables, sometimes beef. You talk about ideas with other people. If you ever hear someone say this, please just run away.

2.     There's no I in TEAM

Wow, thanks for the impromptu spelling lesson. If you really want to make a statement try retorting with 'wow, thanks braniac. There is definitely an I in Idiot!'

3.     Pick the low hanging fruit

You pick fruit in an orchard, or out of a box from a supermarket. The only thing people should pick at work are tickets for the Melbourne Cup sweep, or perhaps their noses (in private of course).

4.     You're on my radar

Humans don't have radars (unless you are the bionic man). Humans have eyes and arms and legs and brains and other organs. Radars are on boats, and on planes, and in military camps.

5.     Let's socialise that document

You socialise with people at the pub, or a BBQ on the weekends. Documents have staples in them and live in folders and they don't talk.

6.     Let's take this offline

Next time somebody says this to you in a meeting, say “but we are offline now”. Perhaps you could suggest they log into a chat room so you can take it “online”. That should work.

7.     Let's take an ideas shower

This rates right up there with “stir-fry in the ideas work”. Showers are for sweaty bodies. Nothing else to say on this one.

8.     Let's give it 110 per cent

Umm, this is actually not possible. You can't physically get an extra 10 per cent on 100 per cent. If you work in banking and finance and one of your colleagues says this, it should be grounds for instant dismissal. No questions asked, just call security and have them removed from the building.

9.     Push the envelope

You lick the envelope, stamp the envelope or put a letter in the envelope. You push your lawn mower on a Saturday morning and you push a wheelbarrow filled with dirt. Envelopes and pushing don't mix.

10.      2.0 Thinking

What is it with all of the 2.0 stuff? Same applies for 2.0 marketing, 2.0 planning, 2.0 thought leadership, etc. If you've heard all of the above (possibly by the same person) and they pull out the 'let's apply some 2.0 thinking to that challenge' try giving them a 2.0 wide berth.

The bottom line at the end of the day is I'd like a win-win situation and to get inside your head and incentivise you to think outside the box and touch base with me by providing your value-added proposition on the best paradigm shifts you've heard of late.

Or in other words: Does your boss or colleagues speak in clichés? And what are the best/worst you've heard?


331 comments so far

  • Most hated - "Let's touch base".

    No f***ing touching of bases will get over your wasting time by "touching base".

    Date and time
    February 14, 2012, 11:49AM
    • I hate "learning curve"

      Date and time
      February 15, 2012, 9:14AM
  • I hate the term "sanity check" as in "to sanity check a document". While I can check for spelling, grammar and logical argument, I am unable to determine whether you are completely insane....

    Date and time
    February 14, 2012, 11:52AM
    • LOL!!!

      Date and time
      February 14, 2012, 1:45PM
    • I like the sanity check because if they think its being released without one they're nuts!

      Date and time
      February 14, 2012, 6:54PM
  • This is symptomatic of the phenomenon that is Modern Management, as espoused by the Harvard Business School et al; The idea that you don't need to know the business to be a good manager, you just need to know how to "manage"(whatever that means). Naturally, when one of these beings with no knowledge whatsoever of his new charge lands in the chair, the first thing he does is try and cover his ignorance with bullshit. Then he usually focusses on reformatting the financial reports or something, because anyone who's completed grade 10 can understand the accounting and throw buzzwords about, but it takes actual experience - in real work - to understand what the business does and how it does it.

    Date and time
    February 14, 2012, 11:57AM
    • Overlooked for a management position in favour of an outsider with qualifications?

      Date and time
      February 14, 2012, 2:15PM
    • Tom: Got a management degree, have you?

      Will Chatton
      Date and time
      February 14, 2012, 4:56PM
    • We just call them seagulls for the obvious analogies.

      Date and time
      February 15, 2012, 5:45AM
    • Alas no, Tom. I was quite high up in the company once - I was GM of a projects division and reported to the CEO - but I became heartily sick of the politics of management that is only intensified when managers know so little about the business that schoolyard games are all they can cope with. When a certain project came along, I reverted to a purely technical position. You, I suppose, wouldn't be able to understand why, but it was entirely voluntary. Now, I can tell people like you - to rather hastily and possibly unfairly judge you by your comment - exactly what I think of you and your 'initiatives', and you still have to pay me more than I was getting as a GM for my real knowledge of the non-horseshit world. Even more ironically, you've surrounded yourselves by so many inept yes-men that rather than nurturing potential replacements for difficult technocrat bastards like me, you've made yourselves even more dependent on us.

      Date and time
      February 15, 2012, 10:34PM

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