When Jargon Replaces Thinking

Many businesses find it impossible to run a meeting without lacing it with cliched jargon. Ridiculous phrases, odd metaphors and allegories seem to be increasingly used without a great deal of thought into what’s really being said or any consideration for those present who may not have heard this nonsense before.

Investors in People ran a survey last year which found that a third of 3000 workers polled felt excluded when gobbledygook jargon speak was used. Two thirds felt it gave the impression that bosses were being untrustworthy or hiding something. All those polled felt that it was a sign of bad management and showed the bosses didn’t really know what they were talking about.

There are also cases of male bosses using male dominated sports metaphors without realising that their audience is mostly women. Some of these are used without knowledge of their origin, eg. ‘stepping up to the plate’ means nothing unless you know baseball. (The UK version would be stepping up to the crease, from cricket).

Here are some of the most used and what you could say instead:

Blue-sky thinking: Think of some idealistic or visionary ideas – don’t worry about their practical application
Get our ducks in a row: Have things efficiently ordered
Brain dump: Tell everything you know about a particular topic
Think outside the box: Don’t limit your thinking to within your job description
Joined-up thinking: Take into account how things affect each other
Drilling down: Get more detail about a particular issue
Push the envelope: Improve performance by going beyond commonly accepted boundaries
The helicopter view: An overview
Low-hanging fruit: The easiest targets
Guestimate: A guess
Going forward: from now on
Singing from the same hymn sheet: talking about the same subject

and the best one:

I know where you’re coming from: you are wrong

I’m all for metaphors and there’s nothing really wrong with any of the above unless they are used when people don’t understand them or used out of context. The most successful managers are those that recognise that communicating in a way that everyone can understand is the key to having an engaged, motivated and enthusiastic team. If you find yourself trapped in jargon land, print out the list and play Buzzword Bingo.

The Plain English Campaign have created a ‘Gobbledygook Generator’. Click here to try it – You really can’t fail with systemised organisational alignment.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


4 comments on “When Jargon Replaces Thinking

  1. Ayd, I love this post. Our language is capable of infinte variation, yet people too often reduce it to a few hideous business cliches like these. Let’s all try to talk instead. It’s just an idea, it may not work. Let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.


  2. My personal favourite – and yes, someone really did say this to me ‘let’s put it on the hillside and see if it has teeth marks in the morning’. I’m guessing he wanted to sleep on it!


  3. Well done! This is a much-needed reminder of all the guff that impedes our thinking. My heart used to sink if a committee chairperson said, “Right, let’s deal first with the housekeeping and administrivia.” This meant that ( with any luck) most of the allocated time would be taken up with the small stuff – communicating and revisiting routines and processes that had been already decided. This is easily dealt with today with cc e-mail. It seems that we really need to clear away jargon that is designed to bolster our aversion to the changes that result from fresh ideas. So, let’s all bite the bullet. When push comes to shove, we all know it makes sense.


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