It can happen to anyone in corporate America. You can fall prey to corporate buzzwords or “Babblespeak” – terms that have become so overused, they’ve not only lost their original meaning, they’re also misinterpreted by office skeptics.
The problem is, in a highly political workplace culture, overused office-speak can quickly sound like toddlers who just learned a new word and endlessly repeat it – until everyone else wants to crawl out of their skin. Even worse, this jargon can be politically correct “code” for unpleasant corporate messages – especially to those with a sarcastic genome. Diplomacy is one thing, but pat phrases appear insincere, especially if they're coming from "the boss."
On the bright side, if you’re aware of the culprit phrases, you can choose more original and convincing ways to express yourself. The result will be greater trust; you’ll be more personal and believable. It won’t happen overnight, but if you practice more straightforward, personalized and emotionally intelligent dialog – perhaps we can all help create a more humanized, honest and trusted workplace.
Not all employees will have this take on corporate babblespeak, but user beware! Those who’ve been overworked or unappreciated can develop an untrusting ear. Here are some of their interpretations.
Babblespeak Buzz Phrases with Double Meaning
1. At the end of the day… – I don’t care about the rest of this discussion other than what’s coming after this sentence.
2. Emily will take the lead on this – Emily’s in charge, not you…but nice try.
3. Make it disruptive – It better be BIG, and make us money, fast.
4. Chuck will be having a 360 review – Chuck will be having a bad day. Everyone who’s ever spoken with Chuck will now happily vent.
5. We need a Best Practices program – Your work is “under par.” Immediately start copying what bigger players do and produce reams of “Best Practices” manuals. Tic toc!
6. As we speak – Your boss knows something that’s going on real-time, but no one told you about it and you really wish they had.
7. Ecosystem – A fancy word that means “works together” – but if you use it, it’ll seem like you’re part of the technorati or work for a Unicorn (oh, no, another!) Also, it is highly irritating.
8. Start building consensus – Someone around you is not happy that you didn’t include them in your idea, which, unfortunately, is going nowhere. But this is a gentle way of saying, “Hey, ask around – and good luck with that!”
9. We’re working in silos here – You're working in a silo here; play nicely with others, because they’re not happy that your silo is killing it (oh, did it again!)
10. They’re early adopters – Someone beat your department or company to the punch. Do NOT speak highly of the early adopter around a Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT) boss, unless you already have a job offer.
11. We're sticking to our core competency – We poked around and have proven ourselves incompetent in other areas.
12. Give you a heads up – Your colleague is going to give you a warning of something big and nasty.
13. You’ll be able to focus on a critical area for us – You’ve being demoted, but in the most flattering manner possible!
14. Take that off-line – Please shut up; you’ve embarrassed me, in public, and will pay later, in private.
15. There’s low hanging fruit – Someone is getting lax and not paying attention to obvious opportunities…Ahem!
16. We must move the needle – Keep your ears peeled for bad revenues and expect to be needled.
17. They were first to market – What your company wasn’t; your boss can’t change; and by the way, get to work!
18. Customer-centric – A popular term because it makes people sound smart and caring. Plus, there’s alliteration in there.
19. Our lines were crossed – You didn’t listen and I’m right.
Babblespeak Terms with Double Meaning
1. The enterprise – Coined long ago by geeks, this term makes your colleagues feel “tech-savvy,” and a little like Captain Kirk.
2. Sweet spot – A special target market of the company, for which you’re now expected to live for.
3. Multi-tasking – Produce more work and faster!
4. Matrix structure – You work for multiple bosses, but will act as if each one is your only boss – and please everyone at the same time. “Easily” doable.
5. One-off – Rare, one time event, like a “Good job!” scribble from your manager.
6. Revisit – A politically correct way of saying. “Wonderful…let’s put this off…like forever! Next subject?”
7. Next generation – A way to sound hip about the future of your industry and appear that you're on the cutting edge, even though you could fall off.
8. Mission critical – Focus on this now, because everything else that was said moments ago is now completely meaningless.
9. Results-driven – Senior management wants you to work harder.
10. Thought leader – What you should consider calling your boss if you’re preparing to ask for a raise.
11. Push back – The instant gratification that former employees got by saying “no” to a boss.
12. Take-away – What you learned from your unforgettable mistake, so you will never mess up again.
13. We - You
14. Ping – A way your colleague can feel cool, instead of the nearly extinct term, “contact.”
15. Insourcing – You have a better than 50% chance for a promotion.
16. Co-sourcing – You have a 50/50 chance for a future promotion.
17. Outsourcing – Start looking for a job.
18. Negative growth – Oxymoron meaning “losing money,” but which sounds so much better in annual reports and presentations, because it does have the word “growth” in it.
19. Bandwidth – What your boss thinks you have enough of to complete a new project and they don’t.
20. Leverage synergies – Downsizing on its way after a planned merger. Update your resume.
21. Risk averse – A term that means you’re too chicken, occasionally used by managers who are the only ones allowed to be chicken.
22. Strategic fit – Your firm was failing at something, and the hope is that the new corporate partner will save the company from collapse.
23. Paradigm shift – Your firm may be closing a division.
24. Core competency – Your firm may be closing several divisions.
25. We need to be lean and mean – Do NOT ask for vacation time!
26. Downsizing – Firing people.
27. Rightsizing – Firing people with a strategic ring to it.
28. Plate’s full – Someone else’s work is coming your way. Deep breathing.
Babblespeak Double Meanings Sans Buzzwords
These are double-meaning BabbleSpeak phrases – without any coolness to them:
1. First, let me say, you do a great job… – Your boss is about to chastise you. Brace yourself!
2. Jack thinks you need to… – I think you need to...
3. My nephew’s looking for a job, can you help him? – Please hire him because if I do, it will look really bad.
4. If you really think it’s a good idea… – Red alert! Do not fall for this classic preemptive blame strategy.
5. You did such a good job at xyz, that I … – You'll soon be working double hours.
6. Here are some resumes, just for your files – Just a friendly reminder that you’re not indispensable. This generally occurs around bonus time.
7. You’re real good with people, so… – This is the last exchange on the planet your manager wants to have with the colleague from hell. You’re on.
8. Business is really slow this year – You’re not getting a raise.
9. Who’s budget is this coming out of? – Your proposal is dead on arrival.
10. Be patient – A way for colleagues to put you off until you believe you are an impatient person.
11. We’ll discuss it after the New Year – Your TOT didn’t read it, won’t read it, and has trouble reading in general. He’s hoping that by January 1, you’ll forget about your report. “After the New Year” means: “when the world caves in,” but sounds way more upbeat and definitive. Plus, after the New Year, we all know we're onto new things.
12. I think my idea solves the problem – You’re not losing it; it was your idea, but from now on, it’s your boss’s idea.
13. Keep up the good work - Nice job, but I’ll be watching to see if you become a slacker again.
14. I saw your e-mail to John – So now you’re omitting me from distribution? I am on to you…
15. I thought you were handling this – The boss messed up, and you completely forgot about your e-mail trail. Consider online CYA certification.
16. Employee of the Year – Someone who knows how to flatter your senior managers and offend the least amount of them.
17. Your subordinate doesn’t like you – Your manager has displaced anger and wants you to stop feeling so darn good about yourself. Also, avoid saying, “I guess me and Sam have more in common that I thought!”
18. Hope you’re well-rested from your vacation! – You will regret all the fun and frolicking you had while I slaved here without you. Be prepared for a “To Do” email that temporarily crashes the corporate server.
19. Just be happy you have a job here – Visit your job bookmarks at once. Click toc!
20. We’re taking you off this project for more important projects – Do stay open to more projects...like job searching.
21. How can I make this job more interesting for you? – Low unemployment performance review comment, with one to two year shelf life.
22. Your performance is slipping – High unemployment performance review comment, with less than one year shelf life.
23. Will you be in all week? - Boom economy question to make conversation.
24. What are you doing Saturday morning? – Bad economy question, never meant to make conversation.
25. My door is always open – What your new boss says the day you’re “onboarded” (oops!)
26. Send me an email on that – What your new boss says starting 30 days after onboarding (translation: my door is actually closed).
27. Open spaces will encourage interactivity – Now we’ll be saving a boatload of money, so the executive suite can be completely remodeled.
28. I’ll run it up the flagpole – I will brown-nose appropriately, see where it goes and if I get approval, I’ll let you know “my idea” was accepted.
So next time you catch yourself using one of these cringe-worthy phrases or terms, just say “No!” Be original and watch how sincerity and originality breeds trust. If you’re the recipient of Babblespeak, ask for clarification; that will force others to be specific.
As Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself; everybody else is taken.”