Business Communication: An Oxymoron; or, Corporate-Speak That Annoys Me

I was a business major in college. (Marketing and Economics – woot woot, I’m a fun guy! Anybody want to talk about segmentation strategies or linear regression?) At that point in my youth, like most college students, I was naive and optimistic. I assumed that by graduating with an undergraduate business degree, I would automatically step into a marketing manager role at the type of fun company that has Beer Thirty on Fridays and a permanently casual dress code.

Needless to say, life doused me with reality like an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The only job I could get was a cold-calling sales job in TV advertising. Would you like to buy a 3 a.m. rotator to advertise mattresses? Please? I work on commission.

Anyway, the point of this post is that during my pre-Ice Bucket college years, when I was still full of hope and cheap beer, I read the business textbooks and took the tests, but I never believed that represented the actual business world. Nobody truly speaks that way, right? Sure, I read Dilbert and watched Office Space, and I laughed because I thought those were works of sheer fantasy. Who says “conceptualize our brand position”? Or “integrate synergistic methodologies”? Nobody in their right mind talks like that.

A decade in various corporate marketing positions taught me different.

Would you like me to tell you about the actual document I helped with called “Systems Conversion Document Overview Reference Guide: Critical Success Factors for Go/No Go Decision Making“?

How about the number of times I used “dialogue” as a verb – or the dreaded “final final” as a noun?

Not only do businesspeople talk like that, they actually think like that. They think in words like “synergy” and “cross-functional” and “brand ambassador.” Now that I’m retired from the working world, I pondered just how nice it is to be out of that foggy landscape of vague directives and unclear strategies. On the other side, it seems as silly to me now as it did in college. And since my only coworker these days is more interested in The Cat in the Hat than in PowerPoint drivel, for your enjoyment, here are ten of the worst offending business and words phrases I heard during my corporate career. This is truly stuff they won’t teach you in college.

“Let’s take that offline.” 
What it means: Let’s talk about it later.
Reason it exists: I want to tell you politely to shut up.

“Action item.” 
Meaning: A task or “to-do” item.
Reason: It lets you assign work to someone who doesn’t work for you.

“Value-add” or “Added value.” 
Meaning: Additional services unrelated to the primary product.
Reason: Our primary product isn’t great, so we’re going to throw in some free stuff hoping you won’t notice.

“Push the envelope.”
Meaning: Expand the current limits of what people or processes can do.
Reason: We want to do more without hiring new people or investing in better equipment. So, just work harder (and probably longer hours) until that becomes the new normal.

“Best in class.” 
Meaning: Within our “group,” we’re number one.
Reason: Overall, we’re not that great. So we’ll gerrymander a group that puts us at the top.

“At the end of the day…” 
Meaning: What will actually happen is…
Reason: I needed some verbal filler noise to prepare you that I’m about to disagree with everything you just said.

“Bring to the table.” 
Meaning: Include other parties in a discussion or project.
Reason: It gives the impression that we’re all important to the project, even though I’m going to be making the decisions.

“Low hanging fruit.” 
Meaning: The fastest, easiest successes we can get.
Reason: We don’t want to work hard.

“Cut through the clutter.” 
Meaning: Get a clear message through to the listener.
Reason: We’re babbling so much even we don’t know what we mean, so we better stop and figure it out.

“Reach out.” 
Meaning: Contact someone for support.
Reason: I want you to feel honored that I’m asking you to do some work for me.

What business phrases drive you nuts?

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