Every office worker knows at least one bit of clichéd business-speak that they would be happy to never hear again. These include "think outside the box" or "paradigm shift" which, one assumes, are terms meant to make the speaker appear visionary or inspirational.
Heddi Cundle, founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based travel gift card company MyTab, has such a term that she loathes —"go big or go home." She hates it so much, in fact, that her employees are forbidden to use it, and she keeps a snappy retort on hand for anyone unfortunate enough to utter it within earshot.
"I tell them to cough up funding so we can go big," she said. "If they balk at this, I usually tell them to go home."
Members of the business community were asked if there were any other sayings they hear around the boardroom (or the water cooler or the neighboring desk) that they found particularly egregious. They were only too happy to chime in, and CNBC.com e-mail inboxes overflowed with responses.
Read ahead and find out what they had to say, and what you should never say around them.
—By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 8 April 2014
The Profit, a reality series with multimillionaire Marcus Lemonis turning around struggling companies.
In office parlance, to "ping" means to e-mail, text or otherwise get in touch with someone. According to Jeff Logan, director of marketing at Dexas International in Coppell, Texas, an offer to "ping you back" is actually a passive-aggressive way to get rid of you.
"I'm pretty certain if someone offers to ping you back, they are not looking for a voice-to-voice conversation, but a text or an e-mail that is more easily avoidable," he said.
Other unpopular terms for "contact" include "reaching out" and "putting out feelers." The latter means "to gauge interest," but Polly Blitzer, founder of Beauty Blitz Media in New York City, said that it "sounds like a creepy pedophile."
When your supervisor tells you he or she will "circle back" on an issue, it means "to discuss it later." Mike Wolfe, co-founder and CEO of WAM Enterprises in Katonah, N.Y., said that it's one of his most disliked examples of office jargon.
"It usually means we just had a meeting where nothing was accomplished, and we need to 'circle back' to have another pointless meeting," he said.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "synergy" as "the increased effectiveness that results when two or more people or businesses work together." According to Brenda Christensen, director of communications for Contatta.com in Scottsdale, Ariz., it's also "gobbledygook biz-speak" used by people who are "just trying to sound 'smart.'"
Jim Phelan, co-founder of the mobile application design firm Electric Slide in Brooklyn, N.Y., found the term not just loathsome but ominous. "I'm particularly mortified by the use of the word 'synergies' in reference to the number of people who can be laid off following an acquisition," he said.
In 2014, nobody gets fired any more. Your position may be eliminated, and you may no longer be with the company, but nobody will come out and say "you're fired." According to Michael W. Byrnes Jr., president of Byrnes Consulting in Kingston, Mass., that nasty term has been replaced by such impersonal euphemisms as "downsized" and "right-sized."
"The reality is that an organization is having a layoff or firings, and the term 'downsized' in some ways sugarcoats what is taking place," he said. "There should be a word that stands for 'let go by a company because the company is failing.' Something like 'corporate-failure-sized.'"
Ryan Freeze, founder of Joint Retail Ventures in Atlanta, knows many office bromides that he could live without, including "deliverables" and "we don't have the bandwidth." Among these is also "let's blue sky this," which he said translates to "I don't have any direction so let's just say stuff out loud." You may recognize this as "brainstorming," and if you do, you are correct, but if you want to annoy your co-workers with a different term, you have options.
"The one that grates the most is 'thought shower,'" said author Colin Myles of Galway, Ireland. "When I hear this, I think there is a major problem waiting to be solved and no one has a clue what to do, so let's use some useless jargon to get the feel-good factor flowing before we admit we are clueless."
Sheldon Perkins is creative strategist for Yes Marketing Group in Yarmouth, Maine, and if you want to closely examine something, he wishes you would say so. "'Unpack,' 'drill down,' 'doubleclick,' 'peel back the layers of the onion,'" he said. "Why can't we just say what we mean? 'Take a closer look.'"
He is not alone in wishing people would drop the jargon. Kim Monaghan of KBM Coaching & Consulting in Grand Rapids, Mich., wants people to stop throwing around the word "systemic."
"It seems like everyone uses this word to refer to anything that needs changing or improving, regardless of if it only relates to one division," she said. "No, 'it's a systemic issue' all of a sudden. Is that because it's a fun or maybe impressive word to use? It's so overused and accompanied by such a dramatic flair that every time I hear it, it makes me think that we are dealing with a vastly spreading toxic disease and not an organization-wide project."
As with "blue sky" and "thought shower," another term for "brainstorm" is "solution," used as a verb, as in "let's solution this." Zachary A. Schaefer, CEO of Mediation and Communication Solutions in St. Louis, said there's one reason—and one reason only—why anyone would use this term.
"People think this makes them sound smart," he said. "They're wrong." Be that as it may, people using this term are engaging in a larger and more insidious trend currently plaguing the nation's offices, in which nouns are used as verbs, verbs as nouns and adjectives abused in a similar manner.
"Let's parking lot this issue," said Holly Wolf, chief marketing officer at Conestoga Bank in Philadelphia. "That means, let's put it aside for now. We may or may not come back to the issue." She also cited the use of the words "dialog" and "impact" as verbs. "Let's dialog about how these changes will impact your department," she said. Let's hope this "ask" doesn't take too much "efforting."
"Value-add" is a term used to describe a cool extra feature within a product that appears to carry no additional cost for the buyer. Ellen Jovin, co-founder of Syntaxis in New York City, said that part of why she objects to this term is the people who use it.
"I am least fond of 'value-adds,'" she said. "As in, 'what are the value-adds?' If you ask people who use the term to define it, they twist themselves into verbal knots attempting to do so, often with an air of condescension that the meaning isn't immediately apparent to the listener."
It's easy to irritate Christa Freeland, marketing specialist for Powershift Group in Austin, Texas. Simply tell her what you do for a living, and claim that your skills in this area are so admirable that you qualify as a "ninja." Or wizard, or guru, or rock star, or Jedi master.
"When someone works to showcase themselves as an expert, and then resorts to a self-declared tacky title, there's something weird," she said. "A lot of the time I see the marketing and social media types using this terminology, and it doesn't help their case."
San Diego-based writer Walter G. Meyer has a pet peeve that crops up whenever he's at a meeting or seminar. Invariably, someone will summarize a point by invoking the phrase "at the end of the day."
"I have been to presentations where every single speaker used that cliché at least once," he said. "And at the end of the day, it's really annoying and meaningless. Even 'the bottom line' has some meaning if you're actually referring to whether it's going to make us money or not."
When Marcus Lemonis isn't running his multibillion dollar company, Camping World, he goes on the hunt for struggling businesses that are desperate for cash and ripe for a deal. In the past 10 years, he has successfully turned around over 100 companies. Now he's bringing those skills to CNBC Prime and doing something no one has ever done on TV before … he's putting over $2 million of his own money on the line. In each episode, Lemonis makes an offer that's impossible to refuse—his cash for a piece of the business and a percentage of the profits. And once inside these companies, he'll do almost anything to save the business and make himself a profit, even if it means firing the president, promoting the secretary or doing the work himself.