Buzzwords of Business

October 24, 2011

Through regular communication with clients, conversations with colleagues, and recently reading a large stack of resumes, it has become wildly apparent to me that we business people communicate in our own unique language. Words like “synergy,” “right-sizing,” “elevator-pitch,” and “post-mortem” form part of our daily vocabulary.  But when it comes right down to it, what do these “business buzzwords” really mean? Why do we use them? Are we using them correctly?  Certainly, the term “post-mortem” will have a different meaning to a health care professional than a business project manager…so is there an inherent danger in muddling our message by using these words?

Wikipedia provides a list of business buzzwords that is more than 200 words strong – and no doubt growing (in fact, the word “buzzword” itself, is actually listed as a buzzword). One thing this large-and-growing list demonstrates is that buzzwords are nothing new in the business world, and certainly show no signs of disappearing any time soon.  However, buzzwords do seem to shift in and out of fashion as time goes on.   What was “down-sizing” in the 90s is described as “right-sizing” today, but the meaning behind the words has remained constant.  Ultimately, it is the meaning behind the word that really matters.

Perhaps certain buzzwords become less appealing as their connotation becomes less and less positive; for example, “downsizing” doesn’t sound nearly as nice as “right-sizing.”  Perhaps another reason is that words are simply overused, and as a result, over time, their meaning is diluted or does not have the same impact as it once did.  I dare say that “synergy” (the “golden child” of the buzzword family for many years) may be an example of this.  A fairly commonly accepted definition is that “synergy” means: 1 + 1 = 3.  What does this mean?  To a scientist, that’s just poor math.  To a business executive, it might mean merging two companies (and their respective accounting departments) results in cost savings as processes and bookkeeping efforts are no longer duplicated.  To a sales manager, it may mean that teaming up two great sales people can actually increase their combined sales volume by more than just adding their individual sales volumes together, as a result of increased teamwork and collaboration.  So does “synergy” mean cost savings, or better production?  Perhaps both… perhaps something else altogether… perhaps “all of the above.”

So before you go touting the “synergies” your company is going to gain from its “results – oriented” strategy that utilizes “best practices,” ensure to have a clear understanding in what the true meaning behind the words is.  The message here is not to stop using buzzwords, or that buzzwords are not good   – their use can actually make communication much more effective – but to be deliberate in the way you use them so that your message is not diluted or misinterpreted.  Use them wisely, and the impact of your message will be strong.

After all, a well-placed buzzword can result in better communication, which is a “win-win” for everyone.


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