How the buzzword virus is killing business

I'm a socially awkward child. I'm sitting in the corner of the classroom drawing pictures in the back of my library book while my classmates play games outside and the school counsellor hovers in the doorway with a concerned look on her face.

That's how I feel when someone starts a conversation with 'I just wanted to reach out to you'.

"How did such straightforward actions evolve into pseudo-sociological corporate buzzword phrases which make my internal organs involuntarily contract?"
Jane Grace, Corporate communications manager at ANZ NZ

Call. Email. Contact. Catch-up. Get in touch with.

How did such straightforward actions evolve into pseudo-sociological corporate buzzword phrases which make my internal organs involuntarily contract? It's the corporate buzzword virus.

But first – a bit of clarity. In this heart-felt (literally, sometimes I think I need a defibrillator when I hear some of this toxic stuff) lamentation, I'm not referring to industry specific words or acronyms that are essential to communicating efficiently within a workplace.

Doctors don't often refer to 'Magnetic Resonance Imaging' because a simple 'MRI' is a) easier to say and b) widely understood. That's sensible.

What I am talking about is the vague wishy-washy words which seem to have implanted themselves in the vernacular of corporate life, replicating like some sort of insidious virus.

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The synergies. The paradigm shifts. The ecosystems. The moving of the needles. The empowering of people. The nouns used as verbs. The verbs used as nouns. Transition is not a verb. Nor is task. Not to mention that low-hanging fruit donging everyone on the head with obvious opportunities.

Viruses (of both biological and buzzword genus) are infective agents which wheedle their way into host organisms and multiply. The buzzword virus is damaging our communication and it's bad for business. Here are four reasons why.

It makes it harder to understand.

Surely one of the most basic objectives of communication is that the person you're trying to communicate with understands what you're really trying to say.

We are all native in normal speak but have acquired buzzword banter as a second language. Somewhere deep in our grey matter, our neurons are working overtime to translate between the two – and we don't always get it right.

Buzzwords can render our message misleading – whether intentionally or not.

It demonstrates fuzzy thinking. And potentially insecurity.

To explain something really well, you generally have to understand it really well. The reverse equally applies.

The overuse of buzzwords can demonstrate a fuzziness of thought. If you're using it to sound more intelligent, you don't. You sound insecure.

If we talk like this internally, we will start talking like this to our customers. And that's a horrible thought.

When you're talking to a business (like a bank, as an example), you need the banker to tell you the facts without the fluff.

You're on your own time. You don't want to be translating from buzzword to normal to understand your finances. Likewise the banker doesn't want to be translating from the buzzwords s/he hears internally to an appropriate customer dialogue.

It's not about dumbing things down for the customer. It's about being as clear as possible. And that will get you sales no matter what business you're in.

If we make it hard for people to digest, they won't.

In a world where I'm bombarded with daily emails, links, ads, texts, calls, webinars, videos, tweets, posts and pictures (and that's just from my mum) if you're going to make it hard for me understand, I'll move to the next thing.

The more information we get, the less responsibility we feel for understanding it and the more selective we are about consumption.

All roles within the heaving corporate society so many of us inhabit every day have an element of communications to them - so take some responsibility for the health of others.

Guard yourself against the buzzword virus as you would against others - dose yourself with common sense, don't stand too close to those who are infected and cover your mouth if you feel like you're going to spray.

Stand down little neurons; this is one battle you shouldn't have to fight.

Jane Grace is a corporate communications manager at ANZ NZ.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.