10 Business Buzzwords Every Manager Should Ban

Phil Kendall

Feb 2017 ⋅ 5 min read

You know how it is: you're hard at work, incubating cross-functional scenarios for your disruptive brand, when Jeff from PR walks in and says he wants to run something new up the flagpole.

Or perhaps you don't know how it is, because your colleagues insist on using incomprehensible HR and business buzzwords that make you want to scrub your skin with a wire brush.

We're all guilty of using business-speak from time to time, but packing your speech with jargon can be a major irritant for your staff.

Worse still, these same words can result in some major misunderstandings when your true meaning gets lost in an attempt to nail a corporate catchphrase.

Today on the RotaCloud blog — partly as an exercise in catharsis and partly as a warning for those of us who have let them slip into our daily dialogue — we're presenting a list of some of the worst business buzzwords in common usage.

You're welcome to join us in our collective loathing.

1. "Let's action that"

Our first cringeworthy business buzzword is especially popular with the kind of managers who like holding brainstorming sessions and wearing Bluetooth headsets around the office.

"Actioning" things is the same as "doing" them, except the former sounds much more important.

Business/human translation:

Business: "I'd like to action Colin's incentive ASAP."

Human: "Taco Day sounds terrific, Colin. Let's do it."

2. "Take that offline"

Easily one of the most irksome phrases around, "take that offline" is used to shut down conversations during meetings, much like saying "Let's put a pin in that," only somehow even less palatable.

Usually, the speaker has no intention of returning to the point, which is annoying in itself, but the implication that real-time conversations are somehow "online" is what really gets on people's nerves.

If you'd ever had someone say this to you during a team meeting and resisted the urge to lunge at them with a biro, then give yourself a pat on the back.

Business/human translation:

Business: "I hear what you're saying, Sheila, but let's take that idea offline for now."
Human: "I don't think party hats are going to help, Sheila. Thanks, though."

3. "Disruptive" brands

There was a time when using the word "disruptive" to describe your company made you sound edgy and dangerous.

It gave people the impression that you were hell-bent on turning your industry on its head and made people take notice.

Companies like Uber were disruptive. Airbnb, who sent a shockwave through the entire travel industry by effectively turning anyone's home into a hotel, were definitely disruptive.

In contrast, most new businesses that use this word to describe themselves are about as disruptive as a small child overturning a box of Lego after one too many Custard Creams.

Business/human translation:

Business: "We're a disruptive startup providing game-changing caffeine solutions."
Human: "We make really nice coffee."

4. "I don't have the bandwidth"

In non-corporate speak, "not having the bandwidth" means that you or your business are too stretched to take another task on. It has absolutely nothing to do with the transmission of data, but people use the term because it sounds better than "I'm swamped".

Steer clear of this unless you're OK with people thinking you were built in a lab.

Business/human translation:

Business: "We don't have the bandwidth to facilitate that."
Human: "We don't have enough staff for that."

5. "Let's table that"

There are two reasons why this phrase made it onto our list. Firstly, it's a term predominantly used by people who like to be taken much more seriously than they probably should. Secondly, depending on where you are in the world when you say it, the phrase's meaning can be completely reversed.

If Alison is sitting in a meeting room in the UK, Canada or Australia, for example, and she says: "I'd like to table Mike's proposal," then this means that she wants to talk about Mike's idea.

If she utters the exact same sentence while sitting in a meeting room in the US, however, then Alison is actually saying that she doesn't want to talk about Mike's idea for the time being.

There are more direct ways of saying both of these things. And for the sake of simplicity, it's best to avoid using the term altogether.

6. "Synergy"

Of all the business buzzwords on our list today, "synergy" (and "synergise" with it) is easily the least offensive. After all, it's a perfectly legitimate way of describing the union of two things — such as businesses — for the mutual benefit of both.

The term has, however, been used to death in business circles over the years, to the point that it always sounds like obvious filler.

Business/human translation:

Business: "Our businesses have real synergy."
Human: "Our businesses complement each other nicely."

7. "Close of Play"

Massively overused by recruiters and people who say things like "get our ducks in a row" and "hit a home run", what this actually means is "at the end of the day" or the end of a given period.

Business/human translation:

Business: "I'll circle back to you at close of play."
Human: "I'll talk to you again later on."

8. "Rightsizing"

Only the most cold-hearted business mind could have ever come up with this detestable piece of business jargon.

"Rightsizing" is essentially used to put a positive spin on the act of laying off staff so that a business can stay afloat. Not even a cartoon villain's henchman wants to hear this phrase at work, so avoid it like the plague.

Business/human translation:

Business: "We'll need to do some rightsizing to make up for our shortfall this year."
Human: "We'll need to let some people go because we don't have enough money."

9. "Millennials"

You can't move online without tripping over an article or blog post about how "millennials" do, don't do, love or hate something.

In truth, however, the term is so broad that it's next to useless, especially when targeting demographics for your business.

Definitions vary, but generally speaking a "millennial" is anyone born between 1981 and 2004. This means that they could be aged anything between 12 and 35. Or, to paint a picture, anyone from kids who go to school to homeowners who have kids of their own.

No matter what you're selling, that's quite a tricky market to attempt to corner...

Business/human translation:

Business: "We're focusing on appealing to millennials with this strategy."
Human: "We don't really have a marketing strategy — I dunno, young-ish?"

10. "Peel the onion"

Because onions have layers, or perhaps because peeling them is seldom a pleasant experience, someone somewhere once decided to refer to examining a problem in their business as "peeling the onion".

We can only assume that the people who use this cringeworthy phrase are incapable of shedding tears, because the rest of us can't stand it.

Business/human translation:

Business: "We need to start peeling the onion here."
Human: "We need to look into the source of the problem."

In Closing

It can be easy to fall into the habit of using quick-fire business buzzwords around the office or when dealing with likeminded individuals at work.

But it's important not to let these same phrases become such an important part of your vocabulary that you alienate your staff or, even worse, customers.

Keep a cap on the buzzwords and your feet on the ground, and you won't risk offending the ears of those around you — and those around you going on the offensive.

Do you have any business buzzwords that you'd like to banish forever? Leave us a comment below!