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Let's Think Outside the Box About Business Jargon

You're in a meeting with 15 of your workplace besties when one of them throws out a new business buzzword. Zing! You're momentarily lost for words, because you have no idea what this co-worker means.

Ugh. Talk about a lack of synergy. Quick, we need an ideation session where we can do some rapid-fire decisioning!

We've all been there, struggling to understand some new bit of business lingo. I still remember the first time that I, as a fledgling business journalist, heard the phrase "eyeballs" during the dotcom era. CEOs and marketing types kept telling me all about these rumored "eyeballs," and man were they ever "sticky" for some reason!

Finally, I had to risk looking stupid by asking for a definition. I learned that the word "eyeballs" was trendy business slang for audience. "Stickiness" referred to the amount of time users spent on a website over the course of a week, or a month. For me, it was like filling in a word puzzle. At least I knew what they were talking about now.

That was nearly two decades ago, and business jargon hasn't gotten any better since then. In fact, it's gotten much worse! It's almost as if the 1990s were simply a ramp-up phase for on-boarding a bunch of largely meaningless buzzwords to confuse our colleagues, who, of course, are busy trying to think outside the box.

Our modern business buzzword dictionary is replete with verbal space wasters such as "collabition" and "updation" or "platforming" and "blue sky thinking."

The worst business buzzword I can think of as I hit the ground running with this blog post? I nominate the phrase "let's open the kimono," which means "let's be clear, or transparent," or something along that line. So why not simply say, "Let's be clear"? It's so much clearer!

What can you do when somebody in a work situation utters a new buzzword you haven't heard before? In addition to stifling a bemused smile, you have three options:

1. Say nothing. You might decide to let this inane drivel wash right over your head. You didn't quite catch the meaning, but that's okay. You understood the general direction of your work colleague's comments, no clarification necessary. Besides, you can google "cooptition" and "growth hack" after the meeting, right?

2. Say something. Go ahead, be the brave one in the meeting to ask what "back-of-the-envelope thinking" means, because you haven't used an envelope in months. On the one hand, you risk looking silly by asking. On the other hand, you risk making your co-worker look silly by asking for clarification. It's your call. Hey, nobody ever said it's easy being a meeting disruptor!

3. Circle back. Your co-worker said something about "developing a cadence of outreach" or some such verbal diarrhea. It sounds suspiciously like a marketing term, no? You might say, "I'm wondering if we can circle back*** to discuss the outreach you were talking about. Could you elaborate on that?" Chances are, a few other colleagues wonder what "cadence of outreach" means, too.

But there's no need to boil the ocean here.

Personally, I would go with #2, or maybe #3 in a pinch. As a business columnist, it was my job to understand fully what others were trying to say in order to get the story right. So I had to learn to have no hesitation in asking humbly: "Pardon me, I have a quick, clarifying question before you continue. What does 'leveraging the paradigm' mean to you? Ditto for the phrase, 'mental bandwidth.' Thanks."

The funny thing is, asking for buzzword clarification could take some people aback. The simplest questions tend to be the hardest ones to answer.

Bottom line: If we insist on using trendy business jargon, then we should know what we're talking about before we say it, just in case somebody (egad!) asks us to define our buzzwords.

We all have bandwidth for new learnings, and the ability to be more choiceful and skilling in our words. Okay, I'll let you get back to disrupting the marketplace now.

*** Bonus points will be awarded for pivoting to another business buzzword or phrase while you're at it.

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