Business buzzwords

May 2, 2013 § 4 Comments

I’ve spent the afternoon giving feedback on some assignments – business writing assignments issued at a course I recently taught for Allaboutwriting. The course was for a group of communication officers at one of South Africa’s major banks, and it’s very interesting to see how the corporate lingo filters through in their writing, even in an assignment that requires a conversational, less formal tone.

So we have ‘stakeholder’, ‘engagement’ and… surprise, surprise… ‘stakeholder engagement’. We don’t know who these stakeholders are or what engagement entails – dinner and a movie, or just a diamond ring when you pop the question? (And isn’t that taking customer service just a step too far?)

‘Strategic’ is another buzzword people love to fling about with gay abandon. Everything is strategic today, even when it’s not. Why, I do believe I’ve even read about ‘strategic stakeholder engagement’ recently,’ whatever that is.

And then there’s ‘concretizing’ and ‘leverage’ and ‘capacity’ and ‘synergy’ – these words have just been so overused and misused (what on earth does concretizing entail?) that no-one really knows what they mean. I tried to rewrite two sentences for one of my students to demonstrate that plain language really could say the same thing more simply and more elegantly, but I struggled to translate his corporate language because I really wasn’t sure what he meant. And therein lies the problem.

Good communication is about ensuring that the message you send is exactly the same as the message received. That means it must be accurate and crystal clear with no room for ambiguity. Using buzzwords is far more likely to obscure your message – which is why politicians love them so much.

As I was writing this, a junk email for a business conference arrived in my inbox, with these words: “Kindly find attached information pertaining to…” Why so many words? (Also, there was no attachment.) But what’s wrong with saying, “Here’s the information about…”

It’s not about dumbing things down – I’m not saying you shouldn’t use ‘big’ words ever, or that you need to write in words of one syllable. But you should always consider your audience. Do you want them to understand what you mean the first time they read what you’ve written, or do you want them to furrow their brow slightly and hit ‘delete’ when they don’t know what the hell you’re on about?

Plain language really can make the difference.


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