Seven in 10 American workers admit using what’s been ranked as the most cringeworthy phrases. Chances are you’ve probably overheard someone in the office at one time or another say that you must “give it 110 percent,” or “think outside the box,” or even “raise the bar.”
If you’re rolling your eyes, these overused clichés made a list of 40 of the most cringe-worthy phrases said in the workplace, according to a survey by One Poll of 2,000 American workers, as reported on Fox News.
Using too much of the worn out business jargon, in fact, can actually damage your reputation. According to a study by the University of Basel and New York University, the less concrete and more abstract your language, the less trustworthy you appear.
“Jargon masks real meaning. People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others,” Jennifer Chatman, management professor at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, tells Forbes.
The list of usual suspects
Let me be the first to admit that I am guilty as the next person for spouting many of these in regular work discourse and speaking engagements. Most of us do it without realizing it, but it doesn’t make you bad or wrong. It just makes you sound … less authentic.
For the sake of length, I’m highlighting four from the One Poll survey list of 40 that I’ve heard countless times ad nauseam, with my commentary on each. I’m also adding two of my own entries that deserve banishment.
1. “Thinking outside the box.”
Ranked No.2 on the One Poll survey, this useless business jargon is subconsciously spoken in general terms to express looking at solving problems differently. The problem? It can imply that very competent and capable people with less flair for creative problem solving are handicapped by the limitations of the tiny box they think and work in, which is a false perception others may have of them.
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2. “Let’s circle back”
How many times have you heard someone rushing to a meeting yelling down the hall, “I have to jump on this conference call but let’s circle-back later!” The use of this cringe-worthy business jargon to imply checking back on something is merely lipstick on a pig and makes little sense if neither party actually follows up. This term checked in at No.9 on the One Poll survey list.
3. “Low hanging fruit.”
I was once asked by a former CEO to “focus on low hanging fruit” when the hiring strategy I proposed to eliminate company turnover was too ambitious and strategic. I was told to come up with an easier, shorter-term, band-aid solution to the problem. The issue I have with this phrase–which literally means picking an apple hanging close to the ground rather than the harder exercise of climbing a tree — implies that you’re taking the easiest option and the path of least resistance instead of working diligently to find the best solution. It was ranked No.14 on the survey.
4. “Take it to the next level.”
This term was ranked No.15. In theory, it means to make something better. In practice, it means nothing, mainly because nobody knows what the next level actually looks like as it can be interpreted in so many different contexts. It has become so generic that people are beginning to catch themselves before saying it out lout as not to appear dumb or lazy. As a replacement, try delivering a clearer and more specific message about direction and making something better.
The next two items did not make the One Poll survey list, but they should have. Here’s my vote for two dreadful alternates to banish from your vocabulary forever.
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David Logan, professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California, said it best in Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage: “Asking for someone’s ‘buy-in’ says, ‘I have an idea. I didn’t involve you because I didn’t value you enough to discuss it with you. I want you to embrace it as if you were in on it from the beginning, because that would make me feel really good.'”
Eric J. McNulty, director of research at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, said it best in a strategy + business article: “Empower carries that old-school, fear-based baggage: I have the power and, if I deem you worthy, I will bestow some upon you. It is condescending at best and disempowering at worst.” He also suggests the terms “consumers” and “alignment” be banished from the business lexicon.
From Marcel Schwantes and INC 11/2/2018