9 business metaphors you should ditch in your career vocabulary

The business world is filled with jargons. You probably heard one of your bosses say they can’t touch base offline yet because there’s not enough bandwidth. By now, people are probably getting sick of these terms. If you feel that you need all hands on deck or encourage your people to give the latest project their 110%, then you should – but stop with these jargons.

“The starting point for any aspect of communication is whether it aids the message recipient receiving or understanding the message the speaker or writer is attempting to convey,” Ray Poynter said.

“This means the speaker or writer must choose words that ‘work’ for the purpose of the message and which ‘work’ for the audience. Any use of jargon needs to be based on a reliable assumption that the recipient is going to understand it.”

Bad jargons are phrases whose only purpose is to make the speaker appear smart, without realizing that it’s bordering on discrimination or it’s just simply done in bad taste. The phrase “opening the kimono,” for example, which means to reveal information, is often construed as sexy and creepy.

Here are nine other business jargons you should be wary of:

Bandwidth

This refers to a person’s physical and mental capability to do work. Leave the term to the tech-savvy. Instead of saying you’ve reached your bandwidth, just say you’re currently busy or occupied.

Game changer

A lot of companies use this phrase when advertising their latest product. The phrase just comes off intended to hype people but doesn’t really deliver. A game changer should be just that – something revolutionary that changes the way things are done. Smartphones are a game changer. Your wireless earphones, not so much. Communication is key – always be realistic about what you’re offering.

Think outside the box

Suffice to say, this is one of the most overused jargons out there. Instead, say “widen your imagination.” Anyone who still says “think outside the box” clearly isn’t doing so.

On the bleeding edge

The image comes from the early 80s. Replace the unpleasant, painful image with what you really mean: that you’re equipped with advanced technology. Now doesn’t that conjure exciting feelings?

Bad jargons are phrases whose only purpose is to make the speaker appear smart, without realizing that it’s bordering on discrimination or it’s just simply done in bad taste. The phrase “opening the kimono,” for example, which means to reveal information, is often construed as sexy and creepy.

Hit the ground running

It’s a phrase commonly used to motivate a team to start working on a project. Just say, “work on it immediately.” Sometimes the phrase can have an opposite effect, especially when it comes from someone who only really starts working when there’s only an hour left of work, or someone who starts packing their things at 5:55 PM. (We all know at least one person like that.)

To circle back

It means to revisit the topic later. Why not just say that instead? It’s unnecessary to use a jargon that doesn’t really stand for any euphemism. It’s just another way of saying something that means… well, exactly the same thing.

Take it to the next level

The phrase means to make something better. But what does it mean – no one knows what “next level” looks like. How will they know if they’ve achieved it?

Get all your ducks in a row

We know it means to get your things organized, but is there really a need for you to talk to your employees like they’re kids?

Do more with less

How exactly do you do that? In practical matters, you can’t do anything if you don’t have enough. At its worst interpretation, it could mean, “Do more work, but with the same pay you’re getting now.” Learn to say what you mean.

It is what it is

What exactly is “it”?


Leah Eichler, in her Globe and Mail column, interviewed Dan Pontefract on how corporate jargons actually undermine someone’s capability to lead.

“Jargon provides familiarity and comfort; however, it can create a false sense of leadership security. Spitting out clichés and overworn vernacular may give you the feeling as though you’re effectively leading, but in reality it brands leaders as shallow and lacking true leadership depth,” Mr. Pontefract said.

The purpose of language is to clearly and concisely convey thoughts that will get the message across to end-users – nay, to customers – instead of going around in circles.  Trendy or cutesy phrases just make it seem like you’re a 57-year-old trying too hard to relate to your 13-year-old niece.

Photo by Jordan Whitfield at Unsplash.com

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