Are Buzzwords Getting in the Way of Your Work?

Posted on July 12, 2023

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Today’s Morning Buzz is by Greg LeBlanc, Assistant Town Manager, Town of Snowmass Village, Colorado. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.

What I’m Watching: Corner Gas

A Hobby I Enjoy: Magnets

What I’m Working on: Communications & Engagement, Expanding Community Childcare Service, Records Retention

Buzzwords – they exist in every workplace, industry, and throughout popular culture. Occurring as either a word or phrase, buzzwords are used to suggest knowledge or imply savvy on a subject matter. Buzzwords are typically derivative of technical terms but are stripped of their original technical meaning and reworked for casual, universal usage. Often used to the point of being cliché, the overuse of buzzwords contributes to the loss of the term’s original meaning or impact.

Ask yourself – are buzzwords getting in your way of communicating as a leader? Due to their prevalence of use, leaders may not be aware of the impact that buzzwords have on their communication. Buzzwords are the enemy of effective communication in the workplace and leaders who aspire to manage effective teams should avoid their (over)use. By choosing clear, deliberate language instead of buzzwords, leaders can provide clear and equitable communication with their audiences and create clear goals and expectations for staff.

Clear & Equitable Communication

Clear communication helps leaders build great professional and interpersonal relationships. When communication in the workplace is clear, everyone contributing feels satisfied and understood. A message delivered clearly leaves no room for misunderstanding, which decreases the potential for confusion at a later point in time. In situations where conflict might arise, clear communication is an important factor for reaching resolution.

Buzzwords inherently infuse ambiguity into a conversation. Whether used as a noun or a verb when communicating, these terms are a combination of several meanings and can be interpreted in several ways, despite the context of the conversation. This is detrimental to communicating clearly because speaking in generalities moves both the speaker and the listener away from the specific topic. For example, leaders may consider replacing the buzzwords touch base or touchpoint with meeting (hopefully with an agenda outlining clear objectives). Leaders can also replace buzzwords such as retargeting, pivot, or level set with a conversation about how the environment in which the team operates is changing due to certain factors. In these examples, the leader shares the message using plain language that outlines the intent of the conversation.

Akin to buzzwords, sports references require specific context to be understood by all members of the workforce. For those members of a team that may not be familiar with all aspects of a particular sport, using terms such as inside baseball, homerun, or keep your eye on the ball is confusing. Instead, try being direct with language and show the intent of the message through deliberate and careful word choice. Replacing buzzwords (and sports references) with plain language helps leaders send the message to staff without any need for additional context or clarification.

It is worth noting that there is an argument for using buzzwords as shorthand when communicating with certain colleagues. For example, two communications specialists might find efficiency in using buzzwords with one another because they both speak the same language. These efficiencies do not extend past this specific working relationship, because once others are involved in the conversation, the need for clarity becomes increasingly important.

Clear Goalsetting & Expectations

A quality of highly effective teams is that they work collaboratively towards a shared goal. Goal-setting theory tells us that goalsetting is a conscious process and an effective way to increase productivity by holding teams accountable, even in the event of a failure. But when the process lacks clarity, time is wasted performing unnecessary work and staff can become frustrated. When teams have clarity on the objective of a task, teams become more efficient. For example, instead of asking the team to move the needle, try asking the team to make progress towards the goal. Using metrics or KPIs is an easy way to add the necessary context for just how much you would like to see from the team.

Effective teams also have clear expectations laid out for them. As leaders, we must ensure that our staff understands the intent of projects and how their work fits in with the mission of the organization. Teams that receive clear expectations from leadership work more efficiently, make fewer mistakes, and are more efficient with the resources available to them (most notably time).

When leaders insert buzzwords into the conversation, the picture of what is expected of the team muddies. If you want your team to make informed decisions on projects, just say so. There is no need to confound your expectations by asking them to use data analytics to yield actionable insights that can be leveraged to facilitate a holistic deep dive into new best practices for the organization. Or, if a leader tells their team to take a deep dive into the customer journey so they can drill down on the big data analytics to innovate sustainable solutions to pain points, the team will likely not understand that they just need to improve a bill payment process.

Similarly, leaders should avoid answering clarifying questions with buzzwords. If a member of the team asks for clarity on direction, avoid responding with a buzzword. There is no need to tell staff that they need to whiteboard it end-to-end when the expectation is that they need to propose a solution. By infusing jargon into your expectation, the team will not have the clarity they need to understand the objective.

Leave the Buzzwords at Home

Through clear and equitable communication, leaders can provide their teams with clear goals and expectations. While it might be tempting to include a few trendy buzzwords into your office communication, doing so will only be to the detriment of staff. There is no need to ping your colleagues to force synergistic retargeting of key demographic audiences using existing bandwidth because leaders who use plain language when communicating with staff spend less time circling-back­ and more time making progress towards goals – now that’s a win-win!

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