Hey workforce professionals! Is it time to clean up your language?


Food for thought, going forward we need to make sure the expertise we are sharing is truly in our wheelhouse, and out of the box or we might find ourselves in the parking lot!

As trained professionals in the grown-up world of business, if we want to be taken seriously, we need to be more aware of how we come across when we communicate our expertise. Is the information we are sharing truly meaningful, or are we leaning too much on industry jargon to garner so-called credibility? In an industry already addled with acronyms and filled with terms that can have multiple interpretations, isn’t it more important than ever that we clarify what we are actually trying to say?  Freelancer or independent contractor, what’s the difference? MSP or are we really talking about contingent RPO?  There’s a lot to be considered when discussing the value and importance of engaging the best workforce.  Add to this a mix of business buzzwords and communicating effectively can be a daunting task.

For years I’ve been baffled and amused by buzzwords that frequently (and often annoyingly) infiltrate our daily work conversations. Some have stood the test of time. “Bucket” is still heard on conference calls to describe where a “category,” “position,” or “priority” belongs. Others terms like “right size,” born in the early 2000s to put a positive spin on layoffs, seems to have faded away.

Why “buckets”?  Why “parking lot”. If we need to work on or discuss something later, why not just say so?   And who picked “bucket”; why not a “drawer,” “file,” “bin” or heck, “closet” for that matter?

Catch phrases tend to “gain steam” when the boss uses them. Often, a copycat frenzy ensues, and the next thing you know, on every conference call we all start talking about the “optics of the situation”! If the boss is saying it, it must be meaningful. If I use it, it will certainly make me sound smarter and elevate others’ view of me. Won’t it?

Years ago I came up with an “out of the box” buzzword; it was “T-bone.” I didn’t define it, didn’t advise anyone as to what I meant. Before I knew it I was sending emails to colleagues: “looking forward to T-boning this.” The reply: “sounds good.” What did I mean? Cut it up, carve out something delicious, none of the above?

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It didn’t matter. There was a blind trust that T-bone meant something. My colleagues never asked, “What do you mean by T-bone?” They acted as if the word belonged in the communication! T-bone, much like “yada-yada” from the iconic Seinfeld episode, was nothing more than vague filler— lazy speech that can cause confusion. Sadly, for my word-coining career, T-bone didn’t become the next, latest and greatest business buzzword, so I “tabled” it!

There are many acceptable buzzwords that show no sign of slowing down in their usage. “In the red” or “in the black.” There’s no question about what is being referred to when these are a part of the conversation. “Circling back” to this notion that business buzzwords can create more confusion than clarity, I suggest that “circle back” makes perfect sense. We will “come back around” to this matter; thus the circle. Very clear what is intended.

When you see a sign in the produce section of the grocery store that says “fresh fruit”, shouldn’t it go without saying the fruit is better than edible?  Shouldn’t we be confident and shouldn’t it be understood the fruit is not “rotten” or “stale”?  So just like “fresh fruit”, calling something “strategic” doesn’t necessarily give it more meaning.  It should be understood, expected, a given, don’t you think that your business plans, new ideas, opportunities are ‘strategic’?

Conversations are always more interesting when stories are shared and points are illuminated in a way that paints a picture for the audience. I get it. I’m a practitioner of compelling story-telling. There’s certainly a place for buzzwords, catch phrases, and colorful remarks. Just consider when you are using a word like “innovate,” that this term, purely by its overuse, is no longer innovative!

“At the end of the day” is another fine example. I’m not exactly sure when people consider their day ended or over. Is it when you are brushing your teeth and going to bed? Is it when you leave the office?  For Cinderella, it was the stroke of midnight!  “At the end of the day” is an imprecise timetable and allows the speaker to remain non-committal — not always the greatest when you are trying to get work done. Why not say “Here’s my conclusion” or “When this discussion is finished, I expect this is the result” or “We should know by today at 5pm PST”?

“Data wrangling” should be strictly avoided—unless you are on the range with your herd of goats viewing reports. How about “doing research” instead?

Years ago, I remember being on a conference call when one colleague on the other side of the line, remarked, “we need to figure out which ‘bucket’ this goes in” and the other added, “and we need to put some ‘color’ on this.” My response, “are you guys painting the office?”



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Kim Bell

Kim Bell
Kim Bell is vice president of global sales at AgileOne.

Kim Bell

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One Response to “Hey workforce professionals! Is it time to clean up your language?”

  1. Jamie Wetzel says:

    This is not just a problem among Workforce professionals. The IT industry & professionals are guilty of the same thing. “Cloud”, DevOps, “Agile” and a million others. Want to see people tilt and scratch their heads, ask them to define their buzzwords.

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