Business Jargon is More Useful Than You Think

Let’s face it.  Business jargon gets a bad rap.  I’m sure you’ve seen the countless Dilbert cartoons, the internet jokes, the memes… all making fun of a form of speech that has empowered us all to think out of the box and execute cutting-edge, high impact deliverables.

There’s no question making fun of business jargon is, shall we say, low hanging fruit.   But it actually got me thinking.  Is it really that bad?  Is there any upside (sorry – can’t help myself) to this jargon-filled way of speaking?   Let’s take a look…

Point #1:  Business jargon can be surprisingly efficient

I know what you’re thinking – efficient?  Are you serious?  Is it really necessary to say “drill down” when you really just mean look in detail.  Probably not – and in some cases, corporate speak is clearly over the top. But in other situations, it’s can actually be quite efficient to use language that the other person you’re communicating with will “get” immediately. For example, I was just at a meeting where I (somewhat self-consciously) suggested to the group that we double down on the low hanging fruit aspects of our plan.  And you know what?  No one flinched or rolled their eyes.  They got what I said immediately.  Agenda item complete.

Point #2:  Business jargon is no worse or better than any other professional language

Sure – it’s annoying to hear yet another corporate suit urging his or her company to “pivot,” but it’s not only business people who use jargon.  Everyone does.  For example, I can’t tell you how many times in the last few years I’ve heard in the classrooms and hallways of my children’s schools banter about the importance of “growth mindsets” and “differentiated learning” … or about how it’s so critical nowadays to “flip the classroom,” (secretly wondering if I should send the kids to school that day with some sort of protective helmet).

Academics “operationalize” – and sometimes, to their chagrin, “reify” their constructs.”  Consultants have limited bandwidth, but, nevertheless, work their tails off to “move the needle.”  Investment managers urge patience in a bull market.  Cooks are frequently “in the weeds.” Soldiers dream of “rack time.”  And doctors retreat to their “bunkers” after one too many “frequent fliers” in the emergency room.  So, jargon is everywhere – not just in our corporate cubicles.

Point #3:  Business Jargon can help when you’re at a loss for words.

For example, if you your boss is overburdening you with projects, and you want it to stop…but you don’t quite know what to say, talking about your potentially limited “bandwidth” – or how you were just curious about the “scope of work,” might actually be a good way to go. You get the point across quickly — and in a way that demonstrates your mastery of the corporate tongue to boot.

Business jargon clearly isn’t going anywhere. And in fact, it’s an essential part of all professional communities we’re a part of.   So, take it all with a grain of salt: You don’t need to boil the ocean and learn everything, or go from good to great in a split second. Take a deep breath. Relax, choose your favorite sayings, and then just be yourself. Because in the end…  that’s always the best practice.


To take this conversation off-line, let’s connect on Twitter! @andymolinsky

Andy Molinsky is a Professor of International Management and Organizational Behavior at the Brandeis International Business School. He is the author of GLOBAL DEXTERITY (HBR Press, 2013) and REACH: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence (Penguin, forthcoming – early 2017).

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