Business Jargon: Less Is More for a Win-Win Situation

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek August 30, 2021
Business Jargon: Less Is More for a Win-Win Situation

​"Let's all get on the same page, think outside the box and take this to the next level by moving the needle for a win-win result. We'll need to marshal our synergies and give 110 percent."

Whew. Business jargon can be annoying. And while 86 percent of 1,087 U.S. employees said they've used business buzzwords, 33 percent said they sometimes don't even know what those words or terms mean, according to a recent online poll by myPerfectresume.

It can be tempting to dip into business-speak. Jargon can sometimes be an efficient way for colleagues to communicate in a given industry. Survey respondents pointed to upper management as being more likely to use jargon (33 percent) than direct reports (5 percent).

Using jargon can—consciously or unconsciously—be used by some "to signal their membership in a professional community," according to Harvard Business Review.

According to an academic paper appearing in the November 2020 issue of ScienceDirect, a study of 64,000 dissertations found that authors from lower-status schools used more jargon than those from higher-status schools. That reliance on jargon is driven, researchers wrote, by more concern over how the writers are perceived than with "conversational clarity."

In fact, more than one-third of respondents to myPerfectresume's survey said they feel pressured to use jargon to fit in or to appear competent. Half of them said they think jargon makes a person sound more professional or intelligent.

However, the more experienced the worker, the less likely the person uses jargon he or she doesn't understand. Workers with six to 10 years of experience said they used jargon they didn't understand (55 percent). Those with 11 to 20 years on the job and those with 20-plus years of experience were less likely to do so (27 percent and 9 percent, respectively).

The vast majority of employees who don't hold a college degree said they shy away from using buzzwords whose meanings they don't know.

Be mindful of your audience: 43 percent of respondents noted they feel left out and disengaged when they're around colleagues who use jargon excessively. So, while jargon can serve as a communication shortcut, it may cause those you most want to reach to tune you out.

Here are the business phrases people found most shudder-inducing, according to myPerfectresume. Percentages indicate the share of respondents who found a given term either "annoying" or "particularly annoying": 

This year's least-hated business words or phrases, along with their meanings, include:

  • Agile—Able to respond and adapt quickly to changes.
  • Impact—Having a marked effect or influence.
  • Robust—Vigorous; able to perform well.
  • Gain traction—Starting to move toward the desired goal.
  • Deep dive—Conduct an exhaustive analysis.
  • Leverage—Use.
  • Vertical—A group of companies or customers associated with a specific business niche.
  • Scalable—Something that is able to grow without being hampered by factors such as available resources or how it's structured.
  • On the same page—Share the same understanding with others.
  • Lots of moving parts—A complex situation consisting of many variables.

SHRM Online wants to know what jargon terms you're tired of hearing:



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