• 25 Nov 2019
  • SBS-ED
  • 4Min

Synonyms that can be used to avoid business buzzwords

Synonyms that can be used to avoid business buzzwords

Provide synonyms that can be used instead of these business buzzwords

  • Innovation
  • Deep dive
  • Paradigm shift
  • Empower
  • Best practice

This past March, business social media platform LinkedIn released a list of the most-used buzzwords by people using the platform in the United States. The list included words such as “experienced”, “motivated” and “skilled” – words used by millions of the platform’s users, including some of the largest companies.

So, with a list of over-used words, is it time to reflect on your company’s lingo? Chrissie Mahler, the founder of the Plain English Campaign, seems to think so. “[Management speak] does two things – it isolates newcomers who feel they have to learn the lingo when they should feel at home, and it gets in the way of business and finds its way onto forms, leaflets and official documents,” she says.

What are buzzwords?

The dictionary defines a buzzword as, “a word or phrase, often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context.”
Why buzzwords are bad

In a time of fake news, smoke and mirrors, and questionable ethics, employees – and people, in general – appreciate straight-talking honesty more than ever. Companies that use unnecessary business jargon do not understand that simplicity is key to communicating to both employees and customers, and the best way to bring a message across. Here are a few reasons to avoid buzzwords – not only on your LinkedIn profile but in the materials you use to communicate too:

  • Buzzwords don’t set you apart. Instead, according to Peter Thiel – billionaire venture capitalist and partner at US-based Founders Fund – these words often prove a company is “completely undifferentiated from its competition” and lacking in imagination.
  • It alienates people. We live in a time when there are more generational differences in the workplace than ever before, says Emerald Insight. As social media and new digital technologies widen the communication gap, they also widen the way people work together and using buzzwords can discourage employees who are unfamiliar with the terms from engaging with the rest of a team.
  • Confusion can lead to missed opportunities. If your company describes itself as “driving strategic innovation”, it could be missing out on new business. If a company’s purpose is not clear from the get-go, customers can get confused about what exactly you’re offering.

Ban these buzzwords

While the following business sayings may have a place in the way you communicate, over-using them can hint at incompetence and conformity, and detract from the real purpose of your business.

  1. Innovation/innovative. Often bandied around in the start-up and entrepreneurial space, this word was used more than six million times in 2015 alone, reports Smart Company. If your company is engaged in ground-breaking research or products, it’s best to avoid this word when communicating about your business.
  2. Empower. While South Africa is making positive strides in workplace equality, many companies tend to tick the “empowerment” box as a business necessity rather than as part of a long-term strategy. Before using this word, think about what your business is doing to uplift its employees in terms of continuous learning, leadership development and mentoring.
  3. Best practice. Using this word to describe how your company operates doesn’t necessarily mean the behaviour or values it stands for are correct. Buzzwords don’t bring about ethical business; a leader does – through careful behaviour, open communication, a clear vision and ongoing ethics discussions with employees.
  4. Deep dive. In the business world, this means “a thorough examination of a subject or topic”, says Merriam-Webster. However, it’s often over-used to describe an action that may not be as thorough as the phrase suggests. Next time, perhaps just have your team “look into” an issue instead?
  5. Paradigm shift. This term describes “a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline,” according to its inventor, Thomas Kuhn, an American physicist and philosopher. Is your business responsible for a scientific revolution? No? Then shift to a different phrase.

In an ever-changing business world, knowledge and profit extends beyond buzzwords that can confuse or alienate people. Learn more on expanding your own knowledge of leadership and management in business with the University of Stellenbosch Executive Development (USB-ED) courses here. A course in innovation, for example, may provide a whole new cache of evocative, real, non-cliché language to use.

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