Beef up your business language

JOHN ANTHONY
Last updated 05:00 14/05/2014
Fairfax NZ

There's various examples of business jargon used each day, but do you really know what it means? Stuff.co.nz asks business workers for their interpretation.

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At the end of the day, many of us are guilty of using business jargon to try to stand out from the crowd, or fit in, depending on your choice of phrase.

But "going forward" you would be better off highlighting your "core competencies" by easing up on the corporate cliches and "thinking outside the box".

Not that there's anything wrong with showing a bit of Kiwi ingenuity - just don't ever call it that.

The irony with vague jargon such as "blue sky thinking", "new paradigm" and "number eight wire" is that it indicates the person using said phrases lacks the very qualities they're trying to express.

Massey University associate professor of communication Margaret Brunton says those guilty of jargon risk putting their credibility on the line.

If someone uses jargon but is unable to quickly provide a clear definition then the entire conversation is brought into question, she says.

"If you're going to use a phrase like that, be willing to justify it. Have the answer ready and if you can't answer it then question why you're using that phrase at all."

A good communicator should convey their messages with clear, simple language, she says.

"You're not doing yourself any favours because people are aware these buzzwords tend to have very little value."

Adopting jargon is an easy trap for people to fall into but Brunton encourages people to think before they speak.

"We don't always engage our brains before we open our mouths."

Laziness, a desire to look knowledgeable and being under-prepared are all reasons for resorting to jargon, she says.

"People want to impress other people, I suppose, by wheeling out these rather hackneyed phrases."

New Zealanders are not the only ones guilty of adopting business jargon with a lot of common phrases probably coming from the United States, she says.

Victoria University professor of linguistics Laurie Bauer says the use of jargon in the workplace is nothing new.

Business people often use "automatic" and "pre-programmed" phrases to help fill gaps while thinking about their next point.

"It's a way of allowing yourself processing time," Bauer says.

But jargon can be an immediate turnoff.

"It's potentially distracting and annoying for the listener which is contrary to the interests of the speaker.

"Almost anything becomes annoying if there's too much of it."

Frequently used jargon also tends to eventually slip into written language, he says.

"There's always the danger that something which is used in a specific context will be meaningless to other people."

Jargon can be particularly frustrating for people on the fringes of conversations who hear the information out of context or without analysis, he says.

But for those who want to build on their jargon vocabulary there are a wealth of online jargon dictionaries with sticky phrases just waiting to be thrown into the mix.

LOATHED JARGON

Going forward – well surely you're not going backwards.

New Zealand Inc – a new way of describing NZ brands on the "world stage".

Number 8 wire – one of the oldest pieces of New Zealand business jargon still in use today.

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White paper – let's just call it a report, shall we.

Touching base – is this a reference to baseball or mission control? Either way you're better off with "calling", "emailing" or "contacting".

Blue-sky thinking – perhaps a modern adaptation to "the sky's the limit", but its meaning is hazy.

Viral – this really just means something is popular on the internet.

Millennials/Gen X, Y, or Z – if you're selling to teenagers or the middle-aged, just say so.

Strategic review – slightly more important than a regular review.

Reducing headcount – a polite way of saying people will be fired.

- Stuff

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