Business lingo has deeper origins than many of us might imagine. Is it time to stop playing buzzword bingo and just learn to live with the irritation?
Does anybody still get annoyed by business lingo? Now that so many of us are working at home for some of the time surely popping into the office to hear that a colleague is “reaching out” to you can hardly be a source of deep irritation.
The Access Group, a management solutions company in Loughborough, has contacted Personnel Today with a list of annoying office-speak phrases – but it struck us that many of them are now routine and pass without a flicker of annoyance.
Perhaps The Access Group is just hoping that someone will pick up on this earth-shattering research and will run with it on a somnolent late summer Friday afternoon in a light-hearted style. If so, they’ve come to the right place!
Apparently its research reveals that phrases like “touch base” and “keep me in the loop” have been recognised “as some of the most annoying to come out of the pandemic era of home and hybrid working”. Hmmm, weren’t they around rather longer than that? Now, of course, we have “quiet quitting” to deal with, too.
A lighthearted take on HR
The company claims that the use of such terms shows there is a feeling of disconnect among employees in the era of hybrid working. Or is it simply the case that it’s convenient to slip into cliche when it suits us? Perhaps using buzz phrases is lazy but perhaps not something to become irate over.
Keep me in the loop
“Touch base” was deemed the most annoying phrase (35%) at work, followed closely by “keep me in the loop” (31%), while “ping an email over” was identified as the third most irritating phrase (29%) in a post-pandemic workplace. Others on this somewhat jaded list included, “get the ball rolling”, “you’re on mute”, “moving the goalposts” and “on the same page”.
Oddly, “drill down” does not figure on the list, surely one of the most useful but miserable of all business lingo-isms. Neither does “going forward” – perhaps that will feature in a list in future.
Veronika Koller, a professor of discourse studies at Lancaster University, agreed that overused buzzwords and phrases in the workplace were nothing new, but they had changed because the “processes we go through at work have changed”.
She said: “The phrases highlighted by the survey are about information flow and what you’re missing [not being in the office], and therefore link to a lack of those informal channels of communication that have slipped away in the workplace or become greatly reduced. You don’t bump into colleagues in the office or grab a coffee or lunch together as much anymore, so you miss out on the small talk and the relationship building with colleagues, but also the bits of information you would pick up for your work, so you are sending more emails about it.
You don’t bump into colleagues in the office or grab a coffee or lunch together as much anymore, so you miss out on the small talk”
“You have to make more of an effort with online communication and there are fewer opportunities for communication now. Emails have to be sent, meetings have to be pre-arranged and you receive more chasing emails, whereas before you could just walk over to someone in the office to follow something up.”
That may be so but surely these phrases have something to do with productivity and the need to come up with linguistic efficiency. After all some people may well find “drill down” a lot more succinct than “lets analyse this in more detail.” Similarly, “under the radar” is a lot easier to express than “let’s go discretely and stealthily“.
In fact some of the terms used these days were introduced by business academics and theorists in the mid 20th century; for example, University of Berkeley philosopher Thomas Kuhn popularised the term “paradigm shift” in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, says The Atlantic. The 1960s also saw the addition to the lexicon of “run it up the flagpole” a term popularised by marketers hoping to test out a brand or product. Much later, in the 1980s, “low-hanging fruit” became a popular phrase after Jack Welch took over General Electric and devised the Work Out programme designed to help managers solve problems faster. In short, don’t diss the lingo, there’s a point to it.
However, the Access Group’s report Working Wonders With Words, has a more serious point. It claims to highlight how different words can have a positive or negative effect on the well-being of employees, arguing that “using language in a positive yet authentic way, whether to praise someone, celebrate success or address an issue, helps to create a healthy workplace culture”. Now this is unarguable, but it’s hard to see how “you’re on mute” – one of the dreaded phrases in the Access Group’s list – is detrimental to the creation of a positive workplace culture. We just want to hear you.
Anyway, keep me in the loop if you hear of any more blue sky thinking on this subject, just reach out and ping me an email, no need, going forward, to go under the radar.