"Moving forward, let's interface offline to leverage our cutting-edge assets and reach out to the low-hanging fruit."

Buzzwords are a part of office culture. Most businesses will find themselves mired in the latest lingo at some point. New buzzwords crop up all the time; Entrepreneur.com even has a list of ten buzzwords business owners need to know now. When used correctly, sparingly and in the right context, buzzwords can help to communicate business-specific concepts quickly and effectively. But more often than not, buzzwords end up overused, cliche and widely ignored (or worse, mocked).

When buzzwords become too overused, they lose their luster. What might once have been a clever way to explain a concept becomes a trite talking point, and the employees who use them go from appearing “in the know” to appearing lazy and uninformed. Cartoons like Dilbert make a regular joke of clueless managers parroting buzzwords to fill the space left behind by their complete lack of knowledge on any topic. So before you create your next company presentation, think about the words you’re using – if you want your presentation to be predictable and formulaic (in a “corporate” sort of way), use all the buzzwords you like; some bigwigs still dig them, after all. But if you want your content to seem more interesting and new than the same-old, same-old, avoid these buzzwords and go with your own phrasing instead.

After examining lengthy lists of overused buzzwords on various business websites, I’ve compiled the following list of 12 buzzwords (in no particular order) that should be immediately removed from the workplace lexicon. It’s for our own good.

1. “Low-hanging fruit” – Almost every buzzword site I visited hated this phrase. It’s used in reference to going after goals that are so easy to get, they’re like picking low-hanging fruit from a tree (no ladder required). At this point, there’s probably no one left on earth who doesn’t know what low-hanging fruit means, or why businesses want to go after it. Stop saying it.

2. “Reach out” – People who say this mean that they’re communicating with someone. But the phrase sounds vaguely like charity work; we “reach out” to help those in need, not to set a meeting with Bob in marketing. Unless your arms are extended while at work, you’re not reaching out.

3. “Leverage” – This one makes my skin crawl. It has just the right mix of importance and urgency to make it a favorite of managers, especially those who are a little less than connected on a personal level. Leverage in the past has been physical, using a tool (the lever) to move something to a more advantageous spot (getting that big rock out of the road, for example). Now, the office use of leverage takes that concept and applies it to people, positions and resources, using them to get an advantage over something or someone else. It keeps the “person” out of “personnel,” in my experience. Don’t “leverage” what you have to get what you want; it’s far more straightforward (and honest) to say “use,” or in a friendlier case, “work with.”

4. “Drill down” – Going deeper into an issue or topic doesn’t have to sound like searching for oil in the gulf, but some people really enjoy using this phrase. I personally think it’s because they like the active, slightly dangerous tone to it; drilling is an intense, high-energy, potentially-hazardous activity in most cases, which is far more exciting than the typical research meeting. See also “putting out fires” (unless you’re a fireman) and “working on a battle strategy” (unless you’re in the military).

5. “Cutting edge” – What is cutting edge, exactly? Technology is constantly evolving, and the so-called “edge” is a moving target. Even if you have the best, coolest, most highly-developed technology or process on earth at this moment, someone’s going to come along in about 30 seconds and unseat you. “Cutting edge” doesn’t sound awesome – it sounds like you’re trying to make your offering more important than it is. Stop that.

6. “Space” – For some reason, it’s become trendy for people to say that they work in a given “space,” not in an industry. Instead of someone saying “I make widgets,” they now say, “I’m in the widget-making space.” Ugh. The word brings to mind a dusty, unused corner of my parents’ basement with a solitary widget-making machine there. Unless you create space for people (a closet organization company, perhaps) or you work in outer space itself, leave “space” out of your job description.

7. “Moving forward” – Wow, it’s a good thing you mentioned that we should do this “moving forward,” boss! I was about to hop into my Wayback Machine and get to work on this in the past. Thanks for clearing that up!

8. “Touching base” – This phrase gets lumped together with “go the extra mile,” “game changer,” “hit a home run” and “in the ballpark” on my list of sports metaphors that have no business in the workplace. If you’re touching base with someone, you’re communicating with them (see “reach out” above). You’re not tagging a bag at Fenway. Sports buzzwords may be fun to say and may help the more competitive workers among us feel, well, competitive, but they come across as a bit sad when they get so overused.

9. “Cross-functional” – I was on a few cross-functional teams a couple of years ago. It sounds really smart and effective, but what it ended up being was a group of people from a variety of departments, forced to sit together in a room and try to solve a problem when all of us had different perspectives, different skills and different stakes in the outcome. Oh, and we were all ordered to be there; no volunteers in the bunch. The result? Lots of sitting around looking at each other, trying to figure out what to do, while our “real” jobs piled up on our desks back in our offices. Getting input from multiple teams can be a good thing when trying to deal with an issue that affects everyone, but cross-functional teams usually end up non-functional.

10. “Viral” – This is so overused, it’s nauseating. Viral used to mean something that took off and spread quickly through word of mouth, like Youtube videos that got 14 million views solely on the basis of people emailing the links to each other and saying “You have to see this!” Viral is supposed to mean under the radar, outside of the traditional marketing avenues, mostly missed by news outlets (until those views start climbing up into record numbers) and totally organic in nature. Now, companies seem to want to use the word “viral” for any effort they make that gets any response outside of the directly-paid-for demographic. An example: If a business puts out a video, promotes the heck out of it with advertising dollars, posts it to their website and finally manages to get a handful of people to send it to others or comment on it, this business’s video is NOT viral. It’s just visible. Also, when the Today Show recently created some clever videos (or copied existing ones) for a multi-part story called “Today Goes Viral,” Today was not, in fact, going viral. The piece was promoted so much on the front end that there was no chance of viral growth at all.

11. “Offline” – As in, “let’s meet offline.” It seems to be used in two ways, depending on the circumstances: the first involves meeting in person (instead of via email, IM, text, social networks, etc.), and the second suggests getting together outside of the normal flow of office meetings to communicate. Either way, it’s annoying. Are we so used to communicating via a keyboard (or so driven to appear completely connected in all technological ways) that a face-to-face interaction stands out as an anomaly? Or are our processes so ingrained that stepping outside them for a conversation is vaguely roguish? If you mean “in person,” say “in person.” It’s so much less off-putting to say “Hey Bill, can you come to my office for a sec to talk about this?” instead of “Bill, let’s interface offline so we can touch base.”

12. “It is what it is,” “At the end of the day,” and other completely useless phrases – I’m not sure when throwing extra words into a conversation, especially if they add nothing, became so important. Maybe it starts with Charles Dickens, who was paid by the word. Or maybe it’s just the result of people wanting to have something, ANYTHING, to contribute to a meeting so that they appear useful. But whatever the reason, many of us have taken to spewing entire phrases or sentences that are quite literally a waste of breath. “It is what it is” tries to sound deep and philosophical, but ends up coming across as a pointless statement of the glaringly obvious. “At the end of the day” used to reference the actual quitting time of an office, but now it means some nonspecific future time when the expected or hoped-for outcome will arrive. “Six of one, half-dozen of the other” has that vague sense of cleverness about it (“Hey! Six and half-dozen are an EQUAL AMOUNT!”) but it’s just an annoyingly longer way of saying “They’re the same.” In my experience, these and all the other buzzwords that mean about as much as white noise are good for just one thing: making it clear that the value of the conversation is over.

Sources: Divine Caroline, Monster+hotjobs, Thompson Writing, CBS MoneyWatch

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