“So much workplace dysfunction. So little will to do something about it.”
That’s a recent LinkedIn posting by Tom LaForce, and to that I say, “Amen, brother. Amen.”
There are powerful forces aligned to block the will to change. We prefer the dysfunction we know to the unknown but strongly perceived dangers of something new. We fear making waves. And let’s not forget our physics pal, inertia: matter continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force. In other words, we don’t find the will to change unless we have no other choice.
But let’s be optimistic for a moment, shall we? Let’s just assume that somehow, some way, we find the will to “do something” about workplace dysfunction. Whatever could that “something” be?
Here’s my modest proposal: let’s start with words. Specifically, the words we use, misuse and overuse in the workplace.
In a recent New York Times op-ed article, Timothy Egan identified several words that deserve to be tossed in the dumpster. In addition to some general usage terms like “Whatever”, “Artisan” and “Gluten-Free”, he also targeted words that currently infest the workplace and deserve retirement: “Brand”, “24/7”, “World-Class” and “Best Practices”.
Mr. Egan, I couldn’t agree more. But permit me some additional suggestions:
- Bandwidth: This is simply a pretentious version of “capacity”; as in, “I don’t have the bandwidth to take on a new project.” It adds a certain high-tech patina, but when you hear a barista say, “I don’t have the bandwidth to make another iced skim caramel macchiato,” it’s time to give this word a permanent rest.
- Leverage: You don’t have to “leverage your upstream synergies”. You just have to use them. Unless you are actually using a lever, dump it.
- Synergy: Like “Sasquatch”, “Unicorn” and “Leprechaun”, it’s fun to say but refers to something that doesn’t exist. The business world is rife with examples of unfulfilled promises of synergy. If you really must refer to the result of combining two things, just say that.
- Value-Add: Can we—at long last— put this one (and its ugly cousin, “Value-Added”) out to pasture? If something has value, and it’s part of an offering, it’s simply value. And if you must indicate how this is an unexpected addition that the customer will swoon over, use “lagniappe”. Look it up.
- Cutting Edge: This is another example of a phrase worn out from overuse. Not everything is “cutting edge”, and the few things that are could benefit from using more interesting descriptors.
- Awesome: This seems to be the go-to utterance, replacing “Okay”, “I see” and “Cool” as what one says when something needs to be said to acknowledge receipt of a message. But rarely is the content of the message worthy of being so described. An example: I was in the waiting room of an office when a young man entered and asked the receptionist if they had a restroom. She said yes and gave him directions. To which he replied, “Awesome.” ‘Nuff said.
There are probably dozens more, and as I come across them I’ll be sure to bang the spoon on the high chair. In the meantime, dust off your Thesaurus and replace business-babble with words that mean what you what them to mean. Jargon only impresses other jargon-ators. The rest of us will be impressed with your clarity.
I would be remiss in not suggesting consequences for the continued use of these tired examples of corporate-speak. I believe the following penalties will staunch the prevalence of these words and go a long way to reducing workplace dysfunction:
- First Offense: Verbal Warning
- Second Offense: Death by PowerPoint
Drastic times call for drastic action. Do your part to end the slow, painful death of clear communication.
Today’s Fact Cetera
A new word is created in the English language every 98 minutes… about 14.7 words per day.