How Buzzwords Prey on the Unsuspecting (DGtC#24)
Speak up to reclaim your humanity
They’re there. Circling overhead in the hallways between C-suites.
They move in a dense cloud between boardrooms and conference rooms.
They are those words of the moment that seem scalpel-sharp. But when you stop to define them, meaning vanishes. These are the words Dilbert makes fun of most every day.
That is the way of buzzwords and lingo of the moment. Whether you are a business or a church (wait—what’s the difference?) or a university or a think tank: you have a set of words insiders use to show they are insiders. And especially in our early meetings with new clients or the new VP, we trot out these words to show we really, frankly, know our stuff.
The problem with buzzwords is how easily they come to mind. Just like any cliché, buzzwords pop to mind free of conscious thought. And to your conversation partner those words give the appearance of a genuine thoughtful reaction. But any SEO specialist will tell you that tossing a buzzword into a headline ups your clicks. Same with conversations: say the thing you heard the CEO say and, presto, you are in the club.
Do buzzwords make you less human? No. They just make you sound robotic.
Frequent talks with clients move toward “dumbing-down” versus “simplifying.” Those are not equivalent concepts. Dumbing-down takes out gradation and difference and nuance to present a black-and-white version of something. Simplifying hints at gradation and difference and nuance to make a piece of the complex easier to grasp. Mark Twain simplified complex stuff and generations talked about it.
Dumbing-down does not respect the audience. Simplifying recognizes that smart people are smart in different disciplines. And smart people can understand all sorts of stuff.
Buzzwords are a kind of dumbing-down that takes concepts off the table by hinting that we all know this so it is beyond discussion. Because of buzzwords many useful conversations never happen.
What if we consciously worked toward vulnerability in our business interactions? It’s scary, this notion of revealing you have no clue what the boss just said, but could she explain it again using words like other humans use?
Be the thorn in the side today, the vulnerable fool who insists on clarity.
It’s a way of ordering the chaos of your workplace.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
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