Every company and industry has its vernacular. I spent years as a headhunter, and we’d say shit like, “we partner strategically with clients to execute critical hiring mandates.” We’d say that instead of “we help companies fill jobs” because simpler language might have suggested we weren’t smart or serious enough to justify usurious fees.
People often conflate strong communication with having a jacked-up vocabulary and punching people in the face with seven-syllable words when two syllables could handle the job.
Once, when I was with a large firm, a division head from the Los Angeles mothership visited our Toronto office to share corporate objectives for the year ahead. He treated us to a “peek inside the kimono” (blech!) regarding “imminent enhancements to core and ancillary delivery capabilities” that would “deepen engagement levels across strategic industry verticals and drive an exponential share of discretionary wallet.”
(Translation: “Pretty soon we’ll offer some new things that customers will love and that will make us more money.”)
This cat could talk for ten minutes straight and not say a fucking thing. Listening to him made my teeth hurt. He even advised ways to “leverage complementary synergies,” proving you could add redundant to insufferable.
But many of us — and I’ve been among the guilty — in an effort to sound smart, do the same. Corporate-speak is an accessory we put on in the morning. We pull it out of the dresser drawer in the morning and cinch it up like a tie or rub it on like moisturizer before hopping the 7:17 to downtown Bullshitville.
Why do we do it? For starters, laziness. Clichés are comfortable, pre-fabricated crutches that absolve us from spending time or energy on being deliberate or sincere. Contemplative communication is home cooking, and who needs that when you can hit the drive-thru?
High school shares some of the blame. That essay in the tenth grade about FDR’s New Deal that demanded a minimum of 2000 words? It should have invited a crisp argument in fewer than 1000. We learn early in life that more means more.
We too often assume that people want to hear everything we know rather than the stuff that matters. It’s why sales teams spend days creating 40-slide pitch decks for customers who have neither the time nor inclination to digest more than a few clean bullet points and who would rather engage in an honest conversation about what makes us different.
Fortunately, all this communicative nonsense makes standing out — in the right way — pretty straightforward.
Just as you, hopefully, wouldn’t invite a friend to lunch by asking her to “socialize her roadmap for short-term nutritive consumption” or thank your kid “in advance” for eating his toast, if a phrase wouldn’t naturally roll off your tongue in “real life,” consider not using it at work.
Instead of talking about core competencies, explain to your customer how you’re the best at the one thing that matters most to them.
Stop turning verbs into nouns. It’s a request, not an ask. And they’re lessons, not learnings.
Don’t triage a burning platform; fix a problem. Don’t proactively move the needle; make progress. Don’t swim in your own lane; worry about your own shit. Don’t leverage a best practice; do it right. Don’t agree to disagree; disagree.
Enough with the aviation references. Leave the runway out of it and stop circling airports before landing the plane.
And, please, no more boiling the ocean or circling back to touch base.
Don’t think outside the box.
Thank you in advance.