Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

10 buzzwords you should ban from the boardroom and resume (going forward)

Eighty-six synergistic jargon in favour of plain English

If hell has nine circles ranging from limbo to treachery, No. 10 has to be the work meeting where plenty of people are talking but no one makes a lick of sense. And it’s because buzzwords are bouncing off the boardroom walls.

We’ve all been there – saddled next to that coworker hell-bent on proving they “add value” to the team by padding their actions with words. These are “true change agents” whose “outside-the-box thinking” results in “synergistic,” “actionable solutions” the company can “utilize” to “bake into its culture.”

Say what?

“One of my least favourite is synergistic. What a stupid word,” says NAIT instructor Robert Ackroyd. “I’m synergistic? No, by definition you cannot be because that requires a group of people to have synergy. They’ve just taken a whole lot of verbs and turned them into adjectives.”

“People want to sound smarter, they want to appear in the know.”

Ackroyd teaches communications in the JR Shaw School of Business and insists his students produce clear, jargon-free writing. Buzzwords (and their sinister cousins acronyms) create unnecessary barriers to understanding, he says.

In many cases, jargon puts the hype in hyperbole. Is your company’s new product or service truly “world class” and what does that even mean? How many “disruptive” solutions have you actually come up with versus great ideas with potential for success?

So why do so many workplaces excel at verbal bloatation? Often, it comes down to insecurity.

“People want to sound smarter, they want to appear in the know,” says Ackroyd. “But if you really want to impress me, don’t tell me these absurd expressions.”

boredom during a meetingUsing jargon in meetings, email or other written material is confusing and can actually erode trust among colleagues and beyond. Though relying on cliches and platitudes can be tempting, plain English is the true path to clarity, he says.

“There’s a saying I put on my wall in my classrooms. It’s not enough to write so that any fool can understand, but you need to write in such a way that no fool can misunderstand. Make it as universally understandable as possible.”

Clear communication key during job search

That’s especially important when communicating outside your profession with people unfamiliar with the same lingo, such as in resumes and cover letters, says Shannon Neighbour (Marketing ’00), a partner with Svenson Neighbour Recruiting.

“People who are applying for jobs have to assume that the initial person screening their resume does not come from their industry, background or line of work,” says Neighbour.

While it might be OK to use acronyms for professional designations, avoid initialisms that are ambiguous. Someone in HR – sorry, human resources – might know what RPO stands for but you’re better off saying in a resume you have experience with “recruitment process outsourcing,” she says.

“The more clear you can be, the better.”

10 buzzwords we should all ban

Are you ready to rejig your jargonistic ways? Check out these 10 ban-worthy buzzwords and the plain English alternates you can use in their place.


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