How Business Jargon Hurts Business and What You Can Do about It

CIQ Headlines

“What do you mean the helpdesk program won’t cover all systems?” my most valuable customer said.

“I thought we were only talking about the main system,” I stammered, confused.

“All systems. All systems,” he repeated. “We covered this on the conference call last week!”

Immediately I knew what had happened. My customer and I had run aground on the rocks of business jargon. He is a great guy, and we have had a ten-plus year relationship. However, he is one of the worst business-jargon offenders I know.

What he said to me was undoubtedly something like, “We need to think value-add here. An extensible program. So that at the end of the day we can provide a 360-degree solution to the customer.”

The message, “Please expand your helpdesk proposal to cover all systems,” was obscured in a fog of non-communication.

Any of these sound familiar?

At the end of the day

On a go-forward basis

Learning as a noun. (Our key “learnings…”)


Manage expectations

Low-hanging fruit

Break down silos

Take a 360-degree view

Think outside the box

Out of pocket

Solutions provider


Tee up

Circle back

30,000-foot view

Value Add

Best practice


Core competency

Take offline

For any of these phrases, there is a more direct way to say what you mean. “Take offline,” translates to, “You and I need to speak privately.” But do all hearers of “take offline” really get that? Worse, I’ve noticed many users of the “take offline” phrase are simply parroting business jargon to bat away an issue they’d rather not deal with at all. (A fun exercise would be to evaluate all of the above for both their real meaning and their misuse.)

As a former English teacher, I am ashamed of how much business-speak creeps into my own talking and writing, no matter how much I strive to resist.

Why is it so hard? Why do we do it? Some key reasons…

Ego—We think it makes us sound smarter.

Fads—At first, a phrase sounds cool, and it’s picked up. Think of how viral “at the end of the day” became.

Lack of thought—It’s hard to search for a word. When pat phrases are sitting right there, you grab for them.

Cowardice—We fear making a direct request or statement, so we cloak it in jargon.

Because of what occurred to me this week, I realize the cost of repetitive, jargon-y, indirect speech is not just the annoyance or irritation it causes to grammarians and linguists. If you are not clear, important things you need to get done don’t.

Years ago, the famed William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well was the bible for up-and-coming writers and editors. Zinsser’s manual is a how-to on eliminating jargon, unnecessary repetition, and tuning words for clarity. I recommend it.