12 words to ban at the office

Do platform or holistic stick in your craw? This author never wants to hear them again.

1. Values

All 90,000 of your employees around the globe share the same six corporate values decreed from the heights of the HR director’s office, do they? Are you sure about that?

2. Change

Not so long ago, change was something we could all believe in. It’s just a shame that when your boss uses the word “change,” it probably means you’re about to lose your job.

3. Offering

Have you noticed that nobody provides a service anymore? Keen to sacrifice themselves upon the altar of The Client, companies now have “offerings.” Sadly, when I click on “Our Offerings” on a corporate website, I’m invariably confronted with some babble about “go-to-market strategies” and “cutting-edge solutions aligned to your specific needs.” Disappointing when what I really wanted was a burnt cow, a 10th of your annual salary and the life of your firstborn son.

4. Sustainability

This one seems to have overtaken “diversity” as the cliché of choice for the corporation that wants to sound like it gives a crap. Are you tempted to become one of the thousands of businesses claiming to be “shaping a sustainable future” through your products and services? Google “the earth plus plastic” and have think about how you sound.

5. Platform

Whenever someone claims to be building a platform for change/action/success, it’s a sign they’re stalling for time. So a useful word to include in your objectives for the year as it’ll make you sound busy without requiring actual work.

6. Excellence

Mere competence doesn’t cut it in a world where everyone else is in the business of excellence. Like “solutions,” “excellence” is one of those words to which other corporate clichés invariably adhere. If you’re not actively “delivering” excellence, then you’re probably at least “passionate” about it. And if you’re building a “platform” for it, it’s probably because you want it to be “sustainable.”

7. Outside-in thinking

No, not the path to true enlightenment to be pursued through yoga, sweat lodges and psychedelic drugs. Rather, the path to true customer-centricity to be pursued through paying a management consultant thousands of pounds to spout nonsense like this. As far as I can gather, “outside-in thinking” just means thinking like a normal person. The sort of person who wouldn’t say “outside-in thinking.”

8. Practitioner

Include this impressively Greek-sounding and consonant clustery word in your job title and you instantly sound like you’ve spent years training in an elite medical academy—as do all those chiropractic practitioners, homeopathic practitioners, and astrological counseling practitioners with their advanced diplomas from various departments of the Des O’Connor University of Shoplifting. Now the corporate world has its own public relations practitioners, marketing practitioners and internal comms practitioners, who no one suspects of selling snake oil at all.

9. Holistic

The original business woo woo word. Need to win more clients? Simply let that marketing practitioner sprinkle some of her “holistic solutions” over your brand.

10. Experience

We no longer shop. Instead, we have a “luxurious retail experience.” I don’t merely get a haircut—I go for a “total hair experience.” What’s more, you’ll find that an expensive glass is the most effective way to “enhance your wine drinking experience.” This vile hyperbole loses further points by virtue of its frequent use with the word “ultimate.”

11. Toolkit

Remember when the economy was booming and every other executive wanted to jack in the nine-to-five to become a plumber? Ah, the romance of wearing overalls to work. Of profiting from the nation’s love affair with ever-rising property prices. Of being paid to stick your hand down a blocked toilet. Lacking a bagful of pipe cutters, the rest of us got in on the zeitgeist by creating “toolkits” for “successful delivery,” “joined-up working,” “diversity” and the like. Funny enough, now everyone’s feeling grateful to have a job—any job—it’s been a while since I’ve heard this one.

12. Benchmarking

A word you’d never use outside the office. A word you’d never use inside the office, unless you were trying to suck up to your boss. A word made all the more revolting by its frequent pairing with “best practice.” According to Wikipedia, the term was first used by cobblers when measuring people’s shoes, so with a bit of luck its blue-collar associations will send it the way of “toolkit.”

Clare Lynch is chief business writer and trainer at Doris and Bertie, a U.K. communications agency that helps businesspeople ditch corporate-speak and talk like human beings. Follow her on Twitter @goodcopybadcopy.

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