‘Outside the box’: The worst corporate jargon offender

Don’t worry, ‘synergy,’ ‘low-hanging fruit,’ ‘incentivize,’ and ‘mission-critical’ also made the list, according to a new CareerBuilder survey.


It’s mission-critical that we circle back on this important matter of corporate jargon in the workplace. Let’s focus on the low-hanging fruit with a small group first and then loop everyone in. Being proactive about our learnings will really incentivize the group to focus on the most critical action items and value-add for maximum impact. Let’s start high level, drill down from there, and circle back after lunch to figure out next steps.

Wait, what? Annoying, right? If you’re anything like me, corporate jargon makes your skin crawl. In today’s workplace, however, it’s sometimes hard to get away from. We’ve likely all been guilty of at least one of the business buzzwords below.

“Outside the box” is the most popular—or unpopular, word depending on your view, according to CareerBuilder’s survey of 5,300 workers. (Check out the infographic.) The next worst offenders are:

  • Outside the box (31 percent)
  • Low-hanging fruit (24 percent)
  • Synergy (23 percent)
  • Loop me in (22 percent)
  • Best of breed (19 percent)
  • Incentivize (19 percent)
  • Mission-critical (19 percent)
  • Bring to the table (18 percent)
  • Value-add (17 percent)
  • Elevator pitch (16 percent)
  • Actionable items (15 percent)
  • Proactive (15 percent)
  • Circle back (13 percent)
  • Bandwidth (13 percent)
  • High level (10 percent)
  • Learnings (9 percent)
  • Next steps (6 percent)

Navigating workplace issues can be tricky enough without throwing flowery, cliché (or just plain made up) vocabulary words in each other’s faces. It only takes one brave person to turn “outside the box” into “creatively” or “let’s circle back” to “I’ll call you”—and suddenly, we can begin to peel back the layers of complexity and really talk honestly to each other.

Grasping for an original thought or non-business-speak term that describes what we want to achieve can sometimes be difficult, but it also makes it easier for others (inside or outside our workplaces) to understand us. It brings a fresh perspective to the same old “strategy planning session.” And it can make tasks easier, not just for employees who have been with the company for some time (and have deciphered the internal lingo), but for new employees, for whom clarity and simplicity is essential while getting used to a new role.

Let’s stop wasting each other’s time and dumbing each other down with meaningless buzzwords—and start saying what we really mean.

Breaking down the buzzwords

Here are a few examples of buzzword-worthy statements, each followed by an example of a simplified version. Dig around in your own emails—I’ll bet you have some examples to work with too. Sometimes, simpler words actually give us room to add more context around a situation.

Jargon: “It’s mission-critical that we do this.”
Instead, say: It’s important that our company do this to reach our Q4 sales goals.”

Jargon: “Let’s circle back in a couple of weeks.”
Instead, say: “Let’s talk again on Dec. 18. I will send you a calendar invite.”

Jargon: “Be sure to loop me in.”
Instead, say: “Please include me in future conversations about this.”

Jargon: “What does she bring to the table?”
Instead, say: “What specific qualifications would she bring to the position that other candidates are lacking?”

Jargon: “The social media element of this project will be a compelling value-add for the client.”
Instead, say:
“By helping our client build relationships on sites like Twitter and Facebook, we can add more value to this project and help them meet their social media goals.”

Jargon: “How do we incentivize our employees to be more productive?”
Instead, say: “What can we do to make employees excited about coming to work again?”

Jargon: “Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit.”
Instead, say: “What are the easiest goals for us to reach right now? Let’s focus on those first.”

What are your biggest corporate jargon pet peeves—or which are you most guilty of overusing?

Amy Chulik is a content strategist at CareerBuilder and writes for CareerBuilder’s employer-focused blog The Hiring Site, where a version of this article originally ran.

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