The corporate buzzwords everyone hates

Just before Easter I was running a workshop for an executive team at a large Australian bank and the leader stood up and said: “I don't ever want to hear the words 'transformational change' or 'competency framework' in another internal presentation.”

The energy around the room suddenly shifted and two people actually started clapping. “Finally, finally!” I could see them thinking, “let's just speak normally to each other and cut out all the bullshit buzzwords.”

This got me thinking about how easy it is to get sucked into corporate vernacular. Before we realise it we're saying things we don't really understand, but nobody calls us out because they don't know, either. Sound familiar?

On one of my previous blogs, a commenter observed they were unfortunate enough to hear the phrase "There are a lot of pain-points that are out of scope for this forum. Let's take those offline and the key stakeholders can circle back and touch base at a later date”, as well as "this role manages the value proposition of all products and is focused on creating and sustaining a superior end-to-end cross channel customer experience".

Got a headache yet? We all know there's plenty more where that came from, and there are even a number of web pages devoted to this very topic. Talk Like The Boss helps you wade through all of the fog and demystify what people are really trying to say; meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal helps you generate and share custom-built meaningless business phrases from overused business buzzwords, as submitted by its readers.

If you find yourself thinking - let alone saying - the following, please, please just stop and reconsider …

1. Touch base

This is my least-favourite buzzword and when you think about it, it is borderline creepy. You should never touch anyone's anything at work, let alone their base. How about next time saying “let's talk” or “let's have a meeting?”


Not only have global companies switched to abbreviated names, it's happening in day-to-day language. In 2012 The Huffington Post awarded YOLO (you only live once) as the year's most annoying jargon. YOLO and FOMO (fear of missing out) should be confined to hipsters and should never be used in the boardroom.

3. At the end of the day

The end of the day is when you finish work, or technically, when the clock ticks over from 11:59pm to 12am. What do you really mean? Or are you just using words that don't make sense?

4. Transformational change

Isn't this saying the same thing twice? Please explain what is wrong with saying “we are going to work hard to change the way we work” or “our goal is to transform the business”.

5. Game changer

Coming from a sporting background, I thought a game changer is a batsman who comes on when his team is in difficulty and scores a century, or an on-baller in the AFL who covers 18km in a game and sets his team up for an exciting win in the last quarter. How about we just keep this one to the sporting field?

6. B2B

This is getting a really good run amongst sales teams and entrepreneurs. When did saying 'business-to-business' actually become so difficult? Do salespeople have a word quota they have to stick in a given day?

7. My bad

I actually heard a senior exec say this at the start of the year when I was meeting with his team about their upcoming conference. I couldn't believe that a) he said it, and b) nobody laughed. My Year 12 English teacher would have been incensed to hear this uttered on the playground, let alone in meetings with smart people who get paid a lot of money. Saying 'my bad' really is 'your bad'.

8. It needs to be sticky

No, it doesn't. It needs to be memorable, or engaging, or maybe it just needs to be a little bit different to capture people's attention. Keep stickiness to honey, and to kids' fingers after eating lollies, and to sweaty towels after Bikram yoga.

9. What evs, totes, amazeballs, devvo and cray cray

It's a tie for these inglorious five. Do I really need to explain? If I do, you are totes in the wrong job and, like, maybe even a bit cray cray. (Sorry, that felt really awks even to write).

The buzzword challenge

For the next week, whenever you hear someone in your organisation use a buzzword, immediately call them out on it. Just make sure if it's the CEO you frame it in a proactive way (taking a helicopter view, of course) so it's not seen as a CLM (career-limiting move). Seriously though, call them on it and even fine serial offenders for a donation to charity. You'll make a fortune.

Let's open the floodgates. What are your most despised buzzwords? Or, confess your sins and tell us which ones you are guilty of using?