Ever been in a meeting where you think everyone is speaking in some kind of code? Workplace lingo often abandons the normal rules of the English language in favor of wonky expressions that are not only obnoxious—they make absolutely no sense.
We’re not sure if those who use this cryptic dialect actually think they sound smarter or are just attempting to solidify their membership in some sort of exclusive corporate tribe, but—we beg you—step away from the jargon.
For starters, here are six commonly used business expressions to banish from your vocabulary forever:
“We need someone smart for this project. We’re looking for a rock star.”
“She’s a real programming ninja—the best engineer we have.”
Whether you’re sitting in on an annual performance review at a consulting firm or talking to a hiring manager at a tech company, you’ll hear these absurd non-titles everywhere. But unless your co-worker has actually toured with Mötley Crüe or wields nunchucks at the office, there is no reason to call her a rock star or a ninja. Also to be avoided: guru, wizard, and god. If someone has excelled professionally, praise her for what she’s actually done—don’t rely on cutesy hyperbole.
“Let’s reach out to someone in accounting to get those numbers.”
“If you want to follow up, feel free to reach out to me by phone.”
“Reach out” is one of the best examples of how corporate jargon makes things unnecessarily complicated. The English language already has lots of useful words related to communication. “Reach out to me by phone?” Seriously? How about just “call me?” In an age when most people are overwhelmed by crowded email inboxes, it’s best to be brief and clear. Never use “reach out” when “email” or “contact” will do just fine.
“Her expertise is around corporate best practices.”
“Let’s have a conversation around our objectives for next quarter.”
This is one of the most insidious kinds of jargon, because it can sneak into your vernacular without you even noticing. We all know what “around” means, so why does the corporate world make us forget? “Around” means surrounding, encircling, or nearby. Don’t fall victim to the linguistic laziness that has you using it in place of “about,” “regarding,” or “related to.”
“Your work on this project has been really impactful.”
“This book was so impactful on me. You should read it.”
Although “impactful” is not a real word, its menacing infiltration into the corporate vernacular has led to its inclusion in some defeatist dictionaries (the kind that have entries for ’za and ROFL). As a verb and noun, “impact” describes a collision or forceful strike, so logic would imply that if an adjective were to evolve, it would have similar meaning. As such, unless body-slamming becomes common in your workplace, ditch the neologism and try using a more descriptive word, like “effective,” “meaningful,” or “important.”
Open the Kimono
“That project shows potential. Let’s open the kimono and learn more.”
“The client wants us to open the kimono in the audit of their accounting department.”
Not only does this phrase yearn for the era of good ol’ boys, but it’s almost impossible to say without sounding totally creepy.
Out of Pocket
“Don’t try to reach me next week. I’ll be out of pocket.”
“She won’t be on email, because she’s out of pocket on her honeymoon."
This phrase represents an epic clash between OG corporate slang and new-school nonsense. Traditionally, “out of pocket” referred to expenses you paid personally rather than having them covered by your employer (e.g., you literally had to take money out of your own pocket to pay for lunch, versus getting free catered food at the office).
These days, “out of pocket” is also used as a synonym for “unavailable” or “out of the office.” While this new usage might have evolved from being out of the office and working from a smartphone (kept in one’s pocket), people use it all the time to mean “completely unreachable.” This makes absolutely no sense unless your cubicle is literally inside a pocket. Rule of thumb: if your jargon has strayed that far from recognizable meaning, ditch it.
Need to decode other buzzwords? Look up your boss' latest phrases on Unsuck It for some fantastic translations. We also love these corporate flashcards, which explain other commonly-used boardroom lingo, from the commonplace (multitask, synergy) to the just plain absurd. (Sacred cow? Seriously, come on.)
Anneke is a founding executive and leads the business side of Reserve, one of Fast Company's Most Innovative companies of 2016. She joined Reserve from the Google Creative Lab where she led teams building the future of tech. An advisor to NPR and a startup veteran, she is an experienced entrepreneur and storyteller who speaks and writes on topics related to technology and culture. She lives in Brooklyn and can be found online at @annekejong.More from this Author