Alex Wilson

Sometimes, office jargon can feel like it’s another language. Words like ‘value-add,’ ‘paradigm shift,’ and ‘datafication’ have so much and so little meaning at the same time; it’s no wonder that Arianna Huffington and Sheryl Sandberg have talked openly about banning certain phrases from the workplace altogether.

Nobody is a fan of office speak, but for many individuals it’s an important way to connect with your coworkers. Using office jargon is a good way to show that you’re on the same page as your team, but if you’re not careful — using colloquialisms that stem out of sports and military terms can hurt your professional identity instead of help it.

So should you actually be using office jargon? Here are a few of the ways your language of choice might be negatively affecting you:

1. It can make you seem unprofessional.

‘Killing’ your goals, ‘targeting’ clients, trying to be ‘bleeding edge’… do any of those terms sound like they come from somebody you’d enjoy working with? It’s important to have goals and plans on how to reach them, but jargon frequently masks real meaning. Overusing it makes it seem like you haven’t thought clearly about your direction and is a sign of poor leadership.

2. It can be exclusionary.

Using phrases that aren’t related to work to describe work can leave teammates out of the conversation.  Nobody means to cause confusion, but using football terms to describe your company’s annual plan implies that it’s important to have knowledge of football to do one’s job well. And unless you work at the National Football League, chances are it doesn’t. 

“It would be great to get rid of all those military and sports references,” columnist Jena McGregor wrote for The Washington Post. “Not even because they create a machismo workplace, but because people simply stop listening to managers who use such awful clichés.” Good leaders communicate their needs and expectations clearly in a way that all employees understand, and good team members should do so as well.

3. It puts you between a rock and a hard place.

Research has shown time and time again that society has different expectations for how men and women should communicate and that they are rewarded differently as a result.  Typically, women are not praised for asserting their dominance or for utilizing aggressive tactics to achieve their goals. An office that relies on work speak puts women in a tough situation: use the jargon and risk being seen as ‘aggressive,’ or ignore it and risk being left out of the office culture.  These kinds of situations can be avoided, but for women at work — it’s a commonplace and incredibly unfair struggle.

4. You’re confusing your message.

Imagine you get two emails from two senior executives. The first email asks you for a status update on a spreadsheet that’s due Friday. The second asks you when you’ll be able to touch base offline about your deliverable due by close of play.  If you think that the first email is a lot clearer than the second, you’re not alone. The latter is a perfect example about how jargon can hurt more than help.

Many office terms don’t have specific definitions. By using office jargon, you’re creating the appearance that you’re either unable to express your message clearly or you’re indifferent to whether your message gets muddled in its delivery. Taking the extra time to re-read an email or walkthrough what you want to say on a phone call is a great way to make sure your message is specific and concise.

5. It’s distracting!

The energy you’re spending worrying about what phrases do and don’t mean could be spent in a variety of other, much more productive ways. Encouraging the use of simpler language in lieu of office jargon will go a long way in furthering productivity and a more inclusive workplace for all.