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Words at Work

12 ridiculous phrases smart people avoid at work

“Datafication.” “Operationalize.” “Let’s parking lot this.”

These are just a few of the workplace phrases and words that people found “most ridiculous,” according to recent research.

The American Express OPEN ‘Get Business Done’ Survey, released recently, shows that some employees are just spewing words in the office without really grasping what they mean.

“Have you ever heard a coworker say something like, ‘It ladders up to our overarching framework and optimizes the impactfulness of our deliverables,’ and wondered, ‘HUH?’ You’re not alone,” American Express says, comfortingly.

We are all part of the problem: the research found that 88% of respondents said they use jargon without understanding it, and 64% reported using words and terms like this “multiple times” weekly.

Make no mistake: you do have to break the habit. These words make you look silly.

Lynn Taylor, a workplace expert and author who has partnered with American Express to give insight on productivity, told Ladders about how we can perform better at work, based on the research.

“If you want to engender trust from not only team members, but your boss, be yourself and you’ll attract so much more commitment and loyalty from people,” Taylor said.

She later added that you can use this concept as “a litmus test,” saying, “if you catch yourself using this sort of cringeworthy jargon, think about if you transport yourself into a comfortable setting in your home or a party— would people look at you and roll their eyes?”

Here’s the worst office jargon.

Don’t say this at work

For the research, Morar Consulting surveyed 1,061 US employees working in offices with at least 5 people. They got “a small monetary incentive” for participating.

Curious about what other jargon the respondents identified really didn’t like? Take these from the survey. We provided the translations.

Blue-sky thinking

Thinking creatively.

In the weeds

Too detailed.

Net-net

When you add up the pros and cons, this is the answer.

Synergize

Collaborate.

Datafication

Add numbers to improve the analysis.

Operationalize

Put into action.

Let’s parking lot this

Wait.

Siloed thinking

Forgetting to consider the impact on other teams or parts of the company.

Recontextualize

Let’s stop thinking of it this way and think about it this other way.

It’s time to eat a reality sandwich

Back to the real world for a second.

It’s time to put the soup through the strainer

There’s a lot of junk here we don’t need.

It’s like trying to put a horn on a donkey and call it a unicorn

A variation on the old standby “trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

Those aren’t the only ones. American Express also provided other examples of irritating office jargon, like “run it up the flagpole and see who salutes,” which sounds a little militaristic for our tastes.

Why we talk like this even though we know better

American Express asked respondents why they use jargon at work, even if it only obscures what they mean.

Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they drop “industry jargon” every day at work, compared to 36% who do two to three times weekly, 16% who do once weekly, 7% every 2-3 weeks, 4% who don’t even use it once per month, and 10% who don’t at all.

There are different reasons why people put jargon to use. Forty percent surveyed said they’re unaware that they use it because it’s a habit, 35% do “for fun/to secretly test people,” 25% do for assimilation purposes, 24% do to come off as intelligent, and 19% do so to avoid questions.

When they use jargon, 48% said it’s enjoyable, 45% said they are “amused,” 14% don’t like it, 11% said they stop paying attention and 11% are puzzled by it.

Other drains on productivity

A lot of time is spent in meetings each day. Thirty-seven percent of the people said they spend 1-2 hours in meetings daily. Even more people said most of their workday is spent in meetings: 20% said they spend 3-5 hours there, 20% also spend under an hour, 16% say 6-8 hours because they come with the job.

Only 7% of the survey respondents have no meetings. (We don’t get how that’s possible, but we hope they will teach us.)

Some of the things people catch themselves daydreaming about during “pointless meetings” are what they need to do outside of work, vacation, and even coworkers’ outfit choices.

The study touched on other ways we decrease productivity, like “the culture of no,” such as when ideas are quickly dismissed. Instead, they encouraged that ideas be considered before they’re rejected, and preferably adapted into something better.

The research also explored what happens when we lose focus at work because of distractions.

How to escape the lost productivity bubble

As for the excessive meetings, Taylor said that managers shouldn’t invite employees to ones they don’t necessarily need to be a part of. But each team member should also “think and act like a leader” by using their judgment when deciding if they need to attend, instead of constantly asking their bosses.

As for distractions, Taylor suggested trying to cut back on them (the study identifies social media, news and coworkers) and said that not focusing on being liked by everyone at work so you can boost your performance. But she added that we should “think of it more as an evolution, not a revolution, because no workplace is immune to these problems.”

As for the study’s findings on the “culture of no,” Taylor told Ladders that “it’s a lot more work for a manager to say yes, because then they have to go up hierarchy and get approval, and think about it,” But she elaborated, saying that “in the bigger scheme of things, if the manager is open to the possibilities of an idea, then it will actually reflect well on them and more importantly it could be a game changer for the company.”