How to Decode Management Doublespeak

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Bugged by buzzwords? Join the club. Many readers agreed with our list of buzzwords we wish would disappear. More than 1,000 people shared on social media and suggested a few more buzzwords. How about “thought leader,” “mapping,” or “facing into” a problem?

Buzzwords get on our nerves, but are mostly harmless. However there is a separate (and more sinister) category of buzzy business language — doublespeak.

Intentional doublespeak is evasive — using words that can be understood in different ways by different people. And to make matters worse, some managers are especially fluent in doublespeak, leaving teams feeling trapped if they do not have a pocket translator handy.

All the more reason we should dig into what this babble really means, and decode management doublespeak. Once again I asked the team at Aha! to share some particularly egregious sayings — and their underlying meaning:

“Is there anything we can take off your plate?”
Your “plate” is your job — they are actually testing to see if you can’t handle your workload.

“We just went through a reorganization.”
Anything from a simple shuffling of teams and responsibilities to a lot of people losing their jobs.

“Let’s get you up to speed.”
“Up to speed” means you are too slow — and not grasping concepts quickly enough.

“We are moving to a more fluid organizational structure.”
Everyone will be on ad-hoc, temporary teams until we find the right fit.

“It’s a win-win.”
The most obvious solution that will require the least effort.

“We saw negative growth this quarter.”
We lost money. Which leads to…

“This year we will be focusing on title promotions.”
This year no one will get a raise.

“That is not in our wheelhouse.”
You need to work on understanding the core mission of the company.

“This is a great development opportunity.”
You are weak in this particular area.

“Wow — this could be a real game-changer for the business.”
We really need to find product/market fit — maybe this is it.

Management doublespeak is more than harmless business babble. It seeks to obscure with words that hedge and elevate leaders above their teams.

Leaders who inspire confidence do not have to rely on intrigue to get their message across. They know that their team thrives on transparency and trust. That is why strong leaders are refreshingly clear and honest with their words — no doublespeak required.

What are the management phrases that get on your nerves? Share in the comments below.

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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  1. warren lester

    Is it just me, or is playing Buzzword Bingo a great way to pass the time in a stakeholder meeting? Here’s a few more that make the game really challenging;

    “Lessons learned” – We pinky promise not to make these mistakes again
    “Retrospective” – A modern, politically correct approach to blamestorming
    “Circle the wagons” – We don’t understand the user stories


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