Stop Saying These 15 Business Buzzwords (Please)

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I wish we could just “peel back the onion” … but unfortunately business buzzwords are here to stay. The buzzword is a life raft for a disillusioned and disengaged worker. It is an easy escape route from a tough conversation that might actually require deep thought and carefully selected words. 

And every decade brings forth a new lexicon of buzzwords to interpret. The 1960s gave us the “paradigm shift” and the “hard sell.” The ’70s and ’80s brought “low-hanging fruit” and the “bottom line.” And in the ’90s we learned to “disrupt” and “drill down” until we “get a seat at the table.” When it come to buzzy business words, my personal (least) favorite is “the ask.”

It overcomplicates and obfuscates the simple act of requesting what you need — which is the issue with most buzzwords.

Researchers believe we adopt buzzwords because of our basic need to be accepted. But this business Morse code forces others to work harder than necessary to comprehend the true meaning behind our words.

To that end, I asked the team at Aha! to share the workplace lingo that made them blanche in the past. Here are some buzzwords that we wish would disappear:

“Do you have the bandwidth to handle that?” The subtext is that if you do not have the time for additional work, you do not have the talent either.

Big data 
“Big data” sure sounds impressive. But let’s be honest: Nobody knows what it is or how to use it.

Circle back
Why not just say that the idea or comment is not relevant to the current conversation?

Deep dive
Let’s do the hard work that we should have been doing all along.

Instead of choosing this rather aggressive buzzword, just say “we are going to complete this task by this date.”

Heavy lifting
Heavy lifting” generally means that one person is doing all of the work — and only getting some of the credit.

Ladder up
This has to be the worst and most literal reference to mapping how your work will help you climb the corporate ladder.

This is simply a more polite way of asking who has the power to actually make something happen.

If enough people are talking about what we are doing, then it must mean it is working.

This buzzword tries to make the act of making money seem more modern — and fails. 

Move the needle
It’s supposed to motivate you to do more, but it only offers the illusion of progress. 

Pivot too many times in your business, and you will complete a full circle — right back where you started and failed the first time. 

Real time
Stop talking about work or projects in “real time.” Just do it “now.”

Skill swap
“Hey, can I steal your ideas?”

Take offline
An abrupt — and obvious — attempt to regain control of a conversation.

The more we rely on buzzwords, the farther we get from transparency. And without transparency in the workplace, there aren’t enough buzzwords in the world to save us.

To succeed at anything we must communicate clearly. Rather than hide behind a string of buzzy phrases, successful people ask plainly for what they want and need — and explain why it matters. These are the people who ultimately get ahead.

What are the buzzwords that bug you the most? 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. Marybeth

    How about the word “mapping?”

    Ex. We’re going to be mapping the process.

    Just use “outline” or “diagram.”

    As in, “we’re going to outline the process.

    I’ve been hearing “mapping” more and more. It’s a bit prententious.

  2. Robert Starinsky

    A few of my favorites include:

    Business Model
    Value Proposition
    Value Stream
    Low Hanging Fruit
    Digital Disruption

    Notice how so many of the buzzwords are really catch phrases.

  3. Deanna Taylor

    Good Morning,

    “Edge Case” or “Outlier” when trying to solve a problem, don’t create your solution for the “one-off” scenarios but solve for the true root cause or issue and call it out as such!

    “MVP” or “MVS” — “Minimal Viable Product/Solution” The idea is great but don’t forget to flesh out the product/solution once it goes live or your teams will spend more time building the fixes and correcting the impact to the customer and regaining customer trust.

    “Circle Back” just plan to get back with me 🙂 Schedule a follow-up meeting on my calendar and we will review the results of our current decision.

    The phrases can be fun in the beginning but overuse and abuse can diminish the intended jest which kicked it off.

    Love this article…


  4. Bill Frank

    LEVERAGE is an all-time favorite. Originally, it meant to move a rock with an iron bar. Or to make money using borrowed capital. Now we leverage everything on the planet: our job titles, LinkedIn profiles, influence, friendships, time, resources, language, ideas, diets, exercise, you name it. When everything is leveraged, nothing is leveraged. It has become a non-word. So please, don’t leverage anything today, unless you’re moving a rock or going deeply in debt.

  5. Deborah Drake

    I’m sure other designers will agree with me when I say my most hated buzzwords are “make it pop”

  6. Lynn

    I understand exactly what Keith said. We studied levers in physics…..sort of the rock and iron bar thing, or a heavy object on the end of a long lever arm.

    I was just blown away when someone used the buzzword “snake.” I honestly thought she had just created it in her magic bag of buzzwords the moment it came out of her mouth……then I heard someone else use it about 2 weeks later. Where does this stuff come from??

  7. Christophe

    Those making an appearance in my directors vernacular include:

    Let’s wash our faces
    Salami slice the deal
    Beach heads
    Boundless box thinking

    I may install handles on my desk to facilitate easier banging of my head.

  8. Jeff Brantley

    I just did a session on this issue last month in our local Agile Austin Product Meetup. So the classics that came out were things like “Alignment”. As in someone (exec) is really wanting to get YOU to align to THEIR thinking. “Socialize” but not in the fun sense of meeting and talking, but in the sense of “socialism” and getting people used to hearing something, and accept it, no matter how wrong it may be. “Let’s socialize that idea for a while.” Finally sadly it seems that “agile” is often misused and over used in contexts where the speaker assumes it means something it doesn’t.

  9. Jennifer

    One buzzword/phrase that drives me nuts is “going forward” or “on a go-forward basis”. For me, this applies to all areas of life, but especially in business. What are you going to do – work on a “go backwards” basis?

  10. Kathy Fava

    I was really surprised (not in a good way) when I started hearing “under the covers” from management. It’s code for “what’s really going on here is….” Why not just say that? I’m allergic to buzzwords too and thanks for getting this topic out from under the covers.


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