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Watch your tongue: 7 corporate jargon phrases to avoid

January 18, 2022 - 18 min read

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What is corporate jargon?

7 examples of corporate jargon

4 ways corporate jargon impacts your teams

How to avoid corporate jargon

Stop speaking jargon

Have you ever found yourself saying a corporate phrase that you might not even fully understand? 

Or maybe you’ve typed an email to a teammate and have found yourself becoming the real-life version of a corporate meme. “Let’s do a deep dive on this action item when there’s more bandwidth from our teams. Then, we can find some synergy.”

I once had a colleague suggest we play corporate jargon bingo. For fun, our team scribbled up bingo boards with common corporate jargon phrases.

Throughout the day of meetings, we tracked how many buzzwords we heard. We realized how embedded corporate jargon is in our day-to-day interactions. It's easy to see how plain English isn't embedded into our daily communication.

Corporate-speak, while often used with the best intentions, can be alienating for some employees. Words matter. And corporate jargon isn’t immune to exclusivity.

It might be time to examine the corporate jargon phrases used in your organization. What do they mean? How can you reduce the amount of corporate jargon used by your employees? What phrases risk alienating employees? How can you foster a more inclusive workplace?

We’ll talk through what corporate jargon is, why inclusive language matters, and how to move away from buzzwords.

What is corporate jargon?

Before we talk about what not to say, it’s important to understand what corporate jargon is. 

Oftentimes, corporate jargon includes euphemisms, buzzwords, or vague, ambiguous phrases. Every industry seems to have its version of jargon. In the corporate world, corporate speak is more common than we may think. 

One poll cites that 86% of surveyed US employees say they’ve used business buzzwords. In contrast, 33% of those surveyed report they sometimes don’t even know what the phrases mean.

So why do we talk so much in corporate speak if we don’t even understand it? Are you using jargon without realizing it?

The science of jargon also tells us something interesting. It’s a sign of insecurity. It doesn’t mean folks who use jargon frequently are less intelligent. It signals anxiety

Corporate argon or gobbledygook phrases may, on their face, sound like people know what they’re saying. But as science has proven, that’s not always the case. 

Let’s get into some examples of business jargon — and why they might be problematic to your business. 

inclusive-leadership-report-cta

7 examples of business jargon

There's no shortage of corporate jargon examples. We've outlined some of the most used (and most problematic) phrases. 

Leverage

Leverage might be one of the most used corporate jargon terms out there. Leverage, by definition, means to apply force to something to achieve the desired reaction. It has since morphed into a business term. Leverage, in the corporate setting, means to use something for the maximum advantage.

Let’s say a cross-functional project isn’t going well. Your leader might say, “You know, let’s leverage our upcoming campaign to see if we can get the PR team to budge.”

First, it can be unclear what exactly you’re leveraging. Second, it could signify that your business uses people against each other to get the desired outcome.

It can feel dehumanizing or demeaning, depending on how you’re using the word. While it might not be the intent of the leader, it’s better to be clear in language to ensure all team members understand the message.

corporate-jargon-employees-around-table

Low-hanging fruit

This one might feel like nails on a chalkboard to you. Low-hanging fruit is very commonly used in corporate speak.

For example, say you’re partnering with a teammate on a company-wide initiative. “Let’s just knock out the low-hanging fruit first, and go from there.”

What fruit?! This phrase means something that’s obvious or easy things that can be completed quickly.

Oftentimes, it signals that it’s an easy task that leads to great rewards. But if folks are vague about what those “fruits” or “easy, beneficial” tasks are, it can cause confusion.

Boil the ocean

It would be pretty impossible to boil the ocean. But when people use this in a business setting, they mean the project or idea wastes a lot of time.

For example, your boss might say, “Don’t boil the ocean on this brief, we don’t need too detailed.”

This phrase is pretty vague on what it means to be “too detailed.” It could result in a vague or scarce project. Using this term could lead to misaligned business outcomes.

Bleeding edge

Bleeding edge is a term you might hear when referring to innovation, especially in technology. It often means something new, innovative, or advanced — something that’s never been done before.

But it sounds violent. It gives an impression that it’s a negative (even if it’s a positive). It doesn't paint a pretty picture in your head. 

For example, your head of product could say something like, “This new feature is bleeding edge,” in a customer presentation. Are you confident that would be received well by your customer?

Open the kimono

This phrase has a lot of problems for a lot of reasons. A leader could say to another leader, “Come on, let’s open the kimono and see what we can do.” While it’s intended to mean “share information openly,” it’s pretty sexist. It can also come with healthy doses of creepy and uncomfortable.

One blogger cites why it’s such a problem

“The metaphor relies on the Western myth of the geisha. A perfectly demure, subservient sex slave, who masks her physical attributes with a big baggy kimono. It is superficially salacious, then, to invoke the geisha in a business context."

The term is rumored to have started in the 80s it also seems to have some racist connotations attached to it. New York Times argued it originated alongside Japanese acquisitions of American companies.

It’s 2022. Let’s ditch this term for good.

Game changer

You might hear this term in and outside of business settings. In corporate speak, this means a new person, idea, event, or process. Usually, it’s radical and disruptive (but in a good way).

Your boss might say, “This new feature could be a game changer for our customers.” It’s not exactly clear what exactly is good about the new feature. We get the sense that it could change things up, but we don’t exactly know why.

Trim the fat

In the age of body positivity, we hope this term isn’t used too often. But unfortunately, this corporate jargon phrase is still around.

In corporate speak, this means cutting out unnecessary parts. Depending on how it’s used, trimming the fat could speak to pieces of a project, expenses, or even people. As a writer, I’ve heard this many times in reviews of drafts. “Trim the fat on this piece, then it’ll be good to go.”

It’s problematic for several reasons. We live in an age of body positivity. Any sized body is worthy of love and respect. This phrase could immediately alienate employees and trigger discomfort.

If used when referring to people, it can be dehumanizing. Referring to extra people on a project as “fat” is certainly not inclusive. It can be seen as offensive, and it might disenfranchise your employees, leading to disengagement. 

corporate-jargon-people-talking-in-chairs

4 ways corporate jargon impacts your teams

While it may seem harmless, corporate jargon can hurt your company. Researchers and business leaders have developed theories and studies related to corporate jargon.

Check out the four key ways jargon impacts your organization. It’s also important to note that these four factors overlap. 

Performance 

Your organization’s business performance could be suffering as a result of corporate jargon.

One study found that business jargon negatively impacts organizational productivity. Because jargon tends to cause misunderstanding, it can also lead to wasted resources.

Setting business goals with jargon leads to confusion. When employees are confused about what their goals are, does it sound like they’ll meet them? Probably not. They might feel alienated, excluded, and looked down upon. 

And our research backs this up. Work cultures with a high sense of belonging experienced a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in the risk of employee turnover. All in all, these factors result in a decrease in overall business performance.

Inclusivity 

Fostering an inclusive workforce is critically important. For employees to build strong mental fitness and reach their fullest potential, they need to feel a sense of belonging.

But corporate jargon can do the opposite. It can alienate employees. It’s especially important to consider non-native speakers. Our global workforce is just that — global. People from all backgrounds, languages, and cultures. And as the workforce becomes more remote, the more global it becomes.

The above-mentioned study also looked at inclusivity and corporate jargon. What it found was a clear correlation between the two.

Ineffective communication can make employees feel excluded. In some cases, it can make employees feel like their manager or company is looking down on them.

This study found that corporate jargon leads to a demoralized workforce. When people feel demoralized, it contributes to high employee turnover. For non-native speakers, corporate jargon adds yet another layer of exclusivity. 

We know that an inclusive workplace has incredible business benefits. Businesses experience increased profitability and performance. It's also shown businesses have increased innovation and employee engagement. 

Communication 

We know that jargon is often vague and unclear. We also know that clear communication leads to better business outcomes.

It should come as no surprise that jargon impedes an organization’s ability to communicate clearly. The above-mentioned study found that communication served as the lynchpin for organizational effectiveness. When communication isn’t clear, businesses (and their employees) suffer. 

Solid, effective communication is the key to success for any organization. It leads to increased productivity, increased engagement, better collaboration, and increased motivation. It has a ripple effect on other areas of the organization, like innovation. 

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Innovation

As mentioned above, there’s a clear link between an inclusive workplace and increased innovation. When people don’t feel included, it’s likely they don’t feel psychologically safe

This domino effect can result in negative impacts on your organization’s innovation. Let's look at our stats. Teams with highly inclusive leaders experience: 

How to avoid corporate jargon

There’s no downside to avoiding corporate jargon in your organization. But it might be harder than you think to cut out these phrases from your vernacular. 

Start by looking at the chart below to see what swaps you can make. 

Say this

Not that 

Let’s start with easy things first. 

Let’s go after the low-hanging fruit. 

This opportunity might bring more visibility to ... 

Let’s see if we can connect this … to this … 

Can we leverage …? 


Let’s see if we can leverage … 

Would you be open to sharing information with us?

Could you openly share the progress you’re making on this project? It would help… 

Could you open the kimono? 

This new feature is new and innovative because …

This is really innovative, never-before-seen technology … 

This is bleeding edge stuff. 

Try to avoid getting too detailed with these aspects of this project. 


We don’t need to get into XYZ details, but it could be good to focus on ABC details. 

There’s no need to boil the ocean here. 

Stop speaking jargon 

Before you head offline to go touch base with your co-workers (sigh), consider ways you can cut corporate jargon out of your business. 

We've outlined some key takeaways to keep in mind: 

  • Speak in plain English (and avoid cliches, buzzwords, and lingo) 
  • Be clear and effective in your communication
  • Consider ways to foster inclusivity and be cognizant of the power of the English language 

With the right language, you can take your business to the next level.

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Published January 18, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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