Avoid the buzz

Every few years, a new phrase expressing an innovative business concept hits American companies, and within months, you hear it in almost every conversation, training session, memo or project plan.

After awhile, these phrases become tired, trite and meaningless. Many grate on the nerves, at least on my nerves. We’ve even developed a cute catch phrase to define these phrases: buzz words. Here are a few to avoid.

Pushing the envelope. It’s not used much anymore, but it was hugely popular in the ’90s. It always bothered me. It was meant to express the idea that employees need to be creative in their thinking, but I could never figure out why.

Instead, each time I heard the phrase, I pictured people sitting at a conference table, pushing an envelope around and saying, “I don’t want it, you take it.” Not the intended image, I’m sure.

Thinking outside the box. This one is still going strong, and at least it makes sense. It has the same meaning as pushing the envelope, but at least the image it conjures matches that meaning. But again, it’s been used so often that people yawn and think, “Yeah, yeah, outside the box, we’ve heard that one.” And your audience will not take you seriously.

Synergies. OK, it’s not a phrase, but it is hugely popular. Many executives like to talk about the synergies between partners, companies, etc.

When it was new, it was a creative way to get across the idea that there were common interests, energies and focus between two entities. Synergy implies that, together, the entities will come alive. But again, because it is used so often, it has lost its luster.

These are just a few examples of overused business jargon that can worm its way into our brains and infect our communication like a stealthy computer virus. Before your next meeting or presentation, read through your notes and strike these and other phrases you constantly hear in other communications.

Your audience will listen more attentively if you speak without them.