How many resumes have you received from job applicants who claim to be “creative” and “effective” professionals with “extensive experience”? How frequently do incoming sales pitches promise to help you “leverage your assets”? How often does your company claim to be “on the bleeding edge”?
Beware of these and other overused buzzwords and clichés. When you use them, you risk not only boring clients, partners, and employees, but also derailing your efforts to distinguish your small business from its competitors.
What constitutes overused language is, of course, a bit subjective. But some words and phrases are obvious offenders. LinkedIn, for example, analyzes its user base and publishes an annual list of the top 10 overused terms in its professional profiles. Forbes identifies the most annoying business jargon. And marketing guru Seth Godin started what’s become a virtual encyclopedia of business clichés.
If you regularly say things like “paradigm shift,” “push the envelope,” or the dreaded “thinking outside of the box” to describe yourself, your company, or your offering, it’s time to rethink your strategy.
Why We Use Buzzwords
Our use of jargon and clichés has psychological meaning, notes Jennifer Chatman, management professor at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others,” she tells Forbes.
How to Communicate Clearly
It’s nearly impossible to purge all of the buzzwords and clichés out there from your vocabulary. But the following guidelines can help you avoid them when preparing memos, resumes, ad copy, web content, or other communiqués.
1. Think like an editor. Does each of the words you’re choosing add meaning to your explanation? If somebody tells you that they are “motivated,” what does that tell you about them? What, exactly, is a person’s “A-game”? If a word or phrase doesn’t deliver specific details, it’s probably not making much of an impact. Consider replacing or omitting it.
2. Provide more detail. If you have a “solid track record,” instead of making that blanket statement, describe the actions or events that led you or your company to achieve success. Example: Why tell someone that you’re “well-qualified expert” if you can specify that you’re a certified public accountant who’s been in business for 20 years?
3. Avoid industry lingo. Using jargon only serves to exclude people from conversations. For instance, if you’re in the computer industry, realize that not everyone speaks geek. So, don’t tell a potential customer to “ping” or “DM” you. “Contact me” works fine, especially if the client isn’t as tech-savvy as you are. (Perhaps that’s why they’re hiring you?)
4. Use a thesaurus. Thesaurus.com or the thesaurus tool in Microsoft Office are favorites of writers. Pick a simple, less overused, more descriptive synonym from the list. It only takes seconds to make your words sound fresh.