Beware of Your Corporate-Speak

By on October 12, 2010 in Current Events, Leadership with 1 Comment

In an ongoing email thread among my high school classmates about next year’s 20-year reunion, one classmate wrote that she thinks we’ll need more “resources” helping to plan the event. She meant “people,” of course, but she referred to them as resources. I found this troubling, and here’s why.

This stiff, impersonal language—some of us “resources” call it Corporate-Speak—has for years been contributing a word here, a phrase there, to, you know, English. Frankly, I worry that we’re all starting to sound like a bunch of professional automatons.

You know what I mean. You’ve probably heard people, in casual conversations talking about casual things, use phrases like “we need to think outside the box,” “she’s so detail-oriented,” or “this is mission-critical.” My guess is that at first you’d roll your eyes when you heard stuff like this. But now, it’s become common enough that you might not even notice it anymore.

In fact, it could be creeping into your own vocabulary. We “leverage our strengths.” Often before making a decision about a purchase or vacation spot, we need to get “buy-in” or “signoff” from our spouse. And sometimes we can’t help you because, well, “we just don’t have the bandwidth.”

Getting a couple of friends on the line at the same time to decide where to meet for dinner is a “conference call.” Think about that one for a second. I say that if “Yo!” and/or “Wussup?” are uttered more than once on a three-way phone call, you can’t refer to it as a conference call.

A few examples from my own life:

My father-in-law—who has been retired for 10 years—refers to the desk in his house, where he checks the weather online, as his “workspace.”

My dad, who finally gave up waiting for my mom to select a wood floor for the house (after two years of “research”), made what he called an “executive decision” and chose one himself. (He’s retired too, so he’s not actually an executive anymore.)

In one of the unintentionally funniest speeches I’ve ever witnessed, years ago my then-CEO told his staff that we, the employees of Blah Blah Company, were its “most valuable assets.” (Resources, assets—one of the uglier things about Corporate-Speak is that it turns you and me into things.)

What made this CEO’s remark so hilarious was that just a few days earlier, the employees who worked on the building’s first floor learned that we could no longer use the convenient side exit that led directly out into the employee parking lot. We would have walk to the other end of the building, to exit out the lobby and check out with security. Why? Apparently, senior management was worried about stealing.

After hearing the CEO’s speech, it all made sense. You wouldn’t want your “most valuable assets” walking off with, you know, less valuable assets.

So here is yet another reason to avoid Corporate-Speak—even in a corporate setting. Like clichés and other forms of wordplay, Corporate-Speak is often not quite honest. It’s a way of saying or writing not what you really believe, but what sounds good.

Fast-tracking. Incentivizing. Offloading tasks. Determining metrics. Capturing action items. Discussing key takeaways. Owning the problem.

You know what? Maybe it would be better if we all just spoke and wrote to each other like we were human beings.

What do you think? Am I overreacting? Or are there Corporate-Speak phrases that bother you as well?

© 2016 Robbie Hyman. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Robbie Hyman.

About the Author

Robbie Hyman is a professional communications and public affairs writer. He has 15 years’ experience writing for nonprofits, small business and multibillion-dollar international organizations.

Robbie has written thousands of pages of content, including white papers, speeches, published articles, reports, manuals, newsletters, video scripts, advertisements, technical document and other materials. He is also co-founder of www.MoneySavvyTeen.com, an online course that teaches smart money habits to teenagers.

Robbie is available as a freelance writer for federal agencies. Visit RobbieHymanCopywriting.com for more information.

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