10 Phrases You Use That Annoy All Your Colleagues


Joining a new office means learning how to communicate with your team. But to do that well, you sometimes need to get to know your company’s common jargon. “Let’s go back to basics and close the loop on what’s scalable,” you might say.

“There are many reasons people use slang: to communicate effectively, to show off, for fun, to fit in, to confuse/intimidate/exclude, to legitimize themselves,” says Zachary Brown, an assistant professor who researches slang at Hong Kong University. of Science and Technology.

Like it or not, office buzzwords are contagious, and while we’re all guilty of using them in a meeting to get our points across, hearing them can secretly annoy everyone involved. When pollsters hired by CV Maker asked more than 4,500 people what they thought was the most irritating buzzword or company phrase, these were the top answers:

  1. synergy
  2. Outside the box
  3. Take ownership
  4. Value added
  5. Coming back
  6. Reach out
  7. Moving forward
  8. proactive
  9. To take off
  10. Make it work

“Jargon can be annoying when it’s used so much that the words lose meaning,” says career coach Anne Genduso, who personally finds “circling back” the most annoying thing she hears.

“Take these expressions, for example: ‘Mission-critical,’ ‘socialize,’ ‘disruptive,’ ‘circle back,’ ‘synergy,’ ‘touch base,'” Genduso noted. “They are also very subjective. industry is ‘disruptive’ may be ‘old-school’ for the other.”

That’s why it helps to learn which slang expressions are particularly off-putting – and why.

Career experts weighed in on the types of jargon they personally find most annoying, with advice on how to choose your terms and phrases carefully.

1. Excessive acronyms can be hard to parse.

Brown noted, “Abbreviations are fine if everyone knows them and you know everyone knows them. But when acronyms extend to everything and you start using them for broader groups, things can quickly become infuriating.”

Brown said acronyms can be job-specific, and the problem arises if you assume your co-worker knows what you’re saying. If you’re a business administrator, you may know that DCF means “discounted cash flow,” but it will be completely baffling to a colleague outside of that field. And if you’re on the marketing team, you may know that WOM means word of mouth, but you may need to clarify this for your tech team.

Unlike much other jargon, he said, acronyms are a kind of business buzzword that employees have a hard time deducing. “Usually I can sense what slang means for metaphors and other words/phrases, but if someone uses an acronym I don’t understand, it’s much more difficult,” he said.

2. Expressions that are difficult to translate can exclude non-native speakers.

For Lawrese Brown, the founder of C-Track Training, a workplace learning company, phrases like “soup for nuts” and “nuts and nuts” are off-putting phrases she says she hears from older generations.

Genduso noted that idioms like “move the needle,” “out of pocket,” “piggyback,” “low-hanging fruit,” and “have this conversation” “can be extremely confusing to non-native speakers because the literal definitions aren’t always logical.”

3. Sports-related jargon can be not only annoying, but also exclusionary.

Angela Karachristos, a career coach who has worked in human resources, said she is most annoyed by sports-related jargon such as “point it over”, “it’s a home run”, “who’s on the bench” and “cross the finish line” line.”

“I think they can exclude people and create a boys’ club culture,” she said, pointing out that she finds gun-related jargon such as “pull the trigger,” “sight,” “bite the bullet,” and “shoot out the hip,” equally frustrating.

She’s not the only one who thinks sports-related clichés are out of the question. In a blog post for Textio, an enhanced writing platform that analyzes workplace communications, a business data analyst cited sports-related jargon as a form of communication recruiting teams should be mindful of.

“You write a vacancy so that the reader can imagine themselves in your team. If you want to appeal to a broad audience, choosing a language that requires a specific background is pigeonholing your culture,” Mikayla Jordan wrote for Textio. “Imagine a job description that says, ‘You supervise projects from start to finish.’ If the candidate is not familiar with American football, they may not understand what is expected and fear that they will not fit in.”

If you’re part of a team that uses a lot of unfamiliar sports jargon, ask for clarification.

You probably won’t be able to work without jargon, so here’s how to use it thoughtfully.

Wherever you are on your company’s org chart, you’ll encounter jargon, but the power you have will affect why you use it.

Zachary Brown, the researcher, expects higher status professionals to use more jargon on average than lower status professionals. “This is precisely why jargon is a status signal in the first place and why it is manipulatively misused,” he said.

So if people at the top of the company make jargon the norm, junior employees can start using jargon too, because they want to be respected and appear competent. In a series of studies Brown led, he found that low-status professionals were more likely to use jargon when they believed they were being judged.

“Like the spotlight [is] on them, their motivation to be respected increases compared to their motivation to be understood, and they are more likely to use this performative language,” Brown said.

If you’re stuck in a company overrun with jargon, try using it both ways: you can use it to fit the company culture while over-explaining what you mean.

Brown suggested that in cliché-filled office cultures, people communicate with both the slang term and by rephrasing it in a less slang way.

“It’s redundant and takes longer, but it gives them competence by showing they know the jargon, and also the warmth and understanding of their audience that understands them and isn’t so alienated by the specific terms they use,” he said.


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