Time To Move The Needle On ‘Jargon Monoxide’ In Our Workplaces

Published 10 months ago
By Forbes Africa | Gary Martin
Co-workers having meeting with laptop in conference room

If the thought of being told to fly something up the flagpole, put on a record to see who dances or stir-fry things in the ideas wok makes you want to lose your lunch, you are not alone.

Jargon monoxide – a dangerous concoction of distasteful, pungent and sometimes colorful language – is seeping into workplaces to create nauseating conditions for those forced to inhale the noxious fumes.

Every workplace has its fair share of jargon, buzzwords, bizspeak and abbreviations.

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Sometimes the language serves a useful purpose like condensing a complicated process into a single word or phrase to save time.

But when it slips out of the boss’ mouth once too often it is usually for the wrong reasons, which is when jargon monoxide poisoning takes place.

More and more workers have been “circling back” only to discover their boss’ misused business babble has created unnecessary “pain points”. 

This has arisen from those in charge either failing to “bring to the table” some “fully baked”, “out-of-the-box thinking”, “putting lipstick on a pig” to camouflage the truth or disguising the fact they are simply not capable of doing the “heavy lifting”.  

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In other words, workers are being contaminated by jargon-mongering bosses who seem intent on using the latest cringeworthy cliches to hide the truth, cover up stuff-ups or obscure the fact they lack what it takes to get the job done.

It is necessary to “drill down”, “unpack” or “open the kimono” to get a “high-altitude view” on how workers are exposed to jargon monoxide on a daily basis.

The truth is many bosses allow gobbledygook to seep from their mouths and into the workplace to conceal the fact they are not “best of breed”: in other words, to obscure their ineptness.

So when “parking a project” rolls of your boss’ tongue, it probably means an initiative was an unmitigated disaster under their direction.

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If the same boss suggests there has been a “wrong-siding of the demographic”, it is safe to assume their poor public relations caused customers to become extremely disgruntled.

Other bosses restrict their polluting ways to using buzzwords to disguise negative messages and, in doing so, compromise transparency.

Some bosses substitute the term “redundancy” with the likes of “trimming the fat”, “cutting capacity”, “delayering”, “downsizing”, “right-sizing”, “right-shoring” and “moving to an outsourced model” – all jargon used to make sacking staff sound more palatable than it actually is. 

And you might have noticed how many bosses resort to “going forward” (or its close relation “moving forward”) when they have no clue about what they ought to do in the aftermath of a challenging situation like a pandemic, public relations nightmare or financial crisis but still need to say something.

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“Going forward” conveys that an embattled boss is leading their people on a purposeful path to a brighter future. 

Yet the overused phrase is ambiguous in relation to specific actions, timelines and accountability and could easily be substituted with “I don’t have a clue what to do next”.

Perhaps of more concern is the fact that at the very time we are trying to reduce spiralling levels of antagonistic behavior, bullying and harassment in our workplaces, some bosses poison their workplaces with newfangled aggressive office speak just to appear as part of the “in-crowd”.

Common phrases of aggression including “you smashed it”, “you are killing it” and “you crushed it” – somewhat ironically – are all buzzwords used to denote progress rather than destruction.

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Think, too, about the impact on others of hearing the boss say “there is only one throat to choke”, the team is a “dysfunctional circular firing squad” or that you are a “decision sniper”.

Climbing the corporate ladder is often synonymous with losing the ability to speak or write clearly. The higher the climb, the greater the use of overblown language.

It should not be that way.

It might be time for all good bosses to “give 110 per cent”, “lean in” and take a closer “look under the bonnet” to get better “optics” on the impact of their poisonous prattle on those around them.

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“At the end of the day” it is perhaps best to keep in mind that jargon monoxide is a language which can pollute and poison an otherwise healthy workplace.

For those in charge, do not let it loose. And for those lower down the “food chain” and at high risk of contamination, avoid breathing it in.

The writer and professor is CEO with the Australian Institute of Management Western Australia and a workplace and social affairs expert.