Leo D'Angelo Fisher Columnist

Leo covers management and leadership issues, business trends and corporate strategy. He is a former senior business writer at The Bulletin and a former host of The Business Hour on 3AW.

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Office jargon is meaningless waffle

Published 12 September 2012 06:16, Updated 12 September 2012 13:16

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Office jargon is meaningless waffle

The self-absorption of people who speak in management jargon never ceases to amaze me. One might think that in business making yourself understood is an absolute imperative. Yet the speakers and writers of the ludicrous cant that passes for English seem to go out of their way to be incomprehensible.

For speakers of jargon, communication is no longer an objective. They don’t care whether you understand them or not because the jargon is an end in itself. When it comes to choosing between their own vanity and the importance of making themselves understood, the verbal sludge wins every time.

The tortured language they favour appeals to other speakers of jargon. They can have whole conversations without understanding what the other is saying, but it sure sounds impressive. Or so they have convinced themselves.

Protest is useless, ridicule ineffective. Vain, impenetrable, self-important verbiage continues to dominate business communication. Here are some recent examples from my burgeoning collection.

Perhaps the conference speaker who solemnly intoned that, “We are responsive, not reactive” knew what she meant, but did anyone else?

“Off-ramping” and “on-ramping” apparently means something to human resources practitioners – who generally consider the Oxford dictionary the work of the devil – but I cannot bring myself to Google it. I don’t want to know. Another HR favourite is “on-boarding”, and the rest of the dross that goes with it.

A “world leading provider of workforce solutions” – also known as a recruitment firm – recently offered some tips for creating “an outstanding on-boarding program . . . to assist in retaining staff beyond the recruitment process”.

“On-boarding processes that incorporate human interaction enhance effectiveness, satisfaction and retention – and will help your company realise a valuable return on your investment,” the world-leading provider of workforce solutions enthuses (but not enlightens).

“A thoughtfully planned and executed on-boarding program helps ease the transition to the workplace. Companies that keep orientation intentional, and even lively, go a long way to tapping the full skill set of the new hire as well as igniting his or her excitement and enthusiasm.”

The management consulting firm that boasts having a “feedback culture”, which includes “mutual development conversations”, no doubt claims to be state of the art in its thinking. State of delirium more like it.

Management consultants and their ilk have much to answer for. Except that it’s unlikely that most of us would understand the answer.

Can you hazard a guess as to what this consultant means? “I am passionate about working with people who strive to implement, actuate and realise technology investments.”

Consultants who promise to foster your “innovativity” or “enhance your business and sustain a proactive continuous improvement” no doubt earn their hefty fees – for their creativity if nothing else. So does the executive coach who says effective leadership requires “holism” and “integral thinking”. You can’t make this stuff up. Actually you can, that’s the problem.

A payroll services company offers this inspiring entreaty to potential clients: “Our passionate belief in partnership with any individual – be it the client or the contractor – continuously inspires us to be proactive at all times.” All the Big Ps are covered: passion, partnership and proactivity (ie, not reactivity). And this crowd is not only inspired, it’s “continuously” inspiring, which in jargon-speak is supposed to be reassuring.

More inspiration – and babble – from a training company: “We have seen first-hand how businesses organically flourish with an innovative and multi-layered approach to learning.” In this case, seeing is not comprehending.

The new in-word seems to be “collaboration”. It’s everywhere. If you’re not collaborating, you’re simply not in the race.

Once you may have signed off along the following lines: “I look forward to working with you in future.” Now, it would need to be something like this, if I may proffer this example from a recent email: “I will certainly keep you in mind for any collaborative opportunities that may arise.”

At least my correspondent was not moved to add “going forward”, the phrase that has infested the English language like no other. Mind you, there’s a brash newcomer hoping to take its place: “ongoingly”. We can only hope not.

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