“Synergize” This!

It is with great pride, and after much anticipation, that I write this short entry on a topic so familiar to me after my unspecified number of years in the corporate sector that it almost makes me giddy: corporate speak.

Yes, corporate speak, otherwise known as corporatese, still happens, much like that other thing that “happens” to us now and then, at least according to Forrest Gump. I feel very blessed that the fine people I call clients don’t tend to engage in the practice of corporatese, which is perhaps one of the reasons we are working together.

When I was on the inside, working on-staff at large companies, I learned very quickly that corporate speak could be both the boon and bane of one’s existence. Use it, and you can bluff your way through that meeting for which you had little time to prepare. Use it, and you sound like a complete jerk. It is a scimitar that indeed cuts both ways.

Corporate speak served another, more sublime purpose: those of us on staff who detested the gobbly-gook gibberish that is this odd dialect often clung to one another for a whiff of sanity, or, more likely, the sharing of a stifled guffaw when those fluent in corporatese began waxing poetic. In short, corporate speak can be a unifier for the dissent.

Despite all of its unintended benefits, surviving corporate speak was hell. It is not hyperbole when I say that it was among the three worst aspects of working in the corporate sector. The other two know who they are.

Much like sovereign nations, I celebrate my independence from this oppressive practice every year in June, at about the time I broke up with my last corporate employer in 2002. In remembrance, I offer up some of these all-time favorites mainly as a way to implore you to think before you use any of these phrases. Why? Because save for a select few, most people are onto the fact that corporate speak is usually a substitute for clear, intelligible expression. It’s hollow. It is meaningless. Slinging around trendy jargon is far easier and lazier than constructing a meaningful, direct and clear message. And, since a primary focus of my practice is communication, I thought it was important to address the “what not to do” aspect of our work.

While these are not the only offenses you can commit in the name of a corporate title, the following examples get “leveraged” enough to make it to the Top Ten List.

1. “Synergy” – I have to begin with this one, because I still don’t know what people really mean when they use this word, and I have been hearing it for over 20 years. I think it means something like “the sum is greater than its parts,” or that a team of contributors can create a better result than a lone wolf. I still don’t know, and frankly, don’t care, because I’ll never use this phrase. Ever.

2.  “Best Practices” – Wow. Is it really too difficult to say “most effective methods?” Really? I suppose “most effective methods” sounds pedestrian to some. If so, that is a small price to pay to communicate your point clearly.

3. “Drill Down” – Unless you are J.R. Ewing or my dentist, don’t say this. Try “go into greater detail” instead.

4. “Actionable” – This word used to mean anything that provided a viable ground for a lawsuit. Now, it’s been mightily morphed into a commitment-dodging label for anything on which an action could be taken. Saying that something is “actionable” means essentially nothing, because arguably, anything is actionable, depending on one’s perception. Ditch this awful word and be specific. “In this case, we could survey this segment of customers” is far better than “this is certainly an actionable trend.”

5. “Disintermediate” – Good Lord. This one refers to removing the middle man or any intermediary in a given process or chain of decisionmakers, but it sounds more like you’re about to dismantle a ticking explosive. Unless you’re citing lines from one of the Die Hard movies, don’t say this.

6. “Dovetail” – Another word for stealing someone else’s original idea, it also means to expand on an already stated point. Try, “we can expand on this point.”

7. “Gisted” – Here we go again. This is almost always used when a corporate manager is giving orders, such as in “I want this information gisted in a memo by morning.” I believe it means “summarized,” but it’s such a distasteful expression I recommend you avoid it at all costs. Ask for a brief summary of main points. That should do it.

8. “Interface” – Please, make it stop. Say “communicate” or “talk to,” not “interface.” If you’re referring to a software program or database, you could say “connect with/to” or “compatible with.”

9. “Irregardless” – This is not a word, but I believe due to its overuse among otherwise intelligent and educated people, it warrants inclusion on this list. The correct word is “regardless.”

And finally…

10. “Create Efficiencies” – This often pops up in job descriptions and LinkedIn summaries. Why would it be so terrible to write “detect more efficient ways to increase market share” or “simplify our procedures?” Why, oh why?

I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic, and as such, I encourage you to think out of the box and leverage your core competencies to create an optimal synergy, peel the onion and allow emerging shifts to uptrend, thereby resulting in a new and measurable actions and results, best-practices systems and an open architecture approach to brainstorming and development.

How’s that for clarity?


2 thoughts on ““Synergize” This!

  1. Mark Taormino

    I’m having a ball reading your blog posts. The corporate speak is more than I can take. I spend so much time with university students (Yes, I am a prof) and teaching them to write clearly, succinctly, and without jargon or bias. Then we put them into the corporate world, and reprogram them into automatons spouting meaningless catch words. It is sad that most of the consultant and corporate speak is rooted in the lack of true knowledge and understanding. The ‘speak’ somehow passes as informed content. Now this is a long winded way to share with you another addition to your precious list. I hear the term ‘socialize’ about 10 times a day now. It might be particular to my current client, a large Pharma company, but the term is used excessively. Rather than saying lets communicate and share some idea, we must “socialize” information. Yes, back in the day, socialize meant to go to a party.

  2. Karen Hazel Post author

    Mark, Thank you so much! I am certain that I speak for many when I say that we all bless and thank you for your work–I cannot tell you how many people I work with/consider hiring, etc. who struggle with the basics of grammar and syntax, never mind substituting jargon for clear communication. Your effort will not be wasted–real journalists and communicators will be born, thanks to your effort. As for the term “socialize,” wow, what can I say? You are absolutely correct. In my day, it meant going to someone’s house to hang out. I wonder if greater synergy can be created through socializing? ;P Thank you for your very kind post. If you ever want to see a topic addressed or contribute a piece, just say the word. 🙂

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