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The 10+ most dangerous words in business

Business buzzwords can be annoying -- but everyday language can be far more treacherous. BNET UK's Jo Owen lists a dozen seemingly innocuous words that are often used to distract, misdirect, and deceive the listener.

Business buzzwords can be annoying -- but everyday language can be far more treacherous. BNET UK's Jo Owen lists a dozen seemingly innocuous words that are often used to distract, misdirect, and deceive the listener.


Don't worry about the jargon: At least we all recognise it when we hear it. The really nasty language in business consists of normal words with abnormal meanings. Here are 12 words that should get any alert manager's bullsh*t detector working overtime.

Note: This article originally appeared on BNET UK. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Just

This is used to make a huge request or error seem trivial, as in, "Could you just do this (500-page) document by Monday?" -- a request best made late on a Friday afternoon.

2: But

Remember, whatever is said before but is b*****ks, as in, "That was a great presentation, but..." or, "I would like to help, but...".

3: From

From is much loved by advertisers, as in "Fly to Rome from £10″ -- excluding £100 of taxes and other "optional" extras for a flight leaving at 4 AM and going to an airport about 100kn away from Rome, and only if you book the ticket one year in advance.

4: Might (and any other conditional verb)

Might is used to achieve two thing. First, it sets up a negotiating position, as in, "I might be able to do that if..." Second, it lays the groundwork for excusing failure later on: "I would have done it, if only..."

5: Only

Closely related to just, this is an attempt to make a big request or problem seem small. "It was only a small error.... We only dropped one nuclear bomb over London...".

6: Important (and urgent)

This is used to puff up any presentation: "This important new product/initiative...". Important to whom? And why? Maybe it is important to the speaker, but why is it important to me?

7: Strategic

Important, with bells on. See Strategic Human Capital Division, formerly known as the Personnel Department. It's alternatively used to justify something that has no financial justification at all: "This strategic IT investment (which costs £100 million and has no identifiable payback) is essential to the survival of the business."

8: Rightsize, downsize, best shore, offshore, outsource, optimise, redeploy, downshift, re-engineer

How many ways are there to avoid saying straight up: "We are going to lay off staff"?

9: Thank you

Normally, thank you is good -- except when used by automated voices at call centres saying, "Thank you for calling; we value your call... (and we have so much contempt for our customers that we can't be bothered to answer your call promptly, so we will put you on hold until you give up and try to use our impenetrable and useless online help instead)."

10: Interesting

Fear this word. When your lawyer uses it, you are doomed. When your doctor uses it, check that your will is up to date. The recession is certainly interesting. A slightly less interesting time would be preferable.

11: Opportunity

Because the word problem has been banned in business-speak, all problems have become opportunities. This means many opportunities are problems. There is a limit to how many opportunities I can solve. Interesting and strategic opportunities really scare me.

12: Investment

Investment was first hijacked by the British government to justify wild and uncontrolled public sector spending. Spending is bad, but investment is good, so it simply reclassified all its spending as investment in the health, education, and future of the country. The businesses that followed the government's lead by going on a spending/investment splurge are now going bust -- unlike the government, they can't print money or raise taxes.


Sound familiar?

Have you run into these verbal gotchas on a few occasions? What other common words and expressions have you encountered that were being wielded disingenuously?

52 comments
ron
ron

Like all these lists, the authors give you all these words that you should avoid but no alternatives. I use them for lack of anything else, I try to checking for a synonym, however (my current replacement for "but") there aren't any.

verysexyman
verysexyman

These words imply 2 things: 1) The rest of the time you've been talking to them you have NOT been honest with them. 2) They shouldn't trust anything else not preceded by these words because you MIGHT be lying to them.

wallace.wood
wallace.wood

On Boarding - This is a new one to me. Must come from water-boarding and I am not talking about something one does at the beach.

ericgyoung
ericgyoung

I, for one, am getting sick of hearing the work "stakeholder," as it used to describe groups, entities, etc. that have an interest in an activity, political action, etc. It's nice to have one word to described "interested parties" or, perhaps, "affected individuals," but c'mon, every board, committee, etc. uses this word now.

cranky_paranoid
cranky_paranoid

I'll shoot the next person who tells me that. Usually that means "I have a project plan, you are resources in it, but I didn't see fit to tell you this and now I have this urgent need, which bypasses all your resource management"

RickCaird
RickCaird

The most annoying phrase is "emerging science suggests...". In other words, "we have no evidence, but we would like it to be true". Watch out for anything of the form ".. the evidence suggests..." Rick

k07xs8c02
k07xs8c02

Closely allied to "opportunity". Job postings often include this word, as do internal pep talks. Experience Has Shown that what this really means is that the speaker/writer already knows that whatever-it-is is extremely risky or already failing, and they need a scapegoat.

Krisalan
Krisalan

right.... we all know what that means

CTOS
CTOS

My favorite statements of all time is: we'll work with you. Or, I'll go to bat for you. From experience, both translate into: I will find a way to shaft you royally! But make you *think* I am going to help you! Salespeople and landlords are famous for these comments... My skin crawls when I hear this now!

vickaprili
vickaprili

You forgot the words transformation or transformational change in Section 8:

avidtrober
avidtrober

Used in titles or job reqs, it's basically a meaningless word. "Senior-level" this or that is typically: 1. bait for job postings. Put "Senior" in front of it to attract candidates wanting to be called that, but aren't. 2. Put it in front of a title to appease someone's need for feeling upwardly mobile.

mdhealy
mdhealy

If a missive from management uses this word, look out. These days using this word is probably a euphemism for cost cutting.

iShango
iShango

I had a moment of insight with this word when my sister-in-law prefixed it to a sentence about some work she wanted done. It means that the person using it has absolutely no conception of what is required to complete the job and using magical thinking (as opposed to Practical thinking) is able to solve every problem by slipping 'just' into the sentence. People who use this word seem to utter it to give themselves a feeling of authority, usually in situations where they should have kept their mouths politely closed.

gv_jay
gv_jay

Here is another one...the most difficult task to do is termed Challenging ...

ogregator
ogregator

"Interesting" is also a chinese curse. If there is someone you don't like, you wish them to have an interesting day.

jruby
jruby

Generally heard when you're the only worker bee in a room full of chiefs - that someone/somebody is you by default.

Wcoyote1
Wcoyote1

We - plural pronoun, possessive our or ours, objective us. Typically used to indicate that your task/duties have just expanded beyond the original scope as somebody has volunteered you for another job. In the alternative sense, it is used in order to recruit accomplices to potentially disasterous situations thus providing a scapegoat. This is also used in combination with the aforementioned dangerous words with increased regularity and frequency. ex: We are downsizing. We just need to ...

kjbaty
kjbaty

In retail, we use the term "should" frequently, which is always met with eyes rolling. I can't deliver a concrete promise when the company itself, shipping, even weather may affect actual results. Oh, and Thank you for shopping with us.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Any time somebody starts using service as a verb, run the other way...quickly. For example, in the USAF personnel office at Keesler AFB, there used to be a sign that stated "Personnel in uniform will be serviced on priority." (For all I know, it's still hanging there.) I'm a country boy. Service is what a bull does to a cow.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

We recently had several employees who were 'displaced'.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

'Thank you' at call centres. Most people think its a way of not addressing calls or wasting time, when in fact it is a result of an effective Auto Attendant. The FAULT only lies in the fact that many call centres cannot properly pace and work the throughput properly. The Auto Attendant itself will save you a lot of time, if you were put into a standard POTS holding system (live answer, "Hold for an agent please") it would take forever. Even those 30 minute holds with the incessant "Please continue to hold for the next available agent" recordings are SO much more efficient and more accurate for the caller and call centre when using an autoattendant. If it was manual, calls get addressed in the wrong order, the line keeps ringing back to a receptionish every 3 minutes, where she has to answer and place you back on hold again, there is no queuing system so there is no order or priority queue. Many companies avoided auto attendants like the plague, "We want all calls answered live" but they soon find out that they lose business, customers do not get the attention needed and an Auto Attendant is imperative for both them and their clients. It's just misunderstod, like the telemarketing calls issue, these are just more effective ways of conducting business; it keeps overhead down and allows the company to offer more competitive pricing in an age where price is so important to consumers that a company will lay off all its workers and look to Chinese manufacturing options.

SilverBullet
SilverBullet

adjective: difficult to analyze, understand, explain, etc.: a complicated problem. You will here this term used when the person speeking has no idea what they are talking about.

jck
jck

12? Hm. Most dangerous words in business I think I could hear. "Hi there. Thanks for joining my clientele. I'm Bernie Madoff." :^0

santeewelding
santeewelding

Hard by my front counter reads: 1. It's real simple...$100 2. All you gotta do is just...and only...$200 3. I'd do it myself, except...$300 4. My neighbor tried...$1000 5. The guy down the road says he'll do it for...Hurry back before he changes his mind Been hanging there 20+ years.

tracarts
tracarts

"10: Interesting Fear this word. When your lawyer uses it, you are doomed. When your doctor uses it, check that your will is up to date. The recession is certainly interesting. A slightly less interesting time would be preferable." When my son was starting kindergarten, years and years ago, the kindergarten teacher told all the parents, that when our child brought some picture home that we didn't know what it was, to state "that is INTERESTING dear, please tell me all about it. Since that time I have been very leary of the word interesting, especially when I was doing art work, and the professors would say that same phrase. (I kind of always wondered why they couldn't come up with some better way to ask "just what the h#ll are you painting there?"

wbranch
wbranch

I'm with you on this one, but it's almost like you're begging for a Global Warming/Global Climate Change/Whatever We Brand It This Week debate to break out.

Bapster
Bapster

In other words, your job is not needed here anymore.

wbranch
wbranch

Maybe you misheard them? Maybe they said "We'll help get the bat into you"?

jedmundson
jedmundson

D'oh! We didn't look very closely.

Maevinn
Maevinn

When you are volunteered for a job by another, it's called being 'voluntold'. I get voluntold to work a shift opposite my normal schedule for no additional pay, no perk, nothing, just bunges up my entire week. And then they wonder why no one volunteers.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Should I send your bonus check? You earned it with that.

jruby
jruby

Now you know why it's called the Internal Revenue Service - guess who's getting 'serviced'? *ouch*

Shalom.Bresticker
Shalom.Bresticker

I think "lay off" is itself a euphemism. How about simply "fire"? Shalom

BillGates_z
BillGates_z

Usually the hold time is inversely proportional to the quality of the product or service. People are usually not calling because they simply must shower praise or order more of something right away. Also long holds are usually a subtle variation on "We don't really want to speak with you so hold on a while and go away.". MANY problems are solved that way (for them anyway).

aandruli
aandruli

How about when you are on hold forever and the voice tells you "Thank you for holding --someone will be with you shortly" -- about 15 times as you wait for about an hour. Come to think of it -- "Shortly" should be on the list -- it actually means : "who knows when"

wbranch
wbranch

I think Bernie Madoff had 'interesting and strategic opportunities' for his clients to 'invest' in.

KSoniat
KSoniat

I had a roommate for whom we coined the phrase "The best, the worst, the least, the most or knows someone who is". (Turns out every job has had one too) If you told her something good - she would top it. If you told her something bad, she knew something worse. If you told her you had a cousin who was a camel jockey - she had a sister who married a guy with a herd of camels etc. (It can be fun to see just how far these people will go) If you told her "BS" she would be offended, so we made "Fantastic" mean the same thing. she was not offended, and we felt much better telling her how "Fantastic" her story was.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

My wife describes inanimate objects as 'festive', such as articles of clothing, interior design schemes, Christmas decorations.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It's a noun in the title, why do we get the verb? :D

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

It's so much easier to say that you were "laid off" then fired. Plus, fired suggests that you were at some fault where "lay off" could be potentially not your fault.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Its amazing the number of incorrect reasons people come up with. It's generally not knowing that leads to such false assumptions. "I can't see why else that would be, so it must be X" Long hold times are equated to MANY ManY things. lack of live staff, 3 people fielding 40 technical calls an hour for exmaple. This does not usually mean a poor quality product, though it CAN be, it usually isn't. If a product is new or cutting edge, people have many questions and can waste agents time on the phone. It can also be a result of poor call centre staff or technical staff that isn't efficient. It can also mean that the same staff field , sales, service, AR and AP calls too, again very common. "We don't really want to speak with you so hold a while and go away" Although I have felt that way too I have yet to see a single incident of this being true. I don't know of any company, willign to employ an auto attendant that DOESN'T want calls, in fact the main reason for AA is si that they DON'T miss calls. Its also a great way to advertise with MOH based marketing messages. [i]"MANY problems are solved for THEM that way anyway.[/i] Can you name one 'THEM' that you are referring to and provide proof besides your personal beliefs as to why they do that? Many problems are CREATED for 'THEM' that way.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I actually mentioned that. If you were on hold with an auto attendant for 45 minutes, it would have been well over an hour without. If automation can't process your call in less than an hour, how long do you think it would take with a phone rigning back to a receptionist every 3 minutes? Like i said, most people that cpomplian about AutoAttendants have no idea how much faster their calls are fielded compared to without. Do you REALLY think that without teh automation, the call centre would get to your call faster? You don't remember phoning a busy company/support line before auto attendants were used and getting busy dial tones for hours until you finally get through? Even when you get through you have to wait and wait and wait and......believe me, I've crunched call centre numbers, I know how much mroe efficient aa is for both the company and the caller. Bottom line is that it DOES save you both time AND money.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

"Fired" implies the employee lost the job for poor performance or bad conduct, whereas "laid off" implies the job was lost for reasons outside the employee's control.

raelalt
raelalt

"have to constantly hire more and more live service staff to field all calls live" . Yes, the more clients you have the more people you have to hire to handle them. If you don't understand that then YOU have no idea of how business works.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

But it is a matter of cost. For $750 I can install an inskin AA. Replace 10 employees, stay in business in a competetive environment and lower costs, this offer reduced cost in order to remain competitive. Either that or they have to constantly hire more and more live service staff to field all calls live. The cost per minute, per seat goes through the roof and you end up with half a room full of live employees sitting idle during off peak hours. Again, I've crunched these numbers a thousand ways. If you don't see the efficiency increase, you just don't 'see' business.

johan
johan

Oz_Media. when there were 20 agents, and no AA, and you plugin the AA, you are right that it saves everybody time, when it is added. In reality they replace 10 agents with an AA, and the only difference is a voice talking that you are important, but not showing it. At least this AA should say how many are in line, and on average how long you will have to wait. Then i have information to make a decision.

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