One of my readers wrote to me with a very good point. He said that he is guilty of using some of the corporate buzzwords in this blog and asked if I could provide alternatives.

I thought I’d take this on. The problem is that I want to avoid merely using synonyms for the words, because if people started using the synonyms ad nauseum, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.

I understand that buzzwords are an economic way of getting across an abstract point. I get the attraction of that. But I also understand that for the people who have to hear these terms every day of their lives, they become trite and even laughable. Look up “buzzword bingo” some time.

The only way around buzzwords is to use a few more words to get your point across. It may require some imagination and more work, but it’s better than having your point lost on a Dilbertized audience. After all, your employees don’t go home and talk to their families in jargon. They don’t tell their children that they don’t have the “bandwidth” to take them to both soccer practice and cheerleading tryouts. Men don’t tell their harried wives they should establish “core competencies.” (If they did, it could well be the last thing they ever said.)

So, for example, let’s address “outside the box”: It’s ironic, don’t you think, that the term that means to think outside normal parameters is being abused so much that it is now a normal parameter itself. Thinking outside the box means to go past your comfort zone and not let past restrictions or expectations reign in your thinking. Let your imagination go and think of what you’d like to see rather than what you think is feasible. That’s what I would say if I were addressing my team.

You have to make a conscious effort to let go of buzzwords and speak to your employees like they’re, oh I don’t know, real people. Is something mission-critical? Just say it’s really important. Low-hanging fruit are the tasks that you can take care of quickly and get out of the way. Just say that. A value-add is something that adds value. Why can’t you just say this or that is valuable?

And, I hate even typing this word, but synergy is basically teamwork, or several elements that work well together better than any of the elements could work alone. An actual explanation of a working relationship is more informative (and even more inspiring) than a word that when most people utter it they put sarcastic air quotes around it.

I can’t offer clear-cut synonyms for buzzwords, because that would be defeating the point. My best suggestion would be looking a buzzword up and then using the dictionary definition instead.