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The Sad Truth About Why People Use Business Jargon

Even though buzzwords are the stuff of office jokes and memes, there's a reason why so many people use them.

Synergy. Bandwidth. Ideate. 

There are many more buzzwords where those came from. In fact, business jargon is often the stuff of office memes and comedy sketches.

And yet... you still probably hear these meaningless words around the office, used in all seriousness. The question is, why?

The sad truth is that when most people hear someone using abstract language, they're more likely to respect that person.

That's according to research published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which found the more vague words you use, the more powerful you'll seem. 

Lead author Cheryl Wakslak and her colleagues had participants judge politicians' authenticity based on how they summarized current events. While some were shown quotes that clearly detailed scenarios, others were given abstract comments that didn't really explain what happened. For example, one politician describing Occupy Wall Street said the movement "demonstrates the frustrations that Americans feel and the sense that America has been taken over by corporate interests." A little short on the details, no? 

In an interview with New York Magazine, Wakslak explained this phenomenon: "People see the abstract communicator as a more 'big picture' kind of person," which makes them appear more powerful." So while you think it looks smart to drill down on specifics in meetings, chances are you're only putting your colleagues to sleep.

"Our findings suggest that if you want to seem powerful to onlookers, it is important to demonstrate abstraction, to use abstract language to communicate the gist of the situation, rather than concrete langauge that spells out the specific details," Wakslak added. 

Put simply, take the details offline.  

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Last updated: Jul 9, 2014

JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer

Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.

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