I was interviewing a business school professor for a book project a few years ago. He was talking about corporate information--how private companies can keep things secret, but “public companies really have to ‘open the kimono.’”
I remember chuckling, thinking he’d come up with an original metaphor. Soon however, it seemed everybody in business was using that phrase. Apparently, it’s just as grating to a lot of other people too. When the folks at Fast Company recently put together an NCAA basketball-style bracket and encouraged readers to vote for the worst corporate jargon, “open the kimono” was the champion. People just hate it.
Whether you’ve spent time in the Fortune 500 or not, chances are you’ve picked up some corporatespeak--words and phrases you’d be better off banishing from your vocabulary. I think we can all agree on some of the most grating examples, such as the 20 below. Which ones do you think we need to all agree never to say again? (And which ones did I miss?) Answer in the comments below or contact me directly, and maybe we’ll use them in another article.
This was runner-up on the Fast Company list. Why don’t we just say cooperation?
2. Outside the box
At this point, “outside the box” is such a cliché that using it shows you’re thinking inside the box.
Is this a useful word? Can’t we just say supplier or seller?
4. Move the needle
We live in a digital world. How often do we move needles on analog dials?
5. Low-hanging fruit
This is one of the first phrases we could very easily do away with (pun intended). Just say, “Do the easy stuff first.”
6. I don’t have the bandwidth
You mean you’re too busy, right? Why not just say it?
7. Peel back the onion
As if literally peeling back an onion, people are likely to cry if they hear this phrase too often.
8. Circle back
I suppose we mean “revisit,” but this phrase sounds a little too much like the name Nickelback, the most-hated band in the history of the world.
9. Touching base
What does this mean exactly? A quick meeting? A discussion with no agenda?
10. Run it up the flagpole
This is one of the oldest clichés you’re likely to encounter--so old that it was mocked in a song on Broadway in 1962.
We all have too much information, so why add to it unnecessarily? At least if you’re going to forward an email to someone “for your information,” give the person some details about why or what you expect him or her to do with it.
12. On my radar screen
A phrase used largely by people who have never actually seen a radar screen.
13. Value add
At the least, just say “added value.”
14. Growth hacking
It’s an essential role in a startup--basically creative, aggressive, lean marketing--but the term itself is fast becoming hackneyed.
This one sounds like it’s right out of George Orwell’s 1984. (I find it doubleplusungood.)
16. Take it offline
This is just a polite way of saying, “Can we talk about this later instead of wasting everyone else’s time on your personal or idiosyncratic issue?”
17. Out of pocket
When are you ever “in pocket”? This is just a convoluted way of dressing up the fact that you won’t be taking calls or answering emails during a time when you normally would.
18. Boil the oceans
OK, you’re talking about a very difficult or even impossible task--but this one has been used as a metaphor for so long that there are now pages upon pages of Google search results for “how much energy to boil the ocean.” I think that means it’s time for a new metaphor.
Just say it: layoffs. Firings. People who currently have jobs won’t when you're done with them. It’s bad enough news without coating it in corporatespeak.
20. Core competencies
I guess “stuff we’re really good at” wouldn’t sound as good in a corporate meeting room.