Buzz Off: Overuse of Buzzwords can be Harmful to Your Professional Health

If your business meetings have begun to sound like a cliché festival, you're not alone.

The most overused (make that annoying) workplace words were revealed in a recent Accountemps telephone survey of 150 senior executives from some of the nation's largest companies.

Overuse of phrases or buzzwords in the workplace always has been sort of a crutch for some, and there is a serious point of business to consider: Overuse of such words and phrases can brand you as a lightweight and cause people — important people — to tune you out, according to Holly Dary, the Madison-based regional vice president of Accountemps.

"When a person is communicating and they are using buzzwords, it can end up being confusing and not really mean much to the audience," Dary said. "Those phrases tend to become meaningless, and people stop paying attention to what that person is saying."

Among the biggest offenders:

  • "At the end of the day, …"
  • "There is a disconnect.'
  • "Viral."

Not that I'm a buzzword snob, mind you. I've been known to be on the cutting-edge (oops!) of this trend myself, and I suspect we all have at least one that we're fond of using. It is what it is, you know? (There I go again.)

Wiser heads admonish all of us to use clear language for the most straightforward and effective communication.

As Dary sampled Accountemps list of buzzwords and phrases, she could pinpoint acquaintances that overuse one or another. For her, it's the term "circle back," as in "let's circle back with my client about a promising candidate." A simple "Let's talk with our client" would suffice, she concedes, but adds that we have to catch ourselves before breaking the habit.

"It's certainly better to try to communicate more directly and eliminate the buzzwords when you can," Dary said. "They are just another form of shorthand, really."

Shorthand in a sense, but hardly a shortcut. For your entertainment, or annoyance, we provide the complete list of the buzzwords and phrases that bother today's executives, with some context from Accountemps:

  • Leverage: As in, "We intend to leverage our investment in IT infrastructure across multiple business units to drive profits."
  • Reach out: As in, "Remember to reach out to customers impacted by the change."
  • It is what it is: As in, "The server is down today, and clients are irate. It is what it is."
  • Viral: As in, "Our video has gone viral."
  • Game changer: As in, "Transitioning from products to solutions was a game changer for our company."
  • Disconnect: As in, "There is a disconnect between what the consumer wants and what the product provides."
  • Value-add: As in, "We have to evaluate the value-add of this activity before we spend more on it."
  • Circle back: As in, "I'm heading out of the office now, but I will circle back with you later."
  • Socialize: As in, "We need to socialize this concept with our key stakeholders."
  • Interface: As in, "My job requires me to interface with all levels of the organization."
  • Cutting edge: As in, "Our cutting-edge technology gives us a competitive advantage."

Okay, okay, one or two of these are a little picky: reach out, for example. The point is that people, in this case executive supervisors, tend to wince when such clichés are overused, and that's the reason they can be a professional liability.