A few months ago, Jill noticed a shift in my writing style. “It’s very in-your-face,” she said. “You sound a little angry. But in a good way.”
She was probably responding to my article about all the C.R.A.P. that makes its way into business statements (mission, vision, purpose, value, yada yada yada).
I do get fired up about Corporate Rhetoric And Pomposity. I frickin’ hate it, and I’m determined to eliminate it from everyone’s business vocabulary.
Can we start with you? And can we start right now?
If you’re game to join me on this quest, here is your assignment: Resolve to remove the following words from your business communications—written, spoken, and otherwise.
I have clients who schedule alignment meetings to align on their alignments. Enough. Get together and agree on something.
Never, ever use this as a noun. Every time you announce your ask, your audience drops the “k” and imagines your ass. Guaranteed.
We know. You don’t have any. No one does. Stop reminding us.
What a shame that this excellent metaphor has lost its power. Business arrangements are like nature, where things are connected and interdependent. But in a business sense, the term has become so overused and misused that it doesn’t say much any more. Maybe you can be the hero who finds a new analogy.
In the world of self-help, an enabler makes it easier for someone else to do bad stuff (think addiction and abuse). I know you mean to enable in a positive sense. But why use a word with such negative baggage? Try help or allow or even the dreaded empower.
It’s a term that screams, “I went to business school and I know cool financial things!” Well done. For audiences other than your fellow MBA-ers, headroom is literally that empty space between our heads and whatever’s above (doorframe, ceiling, overhead bin). If you’re not prepared to teach a short finance lesson, choose a different word.
My associations with this word are not positive. The crushing impact of a car accident. An impacted molar. An impacted bowel. Affect is a good substitute for the verb, and effect works for the noun.
This word has become so commonplace that we read right past it. Break through that sea of sameness and describe how your integrated solution (ugh, see #14) unifies or combines or blends or … you get the idea.
As an adjective, this word is a throw-away. Do I need three key reasons to follow your advice? No. Just give me three reasons, and make them good ones.
I know you mean “use for advantage.” But like enable (see #5), this word is loaded with negative connotations. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of synonyms for leverage as a verb: abuse, capitalize on, cash in on, exploit, impose on or upon, milk, pimp … If you don’t want to sound manipulative, at the very least avoid leveraging people, relationships, talents, and anything else human.
Is this a word you use to label your important, impressive, prestigious history of degrees and jobs? Well then, I’m eye rolling you (and daydreaming about purebred dogs). Just tell me your career history or path or story. Better yet, show me how the future can be brighter because you’ve racked up all that experience.
When a wine list claims the Cabernet is robust, a smart sommelier adds useful details. “It’s a bold wine that stands up to our well-seasoned ribeye or rich short rib.” We need that kind of explanation for your robust business process or product, too. In fact, just ditch robust and tell me what your offering can withstand, support, or overcome.
Your customer will experience no ugly or uncomfortable bumps. But is that really worth touting? I mean, I value my seamless yoga pants; but in anything else, seamlessness feels like a low bar.
Did you know that you can get a solution from just about any industry? Yep: management consultants, construction companies, software developers, industrial manufacturers, interior designers, publishers … they’re all selling solutions. Which makes this the emptiest of empty words. Do better. (P.S. If you are not willing to use the word problem in your marketing materials, you are not allowed to offer a solution.)
So, your company is making some innovative waves in this space. Are you referring to an industry, a sector, a discipline, or what? I have a hunch that this term emerged from the tech industry, where the sky’s the limit and things get to be galactic. This farmer’s daughter just wants you to say field.
You should have given this up in 2017. Do it now.
Don’t tell me you’re unique. Show me how you’re different—and better—than all the rest. And don’t just exchange this word with one-of-a-kind. That’s cheating.
Seriously? What’s wrong with train and teach? And if you’re about to ask about reskill, don’t even go there.
Sigh. Just say use.
I nearly included value itself on this list. Though value is added to business messages far too often, it still has merit. But value-added? No thank you. Replace it with specifics. Be like the cereal people who came up with vitamin-fortified.
“Among the best in the world.” This term tells a self-centered story that acknowledges the competition and ignores the customer. Is that what you’re after?
22. Bonus Bundle
Get rid of every cringe-worthy phrase that has become shorthand for truly useful human interactions: touch base, reach out, circle back, deep dive, take it offline … What am I missing? I’m sure there are others.
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Here’s to a C.R.A.P.-less year, friends! Go forth and create simple, strong messages that say what you mean and get things done. And if you get stuck, let me know. I’m here to help.