Bad salesman trying to convince to a bored client in her office or businessman in a job interview

Are You a Victim of Business Speak?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

We’ve all heard, and probably used, “those” phrases. You know the ones. Things you say because your boss said it and you want to make sure you sound like you know what you’re talking about. Yeah, those.

The problem is that business buzz words and phrases have become so ingrained in our workplaces that we often can’t decipher between an actual thought and regurgitated gobbledygook. When do we say enough is enough? Just tell me what you’re really talking about!

A friend recently told me that he was going to “ping” me. As a functioning member of society, I’ve heard the term “ping.” So just smiled, nodded, and said, “Sounds good, man. Talk to you then.” But back in the quiet recesses of my brain, I got nervous. Did he mean that he would call me? Email? Text? Or was there some form of communication I was supposed to be familiar with using but wasn’t? Would l look uncool or less than savvy if I didn’t know how he intended to contact me? And, more to the point, when did it become okay to use code words to cover up our true intent? When did it become okay to kind of, sort of, tell someone what you want?

The problem is that in business, efficiency is king. By using code words (aka business speak, aka B.S.), we’re really just bogging down our ability to get stuff done. Don’t say things like: “Jim, we really need to blue sky this problem.” Next time, tell Jim what you really want him to do: “Jim, we need to find some creative solutions for this problem.” Now, instead of Jim acting like he knows what you mean when he really doesn’t, he’ll be able to execute.

To further help, here’s a handy chart that will allow you to further decipher “business speak” in the workplace.

B.S. Phrase

What They’re Trying to Say

What You Should Do When You Hear Someone Use the Phrase

“Low-hanging fruit”

Go after the easy stuff

Get your bucket so you can catch said fruit

“All hands-on deck”

We need everyone’s help

Physically put your hands on the ground

“Let’s circle back”


Let’s talk about this later

Play a game of “dizzy bat”

“The long pole in the tent”

Nobody knows

Build a tent?

“I will be out of pocket”

I won’t be around

Buy them some pants with pockets

“Talk about this offline”

Talk about this in person or after the meeting

Log off the internet so you can talk to them

“Touch base”

Talk about this later

Play baseball, I think

If you need more help deciphering these and other phrases, join me and Bob Wiltfong at the ATD 2018 International Conference & EXPO for the session: How to Get the B.S. Out of Business Speak. We’ll help you stay in your swim lane and really high point the issues at hand.

About the Author
MJ Hurley earned his degree in Professional Writing from Virginia Tech. He has a master’s certificate in Strategic Leadership from Michigan State and graduated manga cum laude from VT with a master’s in Instructional Technologies. In addition to his work with Hurley Write, MJ worked with the Department of Defense where he served as a Human Resources Specialist; during his tenure there, he also worked as an analyst and trainer. MJ also worked for VT Group, a government contractor, where he edited awards packets for PEO Ships Front Office, a section of the Navy that runs and builds naval ships. MJ has worked as a trainer, consultant, and editor with Hurley Write for several years, working with clients such as Cross Texas Commission, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Coloplast, CKI, Discover Financial, NAECP, Zoetis, NAVAIR, the Air Force Research Lab, the US Army, Sprint Federal Operations, PCAOB, Walker Parking, UPS Capital, and BioMerieux, to name a few.
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"Stay in your swim lane"
"Back of envelope figure"
"Where's the ask?"
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Sweet, I'll keep these in mind and I certainly won't use these phrases in the training room! :)
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