This Post Will Make You Think Outside the Box About the Language You Use

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Nov 6, 2017

During performance reviews, you’ll need to cover a range of important topics such as SMART objectives, development objectives and training needs. It’s a time for clear, meaningful, natural conversation. No management buzzwords that confuse and frustrate employees.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in an office will have encountered overused management buzzwords. Some are funny, some are frustrating, and some seamlessly invade our vernacular until we find, to our horror, we have become just like the managers we used to tease. According to Brian McClusky, HR director at InkHouse: “I think that employees often try to emulate the company leaders, so if they hear a word or phrase being used, they will often adopt it themselves to fit into the culture and align themselves with leadership. Sometimes, this can occur unconsciously.”

So what’s the harm in a buzzword or two being thrown around the office? Eventually, the words can become overused to the point of becoming an internal joke, which can detract from a professional atmosphere. When used during a performance review, they can make the discussion feel strangely formal and out-of-place, especially when the whole point in regular performance discussions is to cultivate an authentic and trusting relationship between manager and employee.

The best way to eliminate HR buzzwords from your vocabulary is to first identify them and establish what they mean (because their meanings aren’t actually always clear!). After this, you can go onto find clearer and more natural ways of getting your words across.

As someone who has spent over two decades in HR, I have created a list of the most overused (and confusing) buzzwords used by managers. These phrases have been around a long time but, with any luck, we can put an end to them in the near future

1. Think outside the box

Most of us know what this expression means — to think creatively and abstractly, in a less obvious and clear-cut manner. The problem is that most issues in business require creative thinking and, as such, this term has become unnecessary and somewhat of a cliché.

Instead of suggesting that employees “think outside the box,” it would be more helpful to carefully lay out the situation, explain the pressing issues and considerations, and ask employees to collaborate and create solutions. After all, if you’ve hired the right people, they will be thinking “outside the box” 100% of the time anyway.

2. Touch base offline

In 2016, the Telegraph revealed the 10 most hated management words, as revealed by 2,000 business travelers. “Touch base offline” topped the list, and with good reason. In essence, the phrase simply means, “I would like to meet up with you and discuss this.” When conveying such a simple idea, it’s best to steer clear of jargon-filled sentences. If you want to schedule a performance discussion with one of your employees, set the tone and keep things informal. This will encourage a more open dialogue.

3. Circle back

“Circling back” to a topic essentially means you are revisiting an earlier topic. It’s a phrase you can easily and painlessly eliminate from your personal dictionary and your employees will thank you for it. Ask yourself what sounds more natural:

“Can we circle back to the issue you mentioned regarding Client X?”


“What were you saying about Client X?”

4. Bandwidth

Your millennial contingent will naturally assume that “bandwidth’”has something to do with the maximum data transfer rate of an internet connection. However, in the average office, it will mean something quite different. You might hear, “Jack doesn’t have the bandwidth to deal with this project at the moment…” or “We help clients who don’t have the bandwidth to deal with this themselves.”

I’d recommend we take a leaf from George Orwell’s book. He suggested that we should never use a jargon word if we can think of an everyday English equivalent. Fortunately, in this case, we have a fantastic substitute. We could simply use the word “time.”

5. Work synergistically

Conceptually, the idea of “working synergistically” sounds quite beautiful. It simply means that two or more elements of your team are working well together. However, over the years, it has become so overused and mocked that you should probably avoid the phrase entirely. By now, it has begun to lose all meaning and employees simply don’t take the phrase seriously.

As a general test, consider whether or not you can take an HR buzzword or phrase out of the office and have it work. It’s not likely that you would happily proclaim to your partner that your children are “working synergistically” together. Perhaps it’s time to leave this phrase — and the others above — in the past, where they belong.

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