Is Your Management-​Speak Reducing Your Credibility?

BY C. Lee Smith
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When I was speaking to radio morning news listeners in 10 major markets yesterday, the hosts wanted to know which buzzwords I dislike most. It was a reasonable question, because I was on the air to discuss management-​speak and how using too many buzzwords drives down your credibility and leads employees to think you don’t know what you’re talking about. Here's what happens when you rely on buzzwords and industry lingo, instead of communicating with your employees the right way.

Lost Meaning

For the record, when I hear the term, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” I have trouble concentrating on what the person says next. As a manager, you don’t want to lose the attention of your employees when you’re trying to motivate them or make an important point. But that’s what happens when you rely on industry jargon. I doubt I’m the only person who cringes at the imagery when they hear that phrase. No doubt, animal lovers will hold you in contempt if you say that too frequently.  Another worn-​out phrase is “think outside the box.”

Another worn-​out phrase is “think outside the box.” Some people will understand what you mean, sort of. But very few understand the origin of this phrase and that’s exactly the problem with overusing jargon. Decades ago, in a psychological test, people were asked to draw a straight line to connect rows of dots displayed in a box. To properly solve the puzzle, you had to draw the line outside of the box. The folks who successfully completed the test were deemed to be very creative thinkers.

Stop Excluding Team Members by Using the Wrong Jargon

Managers also love to use sports metaphors to discuss the business situation they’re in. If you’re trying to motivate your team to work harder, you may have complained that the prospect “moved the goalpost.” Or you might have called the most recently closed deal a “slam dunk.” The team members who love sports will feel included when you use this language.

What about everyone else? If you want to improve your communication style, say the prospect changed their mind about what they want in the proposal. Tell folks on your team that the deal closed far more quickly and easily than you had expected.

Don’t be tempted to try to prove you deserve your title by using the latest buzzwords. These attempts usually do more harm than good. The Daily Mail points out that the majority, 90%, of office workers harshly judge people who use these terms. Nearly half, 46%, believe people who use the latest terms are “trying really hard to impress.”

Overused Jargon in Job Descriptions Drives Away Top Candidates

Prospective employees will sometimes hesitate to apply for an open position at your company if the job descriptions requires them to be “a rock star” or “wear many hats” according to Elise Hannum’s article for Fast Company. Using this kind of language discourages nontraditional candidates from applying because they fear they won’t be able to do the job. The next time you write a job description, leave out the call for a guru or ninja. What you want is a worker with a great attitude who is willing to work hard. 

Improve Credibility by Communicating with Clarity

Instead of trying to impress your employees with what you know, communicate with clarity. As one worker told us about their best manager, “their communication and transparency were second to none. They always provided perfect answers.”

Not every employee praises managers to that level. In fact, in our recently completed survey of over 850 professionals, 20% were somewhat clear or unclear on what their manager expected and how their performance was being measured. And 18% pointed out that they were not very clear on the best way to communicate with others in the company. These numbers show a significant percentage of workers are struggling to fit with their manager and their organizations. If managers don’t take concrete steps to improve the situation, they risk losing employees. About 27% of workers quit when a company doesn’t seem to care about them.

That caring should start with you, the manager. When you take the time to understand what each employee needs from their work environment and communicate clearly with them, your credibility increases. Employees want to do a good job and they want to be proud of what they’re doing and where they work.

 Another unsettling finding from our research is that 25% of workers believe the best way for their team to be more successful is for co-​workers to be better at what they do. The desired improvement includes the topic of better communication. Don’t let management speak and sloppy communication drag down your credibility and your team’s performance. And remember, the only thing worse than working with someone who is incompetent is working for someone who’s incompetent.

Image credit: Wikipedia