The Most Annoying, Overused Words in the Workplace

“Could you interface with that team on its ad campaign that’s gone viral, and then circle back with me? If we can leverage similar assets, we’ll have a game changer.”

Ever heard talk like that in your workplace? If it sounds familiar, it could be the buzzwords. “Leverage,” “interface,” and “circle back” are among the most annoying and overused terms in work settings today, according to a new survey of executives.

The Buzzword Lineup

In research conducted by finance staffing firm Accountemps, 150 senior executives from the nation’s largest companies cited these 10 problem words and phrases (in no particular order):
Leverage: “We should leverage our investment in IT infrastructure across multiple business units to drive profits.”
Reach out: “Jim decided to reach out to this underutilized demographic.”
It is what it is: “The server is down, and clients are irate. It is what it is.”
Viral: “Our training video has gone viral.”
Game changer: “The switch from LAN to WiFi was a game changer for our productivity.”
Disconnect: “There is a disconnect between our customers’ wants and their page views.”
Value-add: “Where’s the value-add in this increase in spending?”
Circle back: “I have to go, but I will circle back with the client later.”
Interface: “My job requires me to interface with all levels of the firm.”
Cutting edge: “Our cutting-edge technology gives us a competitive advantage.”

The buzzwords don’t always annoy listeners in a work setting. Executive coach Liz Bywater, president of Bywater Consulting Group, believes they can serve as a “linguistic shorthand” when used properly and in context.

“But using too many buzzwords can lessen an individual’s credibility as an independent, intelligent, creative thinker,” she says. “At worst, it can make him look like a wishy-washy wannabe.”

Three Guidelines for Usage

Use buzzwords properly and judiciously. “If the terms don’t add clarity or fail to capture the complexity of a situation, don’t use them,” says Bywater. “Your goal should be to make communication crisp, clear, and meaningful.”

Consider your audience. Jacqueline Whitmore, a business etiquette expert, says: “Just ask yourself, ‘If I were speaking to an audience of non-native English speakers, would they understand these words?’ This will help you eliminate such phrases from your vocabulary.”

Check your own understanding. Ask for clarification or research words you don’t understand, counsels Pat Mayfield, an executive coach and president of Pat Mayfield Consulting. “Some words or phrases have different meanings and implications, so make sure everyone has the same understanding.” She adds: “Avoid ‘tasting shoe leather’ — only use buzzwords that you understand.”

During a Job Interview

Some experts recommend even more caution about using buzzwords in a job interview. (For tips on avoiding buzzwords on your resume, see “10 Boilerplate Phrases That Kill Resumes.”)

“Every word counts in the interview,” says Andy Denka, executive director of Accountemps. “While buzzwords or jargon can in some instances indicate familiarity with the industry, they also can come across as too cliche and lacking meaning. Unless it’s the absolutely perfect phrase, applicants are better off avoiding buzzwords and instead explaining themselves in more meaningful terms.”

Whitmore, however, suggests the buzzwords could be a “value-add.”

“It seems HR professionals use these phrases all the time,” she says, “and by using them you could be establishing a connection with the person interviewing you.”

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