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What Are You Talking About?


A few years ago, during a company meeting about increasing sales, the CEO of the small company I worked for made the comment “Let’s open the kimono.” I had no idea what he was talking about or what this had to do with making more money for the company. A colleague later told me that it meant “reveal something.” So, why didn’t he just say that?

Every profession has its own lingo or jargon—words or phrases that are particular to that industry or trade.

  • •  In the restaurant industry “to 86” something means to be out of something or to take it off the menu.
  • •  In hospitals you may hear the word “stat” when something needs to be attended to immediately.
  • •  In the legal field “Chapter 7” refers to a specific bankruptcy law.
  • •  In retail, when employees refer to the “POS,” they are talking about the cash register.

Some of this quick, abbreviated language is very helpful and often necessary in some industries. However, in the corporate world, business jargon or “buzzwords” has taken over the everyday language in many offices, with new words and phrases being invented faster that people can keep up with them. The overuse of this office lingo may be causing a lot of confusion in the workplace.

According to a 2017 business survey by American Express, 88 percent of the corporate employee respondents admitted to pretending to understand office jargon—even when they really have no idea what it means.

The overuse and misunderstanding of buzzwords can cause several problems in the workplace, primarily with team members feeling insecure or not fulfilling a task the way you want them to.


The following are some examples of business jargon.

Touching base

When you reach out to a colleague or even a client and say, “I am just touching base with you,” it is obvious to most that you have a specific question in mind, like “Have you finished the Penske file?” Don’t waste too much time with passive niceties. Be pleasant, be professional, and just ask your question.

On your radar

If you tell someone that they are “on your radar,” you’re basically telling them that they’re on the list but haven’t yet been attended to; just be honest and let them know when you expect to respond.

Take it to the next level

If your boss asks you to “take something to the next level,” ask for specifics—what does the “next level” look like? It might be different for each person. If the next level is 30 percent more sales by December 31, make sure everyone understands that.

Out of pocket

Just don’t use this nonsensical phrase. If you are out of the office, on vacation, or simply unavailable during a certain time, just say that.

Low-hanging fruit

This term simply means, “it will be easier to sell to this group of customers, because …” Your clients probably don’t want to be referred to as fruit.

Limited bandwidth

Unless you are in the information technology industry talking about actual bandwith, there is no reason to use this term. If you are busy, you are busy. Let your colleagues know that you are swamped right now, but could probably take on a new project next week.

Think outside the box

Although this is probably the most common and overused business phrase in the corporate world, it still has people asking, “What box?” Again, just get to the point. If you want people to think differently or imagine a different way of doing something, say that.


I know we are probably all guilty of using business jargon, but try to think again before telling someone, “I have limited bandwidth right now and will be out of pocket next week, but you are on my radar, and I will touch base with you later and we can discuss taking it to the next level by thinking outside of the box to reach some of our low-hanging fruit.”

Is it always much easier to keep your words specific, clear, and simple.

Are you guilty of using too much business jargon?

What is your least favorite buzzword?


Written by Tara Madison, Manager of HR and Operations at Vector Talent Resources. For more information about how Vector Talent Resources can help you, contact Tara at or call us at 703.639.2160.


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