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Give It to Me Straight: Five Words That Are Overused in the Office

Office Buzzwords (1)

By Hayden Grover

The workplace can be a buzzing hub of “I hate Monday” jokes, gallons of coffee, and a shared refrigerator with condiments older than the intern. Movies like Office Space - from legendary creator Mike Judge - and the one of the most beloved TV Shows, The Office (US & UK versions) have used stereotypical office culture to make us all laugh. Corporate “Buzzwords” - that we know all too well - are the silly office semantics plaguing your workday.  

In a recent article, Inc. published the Top 31 Buzzwords That Employees Truly Hate. And although this robust list hits the nail on the head - and shares similar sentiments with our Not-To-Do List - we wanted to take a deep dive into our five favorites. Let’s unpack. 

Holistic Approach 

Topping the chart is holistic approach. “Can you use it in a sentence please?” Sure:  

“Our team uses a holistic approach to develop product innovations that inspire economic growth.”  

It sounds good at first, but let’s stop and think about something for a moment. Is there anyone out there that takes a non-holistic approach to their services? Show me the marketing agency that touts their business model as a one-trick pony. On the other hand, where does it end? Regardless of the product or service, there must be an endless rabbit-hole of possibilities. Can you truly achieve the “holistic approach?” 

The question we will answer with every phrase or buzzword is “why.” Why do we use it? Of course, these answers are just speculation – but that leads to a deeper understanding (and it’s fun). Perhaps companies say holistic approach because it is easier than describing the approach. Can’t think of a convincing way to market? Just throw it in the description and you are good to go. Are you a project manager and you want to ensure the team understands the depth of work?  


Coming in at number eight on Inc.’s list, we have a term originally designated for computers – bandwidth. 

“Do you think Ashley has the bandwidth for that project right now,” or “I just don’t have the bandwidth to take on any more responsibilities.” 

Do you think they use this term in the same way at Dell or Spectrum? That must be confusing. Why has this become the substitute for “do you have time?” Our guess, asking someone if they have the time and energy to do something, or discussing the amount of time and energy you have, can feel like a personal question. Whether it is or not, you may be uncomfortable discussing or asking about it. There may even be an element within the company culture that makes you feel this way.  

How do we go about making it feel less personal? Talk to others as if they are a piece of hardware, of course. This way it’s not about being human, it’s the rigidity of your technological restraints. Just not enough bandwidth. 


At number 20, slot we have a formal word used to describe something that is typically done in the least formal ways – debrief. 

“I have a conflicting meeting; can you hop on that call and debrief me later today?” Are you discussing the events of a covert black-ops mission?   

To show you care, and to maintain the importance of the content discussed in the meeting, you ask someone else to attend and debrief you afterwards. You used that special word, so it must be important. However, this formal language will likely result in the person casually stepping into your office unannounced and explaining what went down. Or an all-time favorite, “You didn’t really miss anything.”  


Everyone is happy with number 22 because it is, win-win. 

“We were able to finish the project within the tight timeframe, so it really was a win-win.” 

Shouldn’t win-win’s be the standard for business? Why don’t we just say “win for everyone” and drop the second win. Seems redundant. I suppose that not all situations are positive in business and maybe that’s why these objectives need to be called out. Luckily, I don’t recall every being in a meeting where someone said this could be a “Lose-Lose.”   


Lastly at 29, we have one of the most optimistic ways to talk about near rejection or legitimate reasons to not buy what you’re selling – pushback. 

“They are giving me a little pushback, but I think they can get creative with their budget to make it work. They just need a little pressure.” 

Optimism, some people run on it. However, a dash of reality is healthy. It can be tough to hear when someone doesn’t want to accept your idea or buy your product. After all, it’s amazing. Goonies never say die, but they probably love to say pushback. A magical word that carries an unspoken spark of hope. And although it may very well be legitimate in some cases, you will be far more productive when you realize some answers simply mean no. 

Sorry if we “watered down” one of your go-to phrases, but it may be for the best. After all, we are just trying to find some “synergy” with our readers. It’s time we just say what we really mean, even if it takes an extra sentence or two.

Topics: creative culture, Business Culture, workplace culture, corporate communication

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