Jargon Monoxide

Effective communication skills.

The Harvard Business Review says, “Effective communication is a key driver for achieving desired results on a personal or business level.”

So why is this so common:

Together, we will leverage our assets to deliver the strategic value that our stakeholders expect and deserve as we create synergistic value add via the integration of complex systems to facilitate collaboration across mission critical projects in order to best provide enhanced innovation, efficiency, productivity, retention, and engagement.

Suffocating in the Jargon Monoxide

I’ve long been a fan of Dr. Bob Sutton, author of – among many great books and articles – The No  Asshole Rule and Good Boss, Bad Boss.  He recently pointed out a term that was used in one of his classes by Polly LeBarre, former editor at Fast Company:  Jargon Monoxide.

It’s one of those, “boy, I wish I had thought of that” terms.


Some highly technical fields require special terms and a unique language to provide for proper communication between the practitioners – medical terminology is the most familiar example for many of us.

But the business of management and leadership rarely requires special terminology or language, though that doesn’t seem to reduce the mind-crippling ramblings of business writers, executives, and a great many management consultants.

We “communicate” in platitudes and double-speak corporatese. Words and phrases are strung together which, to the uninitiated, appear to be completely absent in meaning – if not intentionally misleading.

Carbon Monoxide

A poisonous gas that is invisible, odourless, and tasteless, and is highly toxic to humans and animals.

It is also contributes significantly to urban pollution.

Made to Stick

Jargon Monoxide, it really grabbed me the first time I heard it, and – as I think about it – I believe it resonates really well with the principles described by the Heath brothers in Made to Stick.

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

A few of my favourite examples

  • Value add
  • White board [as a verb]
  • Synergies
  • Transitioning
  • Boiling the ocean
  • Human Capital
  • Dialogue [as a verb]

Speak Human

So why do we do it? All of us will, in spite of our best intentions, engage in some terrible business language.  But why?

I will reference and paraphrase Dr. Sutton again:  In many business environments people are recognized and rewarded for saying smart things rather than doing smart things. And, as the carousel of promotion, re-assignment, and re-organization spins faster and faster, few people are in one position long enough that they have to live with the repercussions of their decisions.

And so, we fall back on the popular phrase of the day to impress the supervisors and colleagues who will be writing up our next performance evaluation with the deep and thorough comprehension that we have developed in the face of a complex environment.

The ability of an organization to maximize achievements is not enhanced by leveraging its core competencies via the verbal and/or written modality, so, at the end of the day, the optics of the situation are not favourable in light of the key performance indicators.

Actually, people perform best when communications are clear, concise, and direct.

What are your favourite examples of Jargon Monoxide?  Let us know in the comments.

note: this post originally appeared on the Delta Blog, 23 December 2011


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