How do you feel about buzzwords? Jargon? “Estate Agentese”?  Roy  Greenslade at the Guardian says that journalists, at least, are “often  amused, sometimes irritated and even occasionally enraged by the  attempts to engage their attention by PR outfits” using spectacularly  creative turns of phrase.

Mr Greenslade’s comments sum up my feelings fairly well. Whether I  laugh or cringe at them, looking up the ‘new business words’ lists is  something I actually really enjoy doing. Some examples are brilliant –  ‘giving a crystal-ball analysis’ (from a salesman to a customer) not  only sums up how vague the projection is,  but also adds an ironic air  of shadiness to the speaker’s motivations. ‘Boil the ocean’ is clichéd,  but is so visually evocative of some hapless soul taking a Bunsen burner  down to the coast that it retains a certain droll charm. Phrases like  ‘pain point’, however, are not so engaging – cuts in your department’s  budget or staffing levels might be described as an irritation,  inconvenience or disaster; they almost certainly won’t clear up just by  taking asprin and a lie-down in a dark room.

Although part of me (the precise, English graduate part) gets itchy  teeth at the thought of made-up words, another part (the laid-back  English graduate part) thinks that if Shakespeare can pull words from  the ether, so can you or I, or anyone else for that matter. The first  audience of Macbeth probably had someone tutting disapprovingly  at the bit where our titular character is said to have ‘unseamed’  an  opponent in battle – what was then a new coinage is now accepted as an  official, dictionary-worthy entry. Impede, multitudinous, barefaced,  assassination and ‘what’s done is done’ also make their first appearance  in the play, effortlessly blending with our modern “impactful  rainmaking agents of change”.

In terms of whether buzzwords are the path to effective  communication, the best answer is an ‘agnostic’ one. Effective  communication, to me, is about giving and receiving understanding. It  involves clear, direct speaking and active, considered listening. The  particular nuances of how this happens largely depend on the  people in conversation. If those people are comfortable with the meaning  and tone set by buzzwords, then impediments to clear, effective  communication are greatly reduced. Everyone is on the same page and  shooting at the same target, so to speak.

However , if people have different levels of understanding,  perspective and comfort  when using buzz terms, problems are likely to  occur. Furthermore, if this discomfort is a) obvious and b) isn’t  recognised and responded to, there could be feelings of resentment and  reluctance towards the non-responsive party, affecting the relationship  between people on a deeper level. This is also why Roy Greenslade’s  point about some PR companies using buzzwords is so pertinent: an  industry specialising in communicating effectively with different groups  of people in fact risks alienating some of those people, because the  language that is supposed to make things simpler and shorter is having  the opposite effect.

The ‘takeaway’ from this? Communication must meet the needs of the  people in the conversation – and those needs are best established  through clear communication.


The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) is an independent, non-profit organisation with a mission to cut the cost of conflict and create choice and capability in dispute prevention and resolution.