Boisterous Praise for Business Cliches
Business professionals are encouraged to “think outside the box,” while at the same time being admonished by success coaches, consultants and bored journalists for talking inside the box with trite cliches and pithy aphorisms.
But there’s no reason to push the envelope on business communication when there is a rich trove of language on the tips of our tongues. And at the end of the day, communicating ideas through the creative use of cliches and jargon is not only a time-honored tradition in many disciplines, it is the kind of low-hanging fruit that is hard to resist.
Nobody questions the arcane and inscrutable terminology used by economists to explain a simple idea in complex terms. Nor do they put their game faces on to challenge the meteorological musings of the weather forecaster telling us why we might need an umbrella for the morning commute.
But in the lexicon of business meetings and work emails, the conventional wisdom holds that too many managers and team leaders wrap their messaging in colorful rhetoric when talking about the elephant in the room. If only they avoided cliches like the plague and spoke plainly, it would be a win-win situation for everyone.
But colorful bromides are the mother’s milk of business communication and no self-respecting corporate manager or public relations warrior ever met a bit of jargon they didn’t like.
Corporate mergers are greeted with promises of “synergy” and “economies of scale,” destined to succeed because failure is not an option.
While some see the effusive language and imagery as vague and noncommittal, the homilies and old-businessman’s tales handed down from boardroom to boardroom offer an unvarnished peek at the inner workings of the business world.
When you peel back the onion and really drill down to the essence of business jargon, it can be a convenient shorthand to motivate staff, mollify investors and mute dissent.
The business climate of the 21st century, in a data-driven digital world, puts a premium on speed and efficiency. That should extend to language and how businesspeople communicate their ideas. With urgent deadlines requiring snap decisions, there is often no time to put a pin in an idea and run it up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes.
The pace of business life requires a clear head when it’s time to put boots on the ground and burn the candle at both ends. And that is where jargon steps up and takes a bow.
The ideas expressed in these oft-used phrases are part of the common currency of business, easily understood in matters ranging from the simple to complex while always acknowledging the elephant in the room.
It is easy to criticize cliches as overused to the point of being devoid of meaning. But when the rubber meets the road, they can be the one thing that keeps everything on track.