My pet hates 12 – company meetings filled with clichés

Stephen Elop, the new CEO of Nokia, used a business cliché recently to describe the situation at the Finnish mobile phone manufacturer. In a memo to employees, he compared it to a man standing on a “burning platform”. For years I’ve been fascinated by the sort of clichés that dominate corporate speak, especially in meetings. What’s your favourite?

I always end my corporate writing workshops by asking participants to divide themselves into two teams and write as many meeting-clichés as possible on separate flip charts. People usually get tired towards the end of an intensive day of learning and this exercise provides comic relief. The winning team is awarded chocolate bars.

Here are some of the recurring examples I’ve come across in workshops:
• Best-in-class product
• Blue sky thinking
• Buy-in
• Get our ducks in a row
• Heads-up
• Join the dots
• Joined-up policy
• Low-hanging fruit
• Manage expectations
• On the same page
• Thinking out of the box
• This is not rocket science

Funnily enough, I always find that workshop participants in the United States are virtual gold mines of information when it comes to naming clichés they’ve encountered in company meetings. People I train in Europe have often struggled to provide examples for the flip chart. Could it be that business clichés stem mainly from the U.S. corporate culture?

As for Mr Elop, a Canadian, let’s hope he’s got more innovative ways to resolve the challenges Nokia faces in a competitive market than trotting out a cliché. His leaked memo was published by FT.com on February 9 and it reads well on the whole. But as most of us know the problem with clichés is that they are so overused that they lose their punch.

How about your experience in this field? Can you add to my list? No chocolate award I’m afraid, but plenty of food for thought.

I welcome your comments.

Rolf Soderlind

http://www.absolutwriting.com/ absolutwriting


6 comments on “My pet hates 12 – company meetings filled with clichés

  1. Rolf,
    I think you should be careful with this one. Your recurring examples have become shorthand in American business for certain concepts. Replacing them could create much longer phrases filled with worse jargon.

  2. Here are a few more:
    Refocussed attention
    Core competency
    Starter for 10
    Not die in a ditch over this
    moving the goal posts
    out of scope
    at the end of the day
    bunch of puppets
    total rubbish
    rabbit in the headlights
    north or south (instead of up and down)
    weathered the storm
    turned the corner
    tailor your messaging — segmentation

  3. I think you’ll like this website – a directory of terrible business jargon, with ‘translation’. http://unsuck-it.com/ (I don’t have any personal connection with the site: I just think it’s fun.)

  4. […] post from Rolf Soderlind on his Grumpy Old editor blog about business jargon led me to revisit Unsuck It, a wonderfully low-key site that translates what they describe as […]

  5. Any ideas on how to deal with or respond to cliche’s?

    • I believe the trick is to identify them, those tired expressions. Once this is done, try to avoid using them unless they are strictly necessary for your communication, Or try writing with a fresh approach, find better ways to make your point..

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