Why I hate business speak (even though I’m getting an MBA)

I’ll admit it: I’m kind of a stickler about language.

In my defense, you can’t spend 13 years thinking about, studying, playing with, manipulating, conjoling, pondering and absorbing words and not be a little obsessive about them. I love language, and I admire the creative ways clever writers use it. I love dialects, idioms and those little regional language quirks that make language rich and ever changing.

But what I hate is language that obfuscates, language that’s used completely incorrectly and jargon that becomes more confusing than just saying it straight.

So, as you can imagine, I hate “business speak.”

I hated it long before I got to b-school. Interviewing business people often left me rolling my eyes on the phone. I was trying to write stories an 8th grader could understand and they were practically talking in code. We’d have exchanges like this:

Business-type person: “We grew our top line last year by using frame-breaking innovation and incentivizing our strategic partners to leverage their synergies.”

Me: “So you took in more money last year by trying something new and convincing your partners to work together?”

Ugh.

I know every profession has its jargon. My old one certainly did (“Can you look at my lede?” “What’s running in the double truck tomorrow?” “I sent 13 inches to the desk.”) The point of jargon is to create a simple way to say complex things that everyone in a certain group can understand. It’s shorter to say, “What’s running in the double truck tomorrow?” than “What stories are going on the two pages in the center of the features section that allow us to design across the fold?”

In contrast, I feel like a lot of business speak is simply a more complicated way to say a simple thing. Why say “leverage” (which could be confused with taking out debt or the action riding on a seesaw creates) when you could say, “take advantage of”? And why say “I’m aligned with that,” when you could say, “I agree with that.”

Ugh.

There was a lot of business speak at b-school too, but I managed to avoid engaging in most of it. I found that especially when we were trying to understand tough concepts, plain language was preferred. Even valued. The people in b-school who seemed smartest to me were the ones who could break things down and make them easily understood.

And then I got to my summer internship.

Almost immediately, starting with the HR orientation, there was a lot of business speak. A whole lot. So much that I felt for the first few weeks like I was constantly translating what people said in my head. It reminded me of my first month studying abroad in Glasgow. Everyone had such thick Scottish brogues mixed with the distinct Weegie accent, that it was like they weren’t speaking English. All of my language comprehension was on a 10-second delay.

In Scotland the accent eventually “clicked” and to this day I can watch “Trainspotting” without subtitles. And I even started using a lot of Scottish words and phrases and picked up a slight accent because it made it easier for the Scots to understand me. I adapted.

Ditto for my internship.

One day, just as it had for me in Scotland, it clicked. I didn’t have to translate any more. And, to my horror, I started using business speak.

Just like in Scotland, I realized that if I used certain “native” words and phrases, I was more easily understood. By using business speak, I was adapting to the culture around me. Just like in Scotland, it had to happen.

But business speak ends at the office. I will never, EVER talk about how my boyfriend’s cooking skills are a “huge value-add to our relationship” or say that I’m going to “leverage my tip-funded relationship with the bartender to get free shots.”

Never.

Ugh.

Advertisements

About missmba

What happens when a language-loving, mathphobic liberal arts major goes jumps on the MBA train. Follow my adventures at a top 20 business school.
This entry was posted in Career, Communication, Internship. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Why I hate business speak (even though I’m getting an MBA)

  1. sweetinjections says:

    Thank you so very much, I feel relieved to know there are others who feel the same way I do about such speak.
    Personally I can’t even begin to comprehend how you cope with your occupation. I know after 6 months I would eventually lose it and punch the next business-vernacular-wielding interviewee straight in the face (probably could have phrased that better).
    Good luck~
    P.S If you don’t mind, I’m going to use your example on my own blog (credited to you). I love it.

  2. missmba says:

    Thanks! Glad you liked the post. And of course, feel free to reference it in your blog. If you’d like to give me a link, even better!

  3. Anthony says:

    That is one of the funniest pieces I have read in a long time. Though I believe lawyers can take the cake in terms of confusing lingo any day!

  4. Vardan Kabra says:

    Loved the Post!
    Especially the Last Paragraph and the 10 Second Delay thing… 🙂

    • Sid says:

      This blog is hilarious! I write novels and studied a English Lit degree, but my previous work has all focused on accounts. I tried a Business degree at university and left after a few months due to the constant ‘biz talk’ that people used. I passed the maths and economics modules but couldn’t stand to be in the core Business classes as the whole environment grated on me! A few years have passed and I am now sneaking back into accounts training with a view to enter the field of business accounting later on. Reading your blog has given me a much needed kick up the butt – if you can get an MBA then I’m sure I can cope with the business language too!

  5. missmba says:

    Thanks Sid! And yes, I’m learning you can adapt to anything. But that doesn’t mean you have to talk like them. In fact, it’s better if you don’t! Good luck with your training!

  6. bezumnik says:

    I just googled “I hate business” out of pure frustration and this is where I ended up

  7. petergibbons says:

    hahaha i just googled “i hate business too” like the previous poster, WHILE im at work, loathing my job, and wanting to get out of business entirely. and i found your artice, great post!

    i hate buzz words and acronmyms that are supposed to get you pumped up about your job too 🙂

  8. jj says:

    I just finished an MBA too.. It was like pulling teeth. I agree with everything you say.. but having come from a hard science background I simply cannot talk the crap MBA’s do. It is not that the MBA speak is overcomplicated english.. its just that those saying it have no idea what they are actually saying. I found myself constantly disbelieving the textbooks. They just appeared to me to be works of half-fiction, with very little truth or fact. Its like most of them have been labotomized. I’ve never been around a bigger bunch of greedy but clueless people in my life. One word sums up MBA’s….. crap

  9. Marie says:

    Corporate “business speak” is used by incompetent schmucks who are ambitious but know the won’t get anywhere unless they use meaningless jargon.

  10. Eric says:

    My greatest pet peeves are “champions” without sports trophies, “coaches” without sports teams and “black belts” without martial arts skills. That said, I must hate myself because I am working on my green belt, and receiving coaching to become a champion in my current workplace.

    Another thing that irritates me is that much of the leadership in my workplace email using texting shortcuts.

  11. Joe says:

    I was looking why I hate Business.. ha ha ha.. I found this article. Good to hear this happening to most of them.

  12. chenqi says:

    Hi, this is Chenqi, present student in EMLYON Business School (France) and Munich University. I am organizing a TEDx talk in Lyon, France and i have great interest in your topic! Since im also study in business school and sometimes hate the feigned, pretending behavior and as well as complicated b-school language, i would be appreciate if i can talk to you about your idea with this topic. Here is my email address: pengchenqi83@gmail.com. Could you please contact me? Thanks a lot! Best, Chenqi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s