How to be Brilliantly Vague: Corporate Jargon Part 2

elephant_jargonI once had a professor who enjoyed incorporating unnecessarily lengthy words in his lectures. At first he sounded brilliant and I hung on his every really long word. Alas, this was a class in accounting rather than rhetoric, so it wasn’t long before my classmates and I began to notice that his eloquence was a tactic to cover up the fact that he wasn’t really saying anything at all. Thank goodness for grading on a curve.

What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was he was unknowingly teaching us how to leverage and decode a time-honored business practice we’d be faced with our entire lives – vagueness.

As you wander the halls of just about any workplace (or classroom), listen closely and you will hear the sounds of brilliantly vague buzzwords and catch phrases leaving the mouths of highly intelligent people – present company included. The I’ll-circle-backs, mission-criticals and key-learnings used to convey confidence and authority are often the best means of conversation avoidance. We believe one nebulous phrase equals one satisfied colleague. “She said she’d keep me in the loop on next steps. That girl is on top of it.”

Ambiguity is our way of not appearing flaky, or lazy, or just plain dumb. Here are a few of my favorites:

It’s just a trial = I’m sorta kinda sure this idea could be slightly awesome. If I’m right then I intend to take full credit, but if not I prefer not to be held accountable.

I’ll keep you looped in = Don’t call me, I’ll call you.

Let’s start with some brainstorming = I’m not really sure where I’m going with this yet but I’ve got a flip chart and some smelly markers so let’s get cracking.

I’m still hashing out the details = I assumed you all forgot about this so I stopped working on it.

We’ve elected to adopt some new best practices = This is someone else’s idea.

I was multitasking = I have no idea what you just said.

This will be a working session = I forgot about this meeting, so together we can do all the work that I was supposed to do in the first place.

FAQ, ROI, HQ, FYI, ASAP: If I throw in enough acronyms nobody will ask questions.

It’s in the approval phase: This is the corporate equivalent of “check’s in the mail.” Don’t hold your breath.

Whether it’s answering a question with a question or having a meeting about a meeting, we’ve all developed our own song-and-dance methods of saying absolutely nothing. Being evasive is an art form to be mastered. In fact, being vague and noncommittal is also a great way to avoid some of life’s sticky situations like awkward party invites or second dates.

Of course, many of us don’t tolerate vagueness. We cut through the fluff and demand “next steps” and “action items” and “follow through” – assuming we aren’t too busy multitasking to notice we’ve been duped.

Have you ever been sort of slightly almost guilty of saying a little bit of nothing?

Related posts:
People are Flakes
Little Bo Peep Was Multitasking
Stop Eating My Low Hanging Fruit – Corporate Jargon Part 1

About WhiteElephantInTheRoom

I'm an 80s music lover, traveling junkie, mac & cheese connoisseur, amateur wine snob, party-planning priestess and Chicago transplant living in Southern California. I find adventure in the everyday and have a unending compulsion to write about it. Hope you enjoy reading my mind!
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34 Responses to How to be Brilliantly Vague: Corporate Jargon Part 2

  1. traciegila says:

    In short, yes. I am guilty. I am a teacher. I not only create my own distractions for students (and even other teachers- ‘yes, I was just emailing that to you’ *searches for file in desk draw but gets distracted when finds an old muesli bar and brand new pen*) but I also need to be on the ball when it comes to cutting the ‘the dog ate my homework’ talk. My favourite weapon at school (against students) is ‘too bad, so sad’; it is like the equivalent to the famous ‘Friends’ quote: ‘and the word we’re looking for is anyway…’ or the ‘moving right along’.

    Wow, I just said…nothing!

  2. Quinn says:

    Totally guilty.

  3. Pingback: How to be Brilliantly Vague: Corporate Jargon Part 2 | Tidbits & Treasures

  4. FYIi: I’ll keep you in the loop about what I think. I was multitasking when I read this. I’ll tell you what I thought but, it’s really just a trial answer. Just kidding! Enjoyed this article. Fun and great insight. Thanks.

  5. markabsher says:

    Reblogged this on Mark Absher and commented:
    You will certainly enjoy Part 2! Don’t forget to check out Part 1!

  6. pfstare says:

    It’s a perfect way to cover up that you have NO IDEA what you’re doing. I once worked with someone like this and quickly realised that he never achieved anything but had just got very good at talking about it.

  7. Meredith says:

    Great post! I do this all the time…..Since moving to Sweden I’ve found it’s a lot harder to talk about nothing. The Swedish language is just more direct in general, I think. (But I have figured out a few tricks) (; However, the Swedes have mastered the art of a meeting about nothing. It is a skill.

  8. In short, this is the whole point of a degree in English – to be vague, and to say things in enough different ways to fill up ten pages. And everybody knows what you’re doing, but your teachers, they’re English folks too, so they never grade you down for it. Honestly, it’s a great life skill to have, somehow.

  9. I can honestly say I have not done any of this…. in the past 30 minutes. BUt I’ve done looped in, hashing out, and multitasking all since yesterday afternoon.

  10. This post could be true for teachers or even friends. I have had teachers do this but more so with friends. They will tell you to call them to hang out later, but instead you either get a text back saying “idk whats going on” or “I’m just going to stay in”. It’s like pulling teeth to try and find something to do with them, and they’re the ones that asked to hang out. Vagueness is an art that most people need to learn but never understand.

    • Oh yes. When a friend wants to break plans they never go for the straight “I’m just not feeling it.” It tends to be a convoluted “I couldn’t sleep last night and then I was out all morning and then I ate this bad shrimp and then my mom called and asked me to mow the lawn and,,,”

  11. Great Post – ha! I love a great meeting about a meeting. Then there is the never ending e-mails back and forth that end up in a phone call and then end up just meeting in person to hash out the never ending e-mail that has no point to it at all. Happy Thursday:)

  12. Tell me about it! I work in the British NHS…and managers have meetings all day when they just talk in NHS language, just to confuse the clinical staff who have their own jargonese just to confuse the managers!

    Love Denise

  13. sixmoreweeks says:

    Meetings about meetings are the worst!

  14. nathanjedi says:

    “We’re working on a similar project already”: We are already paying somebody to do the exact same thing you suggested, so please go away. Please.

  15. jayceeling says:

    Hahaha I’m a debater and I can totally relate! We always say a whole bunch of stuff that doesn’t really mean anything.
    “My opponent states that utilitarianism is the best way to measure the morality of this action, however, this is completely false. Utilitarianism is not a moral theory because it allows punishment of the innocent for the sake of the group.” = My opponent is an idiot. Vote me.

  16. PourMeAMilk says:

    LOL. I love the, “I was multitasking,” translation. Totally true. Guilty!

  17. My favorite always was ‘the paradigm is shifting’……that stuck out to me as one of the most powerful uses of absolute nothing I’ve heard. Great post – love that you tackled this subject.

  18. kitchenmudge says:

    Thank you for these additions to the lexicon. Some are really new to me. I’ve been pointing people toward for business jargon, but there’s so much it doesn’t cover.

  19. Brian says:

    Well said 🙂

    Reminds me of Root Cause Analysis.

  20. Pingback: Jargon Gone Stale – janetkwest

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