Mind your language - beware of the lingo bingo

  • By Anindita on 10 Aug 2015
  • Diversity & Inclusion

In our work as consultants, we get a chance to connect and work closely with different organizations. Aside from the work being done, this connection gives us an opportunity to gain insights into some of the unique as well as peculiar characteristics of these organizations. One such interesting insight comes from observing the lingo used in the company.  

Let’s look at some examples:   

"The contract looks good, but I'll have to triangulate it with Swamy before we can move forward."

"I'll just let that one marinate… Catch you on the circle back tomorrow am." 

(I particularly like this one…"Last month they bangalored our entire tech support department”) 

Source: http://sadhillnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/dilbert-buzzword-bingo.jpg

Have you ever wondered how words like traction, mitigate, ecosystem, leverage, due diligence or concessionaire and many others have seeped into our vocabulary at work? These are used nineteen to a dozen in corporate lingo, while these are not often used day to day words. My distant memory of these words are with the spelling tests in school or word list for MBA entrance exam.

Language has always been one of the most visible (or rather audible!) string that connects cultures. Language also continues to be one of the key barriers in working across diverse groups. But then, knowing the same language, say English, is by no means a guarantee that one will be able to jump the language hurdle with ease when in another English speaking location. In fact, today in corporates, people seem to speak in a language that is their own, with little familiarity with the English that we know. 

How do these corporate lingos get formed?  

To look at a very simple recipe for this, one needs to start with the generous serving of the chairman or CEO’s pet words. To this add a handful of MBA jargons and season it with a jest of acronyms. (My apologies for the kitchen language, but watching back to back recorded episodes of Masterchef Australia before sitting to write this piece is definitely having an influence on me!) 

There are obvious benefits of having a corporate lingo specific to your organization. It is a common thread that binds all people together. It creates that camaraderie between members where they relate to each other through this common code of communication. It helps to build rapport. In fact, as a trainer, I do take advantage of this corporate lingo while preparing for a workshop. I list down a set of lingo that the participants tend to use (which I gather during my customization meetings). Then during the workshop, I make it a point to use these terms wherever required. This actually helps to build rapport with the group. It also makes the transition from an outsider to an outsider-insider much easier. 

But is this lingo always positive for the company? Are their instances where the use of corporate lingo creates non-inclusion? Let’s look at some such instances: 

When new members join the company, it takes a while for them to get comfortable with this lingo. I do not have research data to support my point, but I think an organization with very high use of their unique lingo are likely to be workplaces where it takes more time for a newcomer to feel a part of the in-group.
Even when we look within an organization, there may be different lingo spread across different sections of the organization. Sometimes the lingo at corporate office and plant is different. Sometimes, the lingo used by sales and marketing is different. These can create non-inclusion between the groups
No organization works in a vacuum. They are catering to customers, consumers, vendors and others who are based outside the organization. As the internal language becomes more specialized, there is a danger of this language disconnecting them from the outside environment.  
To give an example, when companies talk about “We’ve got to increase our mind-share with the customer” – this may be better achieved if the company can articulate it more simply.   

When organizations and customers are speaking in different languages, then it becomes increasingly more difficult for one to empathize or gather insights from the other.

A good test to check our reliance on corporate lingo in communication is to check how many times in a day we using words that are unnecessarily complicated. To be able to explain a simple concept simply is probably a very complex job today.

Another test is to listen to our communication at home – are we carrying home these big words? Are you getting puzzled expression from your family members from time to time? Then Beware! Excessive use of corporate lingo comes with a warning.

Excessive use of corporate lingo can create a robotic language. To avoid that, we need to nurture in self and others the ability to talk and think (or more appropriately, think and talk) about our problems or issues simply. Otherwise, the essence of the communication will be lost and so will our chances of including or influencing the person at the other end.

About the Author

Dr. Anindita Banerjee - Practice Head (Diversity & Inclusion)

Anindita has a master’s in Mathematics as well as business administration. She has over ten years of corporate training and consulting experience. She completed her Ph. D in cross cultural management from BITS Pilani. At Renaissance Anindita leads the Diversity practice. Anindita (a.k.a oni) loves traveling and immersing in different cultures, especially in cuisines.

Linkedin: https://in.linkedin.com/in/banerjeeanindita