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“Moving The Needle” And Three Better Reasons To Drop Consultant-Speak

There are probably particular phrases that bug you. For the longest time, my least favorite thing was seeing signs that read, “ATM Machine.” Oh, really? An automated teller machine machine? Petty and minor? Yes, of course.

Then there are phrases that get used in business that drive me nuts. You’ve heard them all at some point. You may have played buzzword bingo at some point (I’ve blacked out my card, before). And you’ve probably heard all of the posts and tweets about why using these types of phrases are bad.

At the end of the day, using consultant-speak really doesn’t move the needle.


Unfortunately, I don’t know too many people that can swear off the buzzwords completely. There are some really legitimate reasons to at least keep them to a minimum though.

You’re a screaming weasel

It’s no coincidence that these words come out during the most inopportune time: when asking tough questions, especially when it comes to specifics or accountability. When you have your back against the wall on a question that you don’t know the answer to or that you’re not sure will work, the easiest path to take is to use consultant-speak to obscure it enough to cover your ass.

How to fix it?

If you don’t know or are unsure about an aspect of a question or discussion, say what you’re sure of first and then say what you’re unsure of along with, if appropriate, a guess. Here’s a clue: if you just used the term “mind share,” back up and come clean. You don’t know and everyone else already knows.

It doesn’t set clear expectations

Moving the needle means something different to everyone. Increasing placements by 5%? That means the same to everyone. Now, of course, if you’re in a position where clear expectations are the last thing you need, you might be tempted to do it anyway. Putting something absolute out there is more risky but infinitely more rewarding.

How to fix it?

Can’t give an exact number? Give a range. Or a direction. Or literally anything other than “making an impact.” That means nothing to anybody.

Your contributions will be seen as useless

Other than when I am listening to it specifically, I can’t tell you the last time I heard a buzzword in conversation (probably when talking to a PR person or someone with a new product). I can’t tell you when I heard it last because they never make a lasting impression on me. When someone speaks in buzzwords, they have no impact in the minds of their listeners. If you’re on a conference call, the first time you let out “bucketize” in conversation, the audience is scampering to their e-mail’s, tweets, and literally anything else.

How to fix it?

Think about what you take away from conversations you have with people: progress, numbers, status updates and other things applicable to your work. It doesn’t have to be all that you talk about but you’ll want to be hitting those sorts of ideas regularly.

I know I’m not perfect here. Neither are you. How do you keep the buzzwords at bay?

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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