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The Official Dictionary of Management Speak and Office Jargon

  Have you ever just wished for once, just once, you could know how loud you are when you blow your nose? Seriously, it’s like one of life’s little mysteries. You’ll never be able to know how obnoxious (or blissful????) your nose-blowing could sound. And for self-conscious people like myself, the lack of knowledge I have about my nose-blowing means that I’m resigned to forever keep running to the bathroom to blow my nose. Now I’m pretty sure that when other people blow their noses, I barely notice and it’s quite inoffensive. However I’m almost certain that when I blow my nose, it’s so loud it echoes. [I feel like this topic was the subject of an entire ‘QI’ episode…and if it hasn’t been they really should consider it…I think it has the perfect combination of information, hilarity and useless anecdote].

This is the type of shit that I get caught out thinking whilst people are talking to me at work. I’d like to think that I’m an active listener, but that was really before I discovered that ‘active listening’ involved listening and NOT making ‘listening action poses’ like below:

Listening pose

Herrow? I’m listening. Can’t you see that I’m actively listening?

Anyway the other key reason that I have this tendency to tune out when I’m meant to be listening intently in meetings is because I don’t really understand what’s being said. And no, not in that “you should ask more questions so you do understand” kind of way, more in the “I have no fucking idea what you just said because you said it all in buzzwords and management speak which is not a language I’m fluent in”. Now I’m weary that I’ve probably been guilty of speaking in Corporate Speak many-a-time, but what can I say, when it’s your second language the best way to learn is to practice. You may be learning to speak Chinese in your off-time, but I’m just learning to understand my colleagues at work.

Admittedly this language barrier has been heightened since I’ve moved into the tech space. Fuck even “tech” is a word I don’t really understand…I mean I understand “tech” is shorthand, but wouldn’t it be so much cooler to be able to say “I work in tech-no-lo-gy” in a computer voice? So much cooler.

Anyway to assist me with my Corporate Language classes, I’ve compiled a dictionary of words that I’m not sure I understand the actual meaning of [conveniently arranged in non-alphabetical order…unlike a wanky dictionary…watch out Oxford Dictionary, me and my random word dictionary are coming for you!]. Definitions and any assistance would be appreciated:

  • Go to market strategy: “Have you determined your ‘go to market’ strategy?”…Hmm go to market strategy? Ummm yeah sure, I will take my shopping trolley and car and then drive to the market and pick up some fruit and veggies. That’s my ‘go to market’ strategy. I hate that we’ve arrived in a world where you apparently cannot do anything without a ‘go to market strategy’. Evidently it’s impossible that you could have a proper launch plan for anything you may be executing but just not call it a ‘go to market strategy’…without that tag, you’re not going anywhere.
  • Back of the envelope: This is a classic investment banking line that has now infiltrated it’s way into the world of corporate. It’s often used in the context of “don’t go overboard on this analysis, just something back of the envelope is fine” and then almost ALWAYS followed up with roughly 800 questions which need to be answered by your ‘quick and dirty’ ‘back of the envelope’ calculation. And what size envelope are we talking? The back of a standard sized A4 envelope is not going to be enough to answer all of your questions. You might mean one of those giant cylindrical A5 poster holders, as your ‘back of the envelope’. You know the ones which you would buy to take your school projects to school then be annoyed that the poster comes out all curly.
  • Start-up: The most over-used word in the English language right at this very moment. Everything’s a fucking ‘start-up’. It’s so fucking annoying and so difficult to understand what’s an entrepreneur, what’s a new business and what the fuck is a ‘start-up’. Seriously you could rob your mother of her precious heirloom jewellery against her will and sell it online and people will praise you for it being an “amazing and innovative start-up”. ‘Start-up’ also has a sense that the business has a time limit on it – as in if the founder turns 35, it’s no longer a ‘start-up’ it’s just a new business. All sorts of innovation and entrepreneurialism should be praised and ‘start-up’ just doesn’t do justice to what some people are doing.
  • Disruptive: This is a little chestnut that that I like to throw into presentations to management at random. It’s amazing to watch their reaction – one mention that an idea is “disruptive” and suddenly the idea transforms from being just another option which probably gets thrown to the waste heap, to suddenly having dedicated resources being allocated to it. Seriously try it. ‘Disruptive’ is particularly difficult for me to understand because I grew up being told that Disruptive = Bad and “Arani is very disruptive to herself, fellow students and school property. Have you considered home-schooling her?”
  • Pain Points: Fucking Pain Points. The most cop out way to highlight the problems of a situation. Rather than just getting down to what the key issues/hurdles are to making sure something gets done, we describe them as ‘pain points’. Because no one wants to hear negative news, particularly when it involves highlighting the fact that someone might have made a bad decision. Why the fuck do we have to skirt around problems in business? Why can’t a business leader just be like “fuck, my bad, now let’s see how we fix this”. No instead, he needs his 5,000 fucking consultant-Powerpoint zombies under him to create 65 iterations of a “Pain points” slide that says things like “we face multiple external pain points such as currency movements, the crisis in Greece, my underwear being too tight”, and then he then takes this slide to his Board, who then go “ooh ahhhh (at all the pretty colours), that makes sense, poor CEO, let’s pay you more”….plus I fucking hate alliterations.
  • Unpack It: “Let’s unpack that problem”…oh really? Unpack this problem? Why don’t I fucking unpack your face in this rubbish bin. Seriously problems aren’t ‘unpacked’, they’re discussed, explored, debated, solved, not fucking ‘unpacked’. Unpacking should be reserved for what I should be doing with the box of pots and pans that have been sitting in the cupboard in my kitchen for the last 8 months [to be fair I figured putting them in the actual cupboard, even if they were still in a box was a big achievement].
  •  Pivot: So in my world a ‘pivot’ is the foot that you can’t lift up when playing netball, and everyone else needs to be at least 3 feet away from you whilst you have the ball. So in the work context, when people start saying “we should pivot and try this approach”, it’s really confusing…especially when people say it and then are fine when others in the meeting don’t step away from you to be at least 3 feet and put their arms up.
  • Bandwidth: This term is bandied about [lol pun totally intended] to just euphemistically say that you can’t be fucked doing that work. Ie. “I just don’t have bandwidth / capacity to take this on” or “the bandwidth of the team is really stretched at the moment”. For some reason, all I can imagine is my entire team being forced into a giant rubber band and stretching it as far as possible then turning around to whoever it might be requesting work and saying in unison “sorry we’re just stretched”. It also doesn’t help that ‘bandwidth’ is also some measurement mechanism for cables. I mean you might as well say “sorry I just don’t’ have bandwidth at the moment, the fucking shit NBN doesn’t reach me yet…go talk to Malcolm” 
  • Double down: Usually comes after you’ve done 5,000 months of analytical research into a particular problem, your manager will then identify a useless part of the research and says, “this is really important, I think we need to double down on this”. Now this would be awesome news if by ‘double down’ they mean ‘go to KFC and order yourself the deliciousness that is a Double Down burger, however it doesn’t. Instead it took me a long time to realise that ‘double down’ in this context actually means ‘do double the amount of work to help me realise that I have no clue and should’ve listened to your initial first response…and that I should learn the true meaning of colloquial terms before just throwing them out there’. 
  • Deep dive: As if one double D alliteration wasn’t enough, we have to also talk about doing a “deep dive” into certain areas of a problem. The more I think about it, the more I realise its basically the same as “doubling down”- that is pass me my scuba suit because I’m going down into the Mariana Trench of doing more countless hours of useless work all in the hope that I may give my superior ‘more comfort’….why I just couldn’t’ give them a hug rather than sheets of data in excel I just don’t understand). 
  • Size of the prize: Again classing this one in the “I fucking hate alliterations and rhyming’ bucket. Just because a phrase rhymes does not make more important, especially in a business context. Asking me to determine the ‘size of the prize’ for strategic purposes just makes it sound like you’ve given me a jar of jelly beans and asked me to guess how many there are in there…which is pretty much the same as trying to forecast the ‘size of the prize’ in strategy work. 
  • Reach out: “Hey Arani, could you just reach out to [insert some really fucking annoying person that the requestor doesn’t want to have to deal with]?” Why not just say exactly what you want? Call. Email. Whatever the fucking type of communication you want me to use, just say that. What the fuck is ‘reaching out’? ‘Reaching out’ should be reserved for what you do when canapés are being served and your body needs to stay facing the conversation you’re in, but your arm has to enter ‘Go-Go-Gadget mode’ and reach through the group of vultures circling the waiter to get an arancini ball. 
  • Let’s take this offline: Easily my favourite. You’re in a meeting, and it’s all going swimmingly. Someone makes some stupid comment, another person makes another random comment…who really knows what this meeting is about. Then BOOM! Someone is a bit unprepared on random comment, and gets handed the executioner’s last words… “let’s take this offline”. Basically in my book, if you get told “let’s take this offline” that’s basically code for saying “I don’t want to rip you a new arsehole in front of all these nice people making useless comments, but allow me to take you into my basement / True Detective-esque lair with weird twiggy things so that I can fucking rip you to shreds for not doing my work”. Ahhh that look of sheer horror on the recipient’s face is priceless.

 So that’s the start of my Management Speak Dictionary [the most useless dictionary in the world]. I look forward to the day that I can finally understand Corporate Speak, and maybe understand my manager and colleagues at work. Until that day, I’ll continue to do what I always do: stare blankly at instructions, nod then proceed to adopt the attitude of an American tourist in Asia and speak REEEEAAAALLLLY SLOOOOWWWWLY and LOOOUUUDER in case it helps them understand me a bit better.


About Arani Satgunaseelan (78 Articles)
Corporate nerd. Wannabe blogger.

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