Buzzword Bingo: When Words Get in the Way

Cut the crap. Stop using buzzwords. Say what you mean, not what feels fancy. Distract with your words, and they won’t hear your message.

Leaders use buzzwords to …

  • mask insecurity
  • sound like leaders because they worry that they aren’t)
  • enhance credibility
  • as a substitute for substance
  • fill space
  • distract
  • feed their buzzword habit

I’m working to “peel back the onion” in this “value-added” post on my “world-class” blog by taking a “60,000 foot” look at buzzwords. Yuck.

Buzzwords Backfire

Buzzwords backfire. Real leaders don’t sound like everyone else.

True story

The meeting was only a few hours in and someone texted “bingo.” A wave of silent smirks circled the conference room. Texts of laughter. The team was playing Buzzword Bingo (see link, I hadn’t heard of it either)  at the expense of a leader. It’s a terrible game. Don’t play it. But it’s a sign.

Be yourself. Speak from your heart. Tell your truth. Find your own best words.

2 Ways to Crack the Buzzword Habit

Don’t tempt your team to create their own game. Create meaning not schmaltz.

1. Be Clear

  • Identify key messages
  • Pause before spewing
  • Find unique alternative phrases

2. Be aware

  • Make your own card, and play against yourself
  • Record and listen
  • Ask a friend
  • Be yourself
Posted in Authenticity & Transparency and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Karin,

    This is a very interesting topic. I think that many budding leaders develop the buzzword habit by emulating others – inlcuding senior leaders they are modeling – who have the habit themselves. A closely related problem is an overreliance on wordy euphemisms (“I don’t disagree with you, but…” as a preface to an equivocal agreement).

    Your advice is sound. Recording yourself is an excellent way to hear yourself as others do, and is a technique I use with my students and clients.

    I also recommend that leaders take a close look at how they communicate in writing with an eye on avoiding buzzwors there, too, while also learning to communicate their ideas clearly in an few words as possible.

  2. Hi Karin – As evidenced in the “words matter” section of the Clarity chapter in my book, The Outstanding Organization, I share your passion for using simple, clear language to reduce ambiguity and exclusionary tactics. That said, I think we need to carefully discern between truly accurate terms and buzz words. For example, value-adding is often reduced to a “buzz word” by those who don’t understand what it truly means. In this case, it’s not merely consultant-speak” to impress others, I challenge anyone to come up with a more accurate term to convey what value-adding truly means.

    Buzz words are indeed unhelpful. Let’s just make sure we’re not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” with this one.

  3. People walk around trying to be something that they’re not.

    Vocabulary that doesn’t suit you will look like a suit that doesn’t fit.

    Screams Inauthenticity.

  4. I rarely comment, however i did a few searching and wound up here Buzzword Bingo:
    When Words Get in the Way. And I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be only me or does it seem like some of these responses look as if they are coming from brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are writing at additional social sites, I would like to keep up with everything fresh you have to post. Would you list of every one of your shared pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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