Why you need to eliminate management speak

You are killing your ability to communicate
John McLachlan
A woman makes a speech

A simple Google search will present you with the most annoying management speak language. Whether you are ‘circling back’, ‘keeping in the loop’ or going after ‘low hanging fruit’, it seems that whilst we joke about management speak, a lot of leaders and managers still use it. The reason management speak words are so tempting to continue using is understandable. They form a recognised shorthand which when you are engaging in time pressured environments, can seem to be more efficient. Additionally, they can make people feel like they fit in better in the culture. A bit like the in-jokes you have with your friends, management speak makes you feel more comfortable and part of the in crowd. But it’s for all these reasons that you should consider eliminating management speak from your language today.

The problem with management speak

There are two main issues with management speak, and it makes it the enemy of professional communication. Firstly, the terms can mean so many things, it is easy to jump to conclusions or make assumptions. If someone suggests we need ‘boots on the ground’ what do they actually mean? Do we need some additional people in the office, or more people on this project or selected people more closely involved in something. When people blindly act on such instructions, it’s very easy for that misinterpretation to escalate so that the end result is nothing like what was originally intended.

The second problem is that of inclusion. Many leaders are trying to build more inclusive workplaces, but the use of management speak excludes people who don’t understand these vague and generally meaningless statements. We’ve worked with people who’ve been in businesses ten years without understanding some of the management speak terms that are used - and now they are too ashamed to ask. If you want to build a more inclusive and open working environment, your language and communication needs to be clear. You can’t expect people to guess or make it up.

The confusion and misunderstandings, coupled with the detrimental affect on teams and working relationship means that using management speak is just not worth it.

What to do instead

Think about the terms commonly used in your organisation and look up their meanings. This can be quite revealing when you discover that a term you’ve been using for years doesn’t really mean what you think it did. Use a synonym search to put together alternatives that explain clearly what you would like to have happen. For example, the term ’synergy’ is a common management buzzword people find both annoying and confusing. Some of the synonyms of that word are partnership, collaboration, coordination, unity and teamwork. These all mean very different things. If you want people to collaborate on a project, explain how they can do that. If you want unity, tell people what that looks like in your view.

Challenge people who use management speak, ask them to explain what they mean by breaking down the language. If someone tells you ‘We need to comms this’, ask what specifically they are thinking should be communicated to whom and in what format? This both helps to build a clearer understanding of what they are saying but it also reveals where there are potential gaps in the plan or something that needs to be thought through. If people are asked to explain their management buzzwords more clearly they will use them less. This is particularly important if you are a leader as it sets an example that you value clarity.

If you want to be a good leader or manager, your communication style is really your secret weapon. If you buy into the management speak club, you will not get the results you want nor will you bring people along. Instead invest in your skills and get clear and specific - and encourage others to do the same.


John McLachlan is co-author of ‘Real Leaders: a practical guide to the essential qualities of effective leadership’ and co-founder of Monkey Puzzle Training & Consultancy, a leadership development and organisational design consultancy working with business leaders to help align teams, support innovation, build sustainable organisations and develop exceptional people who are better able to achieve results - giving leaders more time to do what they do best. www.monkeypuzzletraining.co.uk

Written by
John McLachlan
June 28, 2023