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Buzzwords Are Disposable, Human Beings Are Not

Buzzwords Are Disposable, Human Beings Are Not

European Honey Bee Touching Down by autan.

    Photo by autan

    Every month, there are new business books on the market promising “secrets & insights” into “exciting change” which is happening… right now! They often use curiosity-baiting phrases like “Learn how [BUZZWORD] is transforming the way we communicate” or “Use the power of [ANOTHER BUZZWORD] to engage your customers”.

    Buzzwords include but aren’t limited to “Web 2.0”, “virtual worlds”, and just about anything with “social” and “media” in them — “social media”, “social networks”, and “rich media” are fair game. If you’re smiling after reading that sentence, then you already know how true this is.

    Buzzwords used badly

    Just like delicious food is gladly eaten and digested before being excreted, buzzwords get used up. They even get turned into silly games, like Buzzword Bingo. The importance of realizing this is: absolutely avoiding buzzwords is foolish and impractical. It limits your ability to relate to others, since many people, including some of your colleagues, do jump buzzword bandwagons. You can’t escape buzzwords if you want to make progress in a modern work environment. A better approach: control the words, use them meaningfully, and don’t insert them as vapid filler.

    “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” –Philip K. Dick, awesome sci-fi author

    Buzzwords repackage classic notions in new forms

    Ever since our ancestors hunted in the wilderness instead of making a trip to the supermarket, we’ve been telling stories. Whether scribbled on papyrus or streamed via YouTube, we also love to share those stories — and the same stories keep being retold with contemporary twists. Why? First, because the core principles work well and have stood the test of time (otherwise those stories wouldn’t continue to be popular). Second, while you may have heard your fair share of stories, there are plenty of people who haven’t, and marketers and others reach out to them, hoping to fill their mindshare (buzzword!) before competitors can. Which is why even though you may be annoyed by the 100th airing of an ad, there are going to be many people who’ve never seen/heard it before.

    Seth Godin Rides A Unicorn by zoomar.

      Photo by zoomar

      Seth Godin (pictured as action figure above) is a master of stating the obvious when it’s welcome, with unparalleled clarity and simplicity. This is why he’s so popular; try as you might to rearrange what he’s saying, it always comes back to the core principles, which he presents better than 99% of everyone out there. I’m a fan of his teachings, and it’s no surprise he makes a big deal about storytelling in All Marketers Are Liars:

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      Everyone is a liar. We tell ourselves stories because we’re superstitious. Stories are shortcuts we use because we’re too overwhelmed by data to discover all the details. The stories we tell ourselves are lies that make it far easier to live in a very complicated world.”

      Just as humans learn from their mistakes, adapt to improve, and pass lessons onto the next generation, part of what we’re continuing to spread are stories, an easy way of transmitting ideas. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to describe these shareable thoughts, but I bet he never foresaw it being used to spawn cumulative successions of lolcats and “Chocolate Rain” parodies, pillars of user-generated, community-created content (OMG buzzword!).

      So why do buzzwords keep bursting to the front?

      Since stories facilitate transmitting ideas, they serve as a memory aid. A popular mnemonic technique for remembering foreign words is to make up a story. For example, take the French word for grapefruit, “pamplemousse“. Now, visualize this in your mind’s eye: a moose with a grapefruit-sized pimple. Vividly picture the moose wailing out in pain and charging towards the doctor’s office (or whatever it is adolescent moose do when they have bad acne). Did that help you remember it? I think so! And while it wasn’t À la recherche du temps perdu, it was nevertheless a little story.

      Memory plays into the big picture here, because buzzwords are often tethered to the zeitgeist — what’s happening now. As human beings, we have emotions. We also forget things, which messes with our emotions, and makes us see ex-relationships as being more attractive, while selectively forgetting why we broke up in the first place. And in repeating an experience multiple times, we become desensitized to them — do you remember the first time you ever surfed the World Wide Web compared to how you feel about it now? I confess I don’t gawk in amazement daily like my initial stretch of weeks trying out NCSA Mosaic and waiting minutes for animated GIFs to download on my 14.4k modem — and boy, that Virtual Louvre was really something! But if I lock myself in a quiet room and really, really think of my first time on the Web intensely, I can almost feel waves, echoes of those initial moments.

      The same is true for many human experiences. Buzzwords in context often reference our past and graft it with a new lingual sheen — look closely at the Holden Efijy concept car: eye-catching with its plum coat…


        Photo by Ian Muttoo

        … and inspired by the original Holden FJ.

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          Photo by Liam Ryan

          Long story short, like cars paying homage to retro designs, buzzwords attract because they mix novelty with familiarity. Buzzwords help us to cope with “accelerating change” (arguably a buzzword!) by blending the old with the new, making the past not just more perceptually exciting, but marketable as well. Otherwise, we’d be in passive danger of (1) being bored and not caring or (2) being wayyyy too excitable and not well-grounded.

          Humans don’t change, humankind does

          Some things about us are fundamentally the same and will be for a long time, unless we reach the Singularity sooner than expected. For effective purposes, we can consider our core principles as “permanent”, as far back as we can recall.

          We love to be loved. When we find delight, we often share it with others. We’re anxious and insecure (and have a hard time expressing this) and express dislike of fellow humans more often than we should. In exchange, we try to celebrate our “unity” as a species, or what we think it should be — like the Olympic Games. Even as the media morphs throughout time and we find new ways of crafting stories, ideas — buzzwords being a specific variant — continue to be sprouted. We will, sadly, often fight about the words framing those ideas from each of our limited worldviews, instead of joining forces to advance what is infact the same idea seen in different ways.

          I liken it to observers seated in a circle around a magnificent sculpture which looks different at every viewpoint. No one person sees the whole sculpture, merely a fraction of angles. You an either choose to dispute that your view is the best and (incorrectly) represents the whole sculpture. Or, you can draw your part, encourage others to do the same, and everyone contributes to the whole vision. What will you choose?

          You gotta see through the crap

          A notable, buzzword-laden book is Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. It’s intriguing how books with similar titles like Clear Blogging: How People Blogging Are Changing the World and How You Can Join Them and Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies have appeared, reinforcing what I said about the same idea seen in different ways. (And scroll back to the first paragraph if you’re still laughing.)

          I believe the ideas within are smart ones to spread. But those titles are perfect examples of how to gussy up “the same old” in a new dress.

          When we lived in caves, we literally often had “naked & clear conversations”. Sheer survival was prized above diplomatic wording and textural embellishment (“political correctness” and “spin” to some). Today’s story has different priorities but the same core principles: “blog” is a contraction of “weblog”, which in turn is a glorified way to say “I have a diary/journal on the Internet”. Which makes me think of teenage girls writing “dear diary”, except it’s an open book. If they’re earnest about it, then that makes it naked, clear — or transparent (buzzword!).

          With that understood, the big idea here (imagine me growling this like a Neanderthal) is:

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          HUMANS BE HUMAN BEINGS! NO CRAP!

          And the contemporary twist:

          HUMANS USE MACHINES TO BE MORE HUMAN!

          Not surprising, but people need to be reminded. It’s something you’ll hear over and over, and which you may’ve heard related to in a fairy tale called “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

          Buzzwords used badly (Vol. II)

          Like those non-existent clothes on the pretentious Emperor, don’t be fooled by what’s not actually there: words themselves are a liquid currency subject to much semantic argument, and a simple principle I recommend is to “sanity-check” yourself that there’s actually substance behind what you’re saying or being told, and that you aren’t deep in mental feces (wish it was a buzzword but I’m ‘fraid it won’t catch on) like the Emperor was.

          Buzzwords used emptily are wasteful slop to chop: if mention of a word isn’t going to get you ahead, don’t use it. Instead of technobabble and abstract vaguery, pick a more understandable word. Respect Hemingway.

          “Web 2.0” is one of the worst offenders, because 1000s of people have their own conflicting definitions of what it is, and then butt heads when using it, because they never agreed to begin with. Of amusing note at the top of that wikiality (another buzzword!) is:

          ALERT: Web 1.0 is inheritently (sic) different from Web 2.0! Why does this redirect?

          Maybe it’s because they’re more similar than some would have us believe. Distinguishable, like bands of color on a rainbow, yet contiguous. :)

          Somewhere over the rainbow by you.

            Photo by Torley (me) showing virtual world (

            buzzword!Second Life

            Another horrendous-yet-hilarious example of word wars are the arguments concerning 100s of electronic music styles, which you can hear in Ishkur’s guide (I’m still waiting for him to release version 3). If you’ve ever been in “the scene” as I have, it’s both embarrassing and shameful to hear two technosnobs get into a verbal brawl over whether a piece of music is “trance”, “progressive house”, or “minimal melodic techno”. I often say, “If it’s a wonderful track, then it’s all of those… and even maybe more.” That counterintuitively tends to confound, and immediately identifies limited, not-seeing-the-whole-rainbow thinking in others.

            My simple, ongoing approach to buzzwords calls for dynamic balance: allow words to lead you to new places. Remember, buzzwords are disposable: some have great longevity, but the majority are going to fade. “Horseless carriage” was a buzzword back in its time, and see how far we’ve come with our cars like that Efijy?

            Lastly, never forget: the “buzz” in “buzzword” comes from bees. Bees fly from flower to flower, pollinating and spreading what they carry as they go on. They don’t stay still, and neither should you.

            Buzz on!

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            Published on May 18, 2021

            How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

            How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

            We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

            The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

            Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

            Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

            Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

            There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

            Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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            Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

            We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

            Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

            A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

            The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

            Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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            Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

            Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

            Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

            While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

            Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

            These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

            Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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            Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

            Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

            Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

            Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

            Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

            Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

            As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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            This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

            Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

            Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

            These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

            Actions Speak Louder Than Words

            Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

            Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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            Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

            More Tips Improving Listening Skills

            Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

            Reference

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