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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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            Last Updated on May 21, 2019

            How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

            How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

            For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

            If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

            Example 1

            You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

            You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

            In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

            Example 2

            You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

            People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

            You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

            Example 3

            You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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            The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

            Example 4

            You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

            Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

            If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

            Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

            • Understand your own communication style
            • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
            • Communicate with precision and care
            • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

            1. Understand Your Communication Style

            To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

            In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

            Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

            2. Learn Others Communication Styles

            Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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            If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

            “How do you prefer to receive information?”

            This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

            To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

            3. Exercise Precision and Care

            A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

            On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

            Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

            I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

            I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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            In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

            The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

            Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

            4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

            Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

            In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

            “Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

            Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

            Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

            It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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            It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

            It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

            Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

            Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

            The Bottom Line

            When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

            I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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            Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

            Reference

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