Two Overused Words in the Business Lexicon

Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz in his new book Onward:  How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul addressess the dynamic role of an executive in the success of a company.  In this case, a company that saw a remarkable and profitable run and then because of amazing growth and lack of passion by the management and associates they forgot how they got there.

The question I have for Howard and the rest of the business community is haven’t we had more than enough passion?  You can’t help but find the word everywhere in today’s business lexicon.  How much passion can a person have for his career? 

Passion is defined as: any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate; a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiam, or desire for anything.  Really, are you that passionate about coffee?  A compelling emotion?

This isn’t the first time and probably far from the last for the business community to overwhelm it’s conversation with such a term.  Those of us who have been around for awhile remember such overused terms as: cognitive dissonance and compelling.  Those terms have come and gone and probably will be back in again in the next generational shift.

Initially, these key phrases can provide a new emphasis or color to a conversation but as in any turn of phrase, especially taboo words (the F word is a great example), you lose the intensity or true flavor of the word when they are abused.

Let’s be honest – we certainly can be passionate about our family, or spouse – but a life and death feeling about coffee?  I would hope not!  When you are in job search mode, you definitely want to give the impression that you are interested in the potential business and that you are a true experiential candidate for the job but I wouldn’t incorporate such words as passionate into my “sell speech”.  First of all it is overused – second, a good interviewer may question your work/life balance paradigm.

When dealing with a client or prospective employer, your track record is the selling point and not your choice of descriptors.  If people are comfortable with your talents and your experience I doubt that you are going to need to emphasize your passion for the job.

Another word that currently is overused in the business setting is team.  A team comprises a group of people or animals linked in a common purpose.  Teams are especially appropriate for conducting tasks that are high in complexity and have many independent subtasks.

Believe it or not I had a Board Chair who directed me in a previous executive position to stop using the word staff, it was denegrating to the rest of the employees and to only use the word team.  As a member of that staff I never, ever felt denegrated, but that is only me.

I know that there is no I in team but my problem with the term is that there is no individual responsibility.  Obviously we need to build a “team mindset” in the job-setting.  Work is so much more effective and efficient when we are working together and not at odds with each other.  I am certainly not advocating the rebuilding of those departmental silos of old, however team effort has been taken to excess.

The recent story about John Travolta calling flight attendants on a Quantas plane a team speaks loudly of how people respond to the term.  The flight attendants felt disrespected by the term and they loudly responded by wanting to be called – what they are – flight attendants.

The other issue I have with everything being done in teams is that the individuality within the team is unfortunately discounted and no one takes individual responsibility for a decision – after all it is a team effort!  I know we want to give the impression that we are a championship team working together for the betterment of the overall business but this “all for one and one for all” mindset sure sounds Marxist to me.

Cutting edge or trendy phrases do not present you in a very unique picture.  When businesses are hiring a new employee or contracting with an external consultant they are looking for uniqueness not the same old – same old.  You need to tell your story honestly and with words that color your image in the most positive light.  Using cliche-ladden words or phrases only presents to the world that you are no different than anyone else out there.

If your elevator speech contains certain words or phrases that has denegrated into something that is nothing more than trite, it is time for you be put the creativity hat back on and find a new definition of yourself and what you can accomplish for that employer on a daily basis.

And please, please stop using those overused words, at least while I am standing near you.


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