corporate buzzwords You might want to make sure you know what an "elevator pitch" is before tossing the term around. / Thinkstock

Are you a “thought leader” with a well-defined “elevator pitch”? If you answered yes to that question without really knowing what those terms mean, you are not alone.

Research done by Financial Times Publishing revealed that less than 10 percent of senior managers in the UK comprehend the real meaning of popular corporate buzzwords. Out of nearly 1,000 respondents, the majority were “quite unable” give a correct explanation of the jargon they use each day. For example, only a quarter of those who participated in the survey understood words like “leverage,” and “core competency.”


Less than half of respondents understood the meaning of “paradigm shift” or were able to distinguish how “strategy” differs from “tactics” in a managerial context. Only nine percent of the respondents were able to correctly match a list of 10 words with their meanings.

Interestingly, even executives who said they were “admittedly ignorant” of these words still used five of these terms on average per day in meetings, presentations, emails, reports and of course, in conversationss. Most of them think that by doing so they appear more professional or intelligent in the eyes of others. Others believe that throwing these words around cements their position of authority.

A small number of the participants genuinely thought that they made sense when they included these terms in conversations, not realizing that they were using these words inaccurately. Some admitted to just faking it and hoped that they would not be asked to actually explain what they meant.

According to the co-authors of the study, professors Davide Sola and Jerome Couturier, corporate jargon is overused in the business world and costs UK businesses tens of millions of pounds annually.

“Using corporate spiel in order to appear more intelligent, or simply because it sounds ‘good’, is clearly not the best method of communicating a direction or message. At best, staff and colleagues are left confused or ambivalent. At worst, it costs businesses money as stakeholders are unable to understand the objective and take longer to bring projects or tasks to fruition,” says Sola.

Couturier says corporate buzzwords, when used in context, can effectively communicate a vision or objective. “The trick is to use them only when applicable. If in doubt, stick to clear and simple English.”

Here is a list of the tencommonly misunderstood business buzzwords, according to the study. Make sure you understand them before you throw them around:

10. Core competency
9. Blue sky thinking
8. Strategy
7. Tactics
6. Engagement
5. Elevator pitch
4. Leverage
3. Future-proof
2. Return on involvement
1. Thought leaders

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