Why consultants speak like idiots

Andrea Howe
Category : Consulting, Featured blogs September 20, 2007

I have always been simultaneously amused and utterly appalled by consultant-speak, particularly when I hear it coming out of my own mouth. You know the buzz words. They’re everywhere, buried inside complex sentences like snakes nestled in the underbrush:

– “The key to success for your organization is to discern how to leverage your assets for maximum return.” (Nowhere in Merriam-Webster is “leverage” a verb).
– “We’re experts at operationalizing your business strategy.” (“Operationalize” is simply not in the dictionary).
– “Let’s utilize existing frameworks wherever we can.” (OK, this one’s in the dictionary, but it’s an awfully big word for “use,” dontcha think?)

Even more horrifying, we consultants don’t just write like this, we actually talk like this! It’s humorous at best, trust-damaging at worst. Imagine being a client and having to decipher all this lingo. Imagine being a client, sitting through the 100th presentation given by the third consulting firm to be hired in the last three years, and thinking quietly to yourself, “I thought these guys were going to be different.”

One way we can stand apart – while simultaneously creating real human-to-human connection – is to simplify our language. You know, say it in English.

For an insightful and humorous take on this subject, check out Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide written by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, and Jon Warshawsky – notably, three consultants. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“Jargon, wordiness, and evasiveness are the active ingredients of modern business-speak, and they make up the Obscurity Trap. This trap is particularly pervasive, and its perpetrators are evil people who want to destroy civilization as we know it. (Well, okay, not really, but it felt good to get that out.) We call this a trap because the people who spew jargon and all of that evasiveness really aren’t evil at all.

They’re us.”
Ouch.

Thanks to a strong recommendation for the book from BossaNova’s marketing consulting firm, TurningPointe Marketing , I’ve just ordered a copy.

This week’s challenge: Listen to yourself. What do you hear? What are you really trying to say?

Originally published by Trusted Advisor Associates
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Andrea Howe

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).

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