'Working very tight' with the new 'EU'

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June 9, 2003 // UPDATED 10:51 am - April 30, 2007
By: Elena Centor
Elena Centor

A beginner\'s guide to corporate-speak

Four coworkers sat in the gate area of the airport waiting to board their Chicago flight. They began doing what coworkers typically do - dish about their office.

Even if I didn\'t have a propensity to eavesdrop, it would have been impossible for me to avoid overhearing them. Granted, I didn\'t have to whip out a notepad and take notes, but I did and they continued nonetheless.

The conversation focused on a new company policy requiring them to use their own cars to go to meetings off-campus and not being able to expense the cost. That\'s when one of the coworkers said, \"We\'re working very tight.\"

If I hadn\'t heard it in context, chances are I would have thought this meant working in a strong team environment. But given their bent, \"working very tight\" obviously means working on a shoestring budget.

Mary Zellmer-Bruhn, a professor in the Carlson School of Management\'s strategic management and organization department , said it\'s very common for organizations to develop their own language.

\"By being intentionally obscure to the outside it\'s hard for people to know what they are up to and to copy them,\" said Zellmer-Bruhn. \"Having your own language helps organizations maintain a competitive advantage.\"

According to Zellmer-Bruhn, corporate language plays an important role in the development of corporate culture, \"It makes people feel they are part of a group, and that creates loyalty.\"

Corporate language styles can speak volumes about company culture. Militaristic terminology - like \"deploy,\" \"flying under the radar\" and \"annihilate the competition\" - indicates a hierarchical command-and-control organization concerned with job titles and clear boundaries. Sports and more communal language - like, \"there is no \'I\' in team,\" \"tag-up\" and \"drop the ball\" - suggest a more fluid organization style and structure.

Then there are the companies that talk in acronyms.

Recently I had an opportunity to chat with an executive from an acronym-rich culture. As he was talking about the EU, the PD and COI, I had to interrupt, multiple times, to have him translate. I got hung up on EU - why was he referring to the European Union? I was totally \"404\" (clueless, from the World Wide Web error message, \"404 Not Found\" ). Turns out, he was talking about the organization\'s \"Economic Unit.\" Good thing it isn\'t a global company that has to deal with the real EU.

Some expressions seem to permeate every business, regardless of their size or industry. When was the last time you were in a meeting that someone didn\'t say \"at the end of the day.\" As far as corporate buzzwords go, \"at the end of the day\" ranks right up there with \"win-win,\" value-added, empower, \"out of the box\" and \"mission critical.\"

Of course, corporate buzzwords have their detractors - once a phrase gains some traction it\'s often used \"24/7\" and that can make a person \"go postal.\"

Now someone has created a business targeted at people who think corporate-speak is, well, silly.

Now you can buy \"Lingo Bingo\" online to keep track of how many times certain expressions are said during a meeting. The professional version (with your company\'s logo) costs about $34.50 a set. Or, you can create your own version to use during lengthy meetings.

What\'s the corporate-speak at your business? If enough people send in examples, we can share them in a future column.

\"G2G.\" \"BRB\" next week. (That\'s instant message speak for \"got to go,\" \"be right back next week.\")

Send your corporate-speak, workplace dilemma or story to Elana Centor at

ecentor@mn.rr.com. You can remain confidential, as can your company.