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6 Common Corporate Terms And Their Hidden Meanings

After being in the corporate world for a bit of time, I realize that sometimes people say a lot with… very few words. It took a bit of time, but I learnt how to read between the lines and I will continuously have to learn more. Most times, colleagues or managers aren’t intentionally giving you encrypted messages–it is just corporate lingo that is a part of their dictionary. 

If you are fortunate enough, you will come across colleagues or managers that will just tell you as it is or break down these terms for you. However, more often than not, you would have to manoeuvre around this lingo and figure out what is expected of you on your own. Here are some common sayings and what they actually mean:

 

1. “There are no stupid questions”

We think that this corporate lingo is a pass to then ask whatever we want. Of course, most managers are genuine when they say this. But most managers are also very busy. Although they do not mind answering your questions, it does take time for them to explain. On the other hand, you also want to make sure to do your homework and come across as proactive rather than just lazy!

As such, when you have a question, always do your research and due diligence (another corporate term) first–come prepared with suggestions in mind, and not just offer your problems to them on a silver plate. This shows proactivity and seriousness about adding value to your department or company.

 

Asking a question to your manager

For example, let’s say you are told to write a formal report but you are unsure of its format. Prior to meeting your manager, search up templates of how reports are typically written and present them to your manager. Then, instead of just asking for clearer instructions, you can just ask if you are heading on the right track with the templates you found. This also speeds up the process tremendously because you’re not just waiting around for instructions. 

 

However, depending on the urgency of the project, there are times in which you should just ask straightaway. When you do not have the luxury of time to research, it is always better to address the problems or confusions as soon as possible, rather than to try and fake it–because you probably wouldn’t make it. 

The bottom line is that there are no stupid questions, and you are never stupid for asking questions. However, there is a time and place to ask the right questions and to present them in the right way. So, be smart about your stupid questions! 😉

 

2. “Do you have the bandwidth?”

Bandwidth doesn’t necessarily refer to internet connection or network transfer rates, but simply refers to your individual capacity. This is especially common in project-driven organizations where employees are expected to take up tasks that are beyond their roles. How you answer this question is then very dependent on what stage of your career or life you are in, and how well you work under pressure.

When you are in your 20s or 30s, there is so much to learn (even Jack Ma says so). Thus, the common advice is to be open to new opportunities and to try as much as you can. This essentially means saying, “yes, I have the extra bandwidth!”. However, you should always be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. If taking on too many tasks has caused distraction and lowered the quality of each output, then you should reflect and learn to prioritize. 

 

The next time someone asks about your bandwidth, remember three things about this corporate lingo:

  1. They are not referring to your internet, but your capacity
  2. List down everything you are doing and think through your portfolio before you commit 
  3. Don’t worry about offending others with your “no”, but worry about damaging your reputation when you say “yes” to things you clearly cannot do 

 

3. “There is no hierarchy”

Diverse corporate women laughing and posing for a photo

Companies are moving towards a flatter structure; however, this is also dependent on individual preferences and work styles! Some managers can joke around with you, whereas others prefer to keep it professional. It’s all about exercising good interpersonal skills, learning to read the room and behaving accordingly (I’ve made a lot of mistakes to finally understand how to read the room better). 

It is crucial to remember that a flatter hierarchy doesn’t mean you can disrespect anyone. Similarly, it doesn’t mean that others can disrespect or talk down to you too! The rule of thumb with this corporate lingo? Always uphold yourself–and your colleagues–to the highest level of integrity. 

 

I also figure that honesty is the best policy: if you’re earnestly asking for directions, people are willing to share what they are comfortable with. If you struggle to know how to carry yourself, simply be honest and ask.

 

For example, if you are wondering about your work-relationship with a certain manager, you can ask: “Should I send over a weekly report of my deliverables?”; to which the manager can just let you know their preference. Even when it comes to jokes, you can just ask: “I have something funny but I’m not sure if it’s inappropriate, can I share it nonetheless?”. 

 

When someone does share their boundaries and what they are comfortable with, be sure to respect it!

 

4. “What value are you creating?”

This is actually a pretty straightforward corporate lingo but it is a challenging one to answer. Your manager might be asking because they genuinely can’t see what your end-goal is, or are testing you to understand your opinion. Sometimes, they ask this to push you to think harder about the value proposition you are bringing to the table. Other times, they could be hinting for you to improve on your ideas.

 

As such, before you even start on a project, think about the “why” behind it all. This means a lot of research, brainstorming, writing or reflection. Understand your objectives and goals before heading into something. So, the next time someone asks you this, you will be prepared to justify your proposals. You will be able to help others understand why your role is important and why you are the right person to do it. This, in turn, strengthens the confidence they have in you.

 

5. “Don’t work in silos”

Corporate women talking around a table

Companies these days encourage cross-functional collaboration because they understand the power of synergy. Simple interactions can spark amazing inspiration and innovation! If you are told not to work in silos, it simply means you need to put yourself “out there” more. You need to network with others, engage with your clients and not have lunch alone anymore. 

 

How? If you are a manager, you have the influence to instil organization-wide policies or practices to encourage open collaboration. For example, breaking down physical walls and having hot-desk or open workspaces. You can organize engagement sessions for your staff or deliberately orchestrate cross-functional projects.

On an individual level, it is just about interacting with others more often. It can be as simple as small talks and asking your colleagues what they’re working on. You can also be brave and ask others for their feedback on your work. If you really want to put yourself out there, you can try messaging random colleagues on your internal chat platforms and ask them out for lunch too!

 

There are plenty of opportunities to collaborate, you just need to be intentional about it! 

 

6. “Gentle reminder…”

If someone is gently reminding you about something with this corporate lingo, it means that it is something you should have completed quite some time ago. Fret not, it is not beyond rescue! Just get straight to it. 

 

However, receiving a “gentle reminder” does reflect your project management skills and serves as an alarm to prioritize better. If what is expected of you is beyond your control (for example, the item is pending on a supplier), do your part to clarify the situation. It is always better to be transparent than to keep others in the dark.

If you realize that too much is expected of you, then perhaps it is time to sit down with your manager and have an honest conversation about your performance. You don’t want to reach the point of burn-out because you’re trying to juggle too many things. 

 

 

They call it the corporate jungle for a reason. It is naïve and ignorant to believe that office politics does not exist–even in the most harmonious organizations. If you’re still trying to figure out this delicate balance in the workplace, remember Dr. Seuss’s quote: “Be who you are and say what you feel. Because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” To add to this quote, remember that how you say something is equally important as what you say. So, always choose to be kind with your colleagues, generous with your knowledge and open to new experiences. You will definitely make mistakes as you grow, but just pick yourself up and keep going!

Change Management Consultant by day, writer by other parts of the day - because at night I sleep. Being funny is my self-proclaimed strength and I enjoy talking about politics, social issues and faith.

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