Buffling About the Bush

Today, I learned a new word: buffling! It is a concatenation of the phrase ‘business waffling’ and, if you will pardon the pun, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

When I worked for a large computer company here in the UK, we had a little game we used to sometimes play in the most boring meetings we were required to attend. It was a variation of that evil game that invaded our cinemas in the sixties – bingo. Before the meeting, you would draw up a little card with various bits of business gobbledegook written in little squares and, whenever you heard anyone use one of those phrases in the meeting, you would cross it from your card.

If you got a line, you might reward yourself with a coffee and if you managed to get a full house, you could perhaps have a biscuit too.

So – eyes down for a full house – here are some examples of the kinds of phrases we used on those cards:

  • We need to be thinking outside the box
  • Is it a Greenfield site?
  • Can we touch base?
  • What is the timescale?
  • We are really pushing the envelope here
  • We are not on the same page
  • We need to get all of our ducks in a row
  • Can you keep me in the loop?

Well, although we didn’t know it at the time, those phrases are all examples of buffling; using a kind of business-speak that becomes more and more irritating over the course of time.

In the Telegraph’s list of buffling business terms, I noticed the word ‘proactive’ makes an appearance. The word, of course, comes from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits. Apparently, it was not even in the dictionary when Covey wrote his book. But these days, quite a bit of the language of the habits could quite easily make the list with phrases like ‘win-win’, ‘synergise’, ‘sharpen the saw’ and ’emotional bank account’ probably amongst the front runners.

Covey himself makes the point that you might not like the way the habits are phrased and I am glad that he does, because it is important to make a distinction between the underlying principles that the habits represent and the language he used to express those principles. You can dislike the language – that’s perfectly ok – but you simply can’t disagree with the underlying principles.

Actually, I am not a particular fan of the language of the habits myself. It would be quite easy to use alternative language to express the underlying principles. But I always like to properly reference and credit my sources. That’s why I have always chosen to use Covey’s language in the past. With the language of the 7 habits beginning to enter lists of popular bufflisms, perhaps I’ll need to rethink in the future.

Here’s a first stab at reworking the habits into what might be a more palatable list:

  • Habit #1 – Be Proactive
  • Could be expressed as: The Principle of Taking Responsibility
  • Habit #2 – Begin with the End on Mind
  • Could be expressed as: The Principle of Goal-Setting
  • Habits #3 – Put First Things First
  • Could be expressed as: The Principle of Correct Focus
  • Habit #4 – Think Win-Win
  • Could be expressed as: The Principle of Cooperation
  • Habit #5 – Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood
  • Could be expressed as: The Principle of Communication
  • Habit #6 – Synergise (Synergize)
  • Could be expressed as: The Principle of Creating Solutions
  • Habit #7 – Sharpen the Saw
  • Could be expressed as: The Principle of Self Improvement

Of course any of my suggested alternatives might still be described as buffling if enough people caught on to the phrase. It would be easy enough to imagine people starting to talk about ‘correct focus’ for example. Nevertheless for those who don’t like the language in which the principles were originally expressed, perhaps the above might constitute a useful alternative.

One thought on “Buffling About the Bush

  1. Matt Kinsella

    If I had a pound for every time I have heard these stupid phrases in meetings I would be the richest man in the country! What really gets me going though is not the single phrases but when people go on for 5, 10, 15 minutes (or longer) talking and words are coming out but it’s all guff. In these cases I either make excuses to leave or I fall asleep.

Leave a Reply