KnockKnockStuff.com used to sell these
corporate slang flash cards.
They’re funny because they’re sadly, sadly true.
Language is a habit, and sometimes we forget to change our language when we speak to different groups. We babble on, blissfully unaware that we sound like the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons, until someone raises their hand and said “Wait, I’m confused!” 
When I was studying Thai, I spent 8 hours a day in a little classroom, surrounded by native speakers. They spoke Thai alllllll day. And when class was over, I’d go home and spend another 4 hours studying vocabulary. More times that I care to admit, I’d answer the phone –
“Hello?”  – and hear a confused voice reply, “Umm… Meredith?”
“It’s me. What’s up?”
“Mer? Is that you?”
“IT’S ME. Can you hear me?”
(pause). “Meredith, English! Use ENGLISH!”
Oops.  Despite the fact that I was hearing English, I was completely unaware of what was coming out of my mouth. My voice got stuck in Thai-mode. As soon as someone pointed it out to me, I’d snap right back into English. But after being completely immersed in another language, I needed external feedback to do it.
I believe that most of the confusion over buzz words results from a lack of that feedback. Most people are reluctant to say “I don’t understand you!” because no one wants to look incompetent, uneducated, or vulnerable in front of our peers.
That’s why the meanings of buzz words become diluted so quickly: we don’t know how to give feedback productively, so we don’t. Instead, we smile, nod, and keep listening, trying not to embarrass ourselves while we scramble to figure out what a word means from context. Unless we question new words when they’re introduced, each listener will try to come up with their own definition based on those context clues.  Eventually, those listeners use the buzz word according to their personal definition – correct or incorrect – and their listeners do the same thing. This goes on and on until the word has a thousand, unclear meanings.   It’s like playing a game of telephone with definitions.
So how do you stop the cycle without looking incompetent? You ask questions — direct, competent questions – to clarify meaning, directions, and expectations.
When you don’t understand a WORD – 
acknowledge it and ask a question for clarification

When your boss asks for dynamic metrics to prepare a presentation, try saying
You: “I’m not sure which statistics you want. What information is most important to you for the presentation?

 
When you’re giving a presentation to a client, and they ask you to go granular on the budget projection, try saying
“I’m not familiar with that phrase. What more can I tell you about about the budget? Any questions?
 
When a client wants help disintermediating their supply chain, try saying,
“That word can mean a lot of things to different people. Tell me more about how you want to change your supply chain.”

Remember:  It’s completely acceptable to admit that you don’t understand a word if you follow up with an intelligent question.   This technique is effective if you give the other guy something to work with.

When you understand the word, but not the REQUEST – 
ask a question about what they want you to do, change, or investigate.

Boss: “Hey – I need you to ping the project manager about the schedule.”
You:Any specific concerns you want me to bring up with him?


When your boss assigns you to curate the Twitter feed, try asking
What kinds of posts do you want me to highlight or remove?’

Project Facilitator: “Rework these numbers. The customer and contractor aren’t in alignment on the budget.”
You: “Which costs can’t they agree on?

The point of asking these questions is to prevent unnecessary work and make sure that you understand what you’re being asked to do.

When you understand the request, but not the EXPECTATION – 
ask a follow up question about what they want changed, accomplished, or delivered.

Customer: “I need you to turn this data into an infographic. Make it pop!”
You: “What information do you want to stand out?

Boss: “We need to evolve our services to expand client relationships.”
You:  “What do we need to change to bring in more clients?

Co-Worker: “Let’s touch base about these metrics next week,”
You: “Great. Would you like me to email, call, or schedule a meeting to discuss these numbers ?

Boss: “We need to adopt this bleeding-edge software because it will cause a paradigm shift for our industry!”
You: “Tell me more about how this will change our daily work.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. We shy away from them because we feel like asking a question makes us vulnerable. We don’t want to look like we’re losing control of a situation. But asking intelligent, clarifying questions is what keeps us in control.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.