18 examples of cringe-worthy coaching jargon

As coaching becomes more established as a legitimate profession, we need to be careful of jargon. Let’s speak clearly. Here are some overused, poorly thought-out terms to avoid.

1. Transformation. Transformation refers to a complete, inside-out, 360-degree change in how one perceives or lives in the world. Back in the 1970s the EST Training made this word fashionable. That company, its spin offs, and its copycats have trained hundreds of thousands of people to know the word and use it in silly ways. Now every Tom, Dick, and Harriett who has taken one of these programs and become a coach talks about transformation as if they can package it up and offer it up to their coaching clients. Stop it. You can’t.

2. Let’s go deeper. Some coaches are addicted to “going deeper.” Often, that’s not necessary. Executives, managers, and leaders are already effective, and you are not a psychiatrist. Also, sometimes all your clients need are questions that changes how they think about an issue. You don’t have to be a guru who takes everyone deeper.

3. Outside the box. This is one of the most worn out, overused cliches in the business world. I can’t believe anyone still uses this term and I want to throw up when I hear it. What about you?

4. Outside one’s comfort zone. Here is another worn out cliché to avoid, unless you want to come across as someone who peaked in 1978. How about the simpler, “I’m uncomfortable with this.”

5. Embrace change. This term is part of the “change is good” set of clichés. Nobody wants to embrace change. Change means trouble. In corporations, change usually means hassles, layoffs, and career setbacks. Telling an executive to embrace change is like telling someone who’s lactose intolerant to enjoy a big glass of whole milk.

6. Integrity. If your client doesn’t do his assignment or shows up late for a meeting, stick to getting him or her back on track. Playing the “integrity” card is a bit dramatic.

7. Trusted Adviser. Don’t tell someone you want to be their trusted adviser. Do the right things and earn that role, without even having to use the term.

8. Synergize. Not a real word. Many business schools have banned it from their classrooms. Use it if you want to look like a caricature of a pompous consultant.

9. Circle back. Coaches love to “circle back” to tough issues and conversations. Why not just get back to the issue later, and move in a straight line.

10. Incent (and incentivize). How about reward and encourage? Incent is not a word, or wasn’t until recently, and makes you look like you just came out of a $99 seminar on managing.

11. Learnings. Lessons is the correct usage. Learnings makes you sound like a corporate drone.

12. SMART Goals/GOALPOST. Don’t use fancy acronyms to make a simple term like goals seem more complex than they are. Executives and other leaders know how to set goals. Don’t try to stand above it all with another $99 seminar acronym. I know one coach who claims that SMART Goals is his entire methodology; guess how much work he is selling.

13. Mastery. Coaches love to talk about mastery. The ICF even has a Master Coach designation. Cut the Zen crap and just keep getting better, okay?

14. Coaching technology. My GPS, iphone, and nano-fiber tennis racket use technologies. Coaching uses conversations, not technology, to get results. Don’t try to stand above the crowd with fancy words that try to make what we do seem more complicated and esoteric than it is.

15. Ah-ha moment. If you are a good coach, your client will have new ideas and insights frequently. Let’s not memorialize these with a clichéd term like “ah-ha moment.”

16. Breakthrough. This is a throwback both to certain forms of counseling and to the human potential movement of the 1970s. Breakthroughs are supposed to monumental, but many coaches tell clients that they are having breakthroughs when they sneeze correctly. It is time to retire this term and instead focus on significant, measurable gains in performance.

17. Intimacy with the client. Even the International Coach Federation says that we should be intimate with clients. I am intimate with my wife. My clients and I have business relationships based on value and, as we develop our relationship, more and more trust.

18. Leadership. What? The word leadership is a cliché? Yes, when you use it in a fuzzy, poorly defined way. Leadership can mean many things in many situations. It is meaningless to say, “We need more leadership around here.” Get specific. What do you need people to do, feel, be, say, know, or think differently? If you can’t define it clearly, you haven’t thought about it clearly.

More to come….and please feel free to send your examples of coaching jargon along, too!

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