The 50 most overused business cliches

Clean up your business conversations. Don't tell people that you're pushing the envelope or grabbing the low-hanging fruit if you want to sound smart.

Business cliches to avoid The tiresome, overused phrases to avoid saying in business.

Business jargon and clichés can make you sound flippant and annoying at best, or confusing and uncreative at worst. 

Overused buzzwords and phrases used to feel fresh but they long ago lost their creativity and impact. If you're in a meeting and someone says to "think outside the box," does it really make you stop thinking inside the box? No. No it does not.

If someone asks you to break down the silos, do you grab a sledgehammer and run to the nearest farm? Or ask someone what a silo is? A better option is to ask your co-workers to talk to other departments and share information.

SEE: Avoid these 50 business cliches like the plague (TechRepublic)

Or if you're asked to grab the low-hanging fruit, do you look for the closest apple tree? What if you live in the city? How about just asking people to target the closest goals first?

And no matter how much you push the envelope, it will still just be a piece of stationery. How about asking people to try harder instead?

Whatever you do, do not ask your colleagues to drink the Kool-Aid. This is a mostly forgotten reference to the tragic 1978 Jonestown suicides. If you want people to support your ideas, ask for that. 

In today's world. What other world would you be referring to? Just say "now." Because that's what it is. Now. When you tell someone "it is what it is," you can sound flippant. If you want to sound that way, then okay. But if you aren't intending to come across as a jerk, then change your language and say something more along the lines of "sometimes we can't change things and have to accept them the way they are."

And then, the worst offender. The win-win situation. Is it really a win-win situation if someone declares it such? Or is everyone just forced to hear another tiresome cliché and feel like a bit of a loser as a result?

There are hundreds of phrases and words to avoid, but a list of the 50 worst can be found on TechRepublic. There are plenty of alternatives to use instead. And if you catch yourself in a meeting using one of them, don't fret. We all do it. Being aware of the the fact that they're overused and tiresome is the first step toward revamping your word choices and moving toward something a bit more interesting. 

As one of our TechRepublic colleagues has suggested, the best rule of thumb is to avoid anything ever said by Michael Scott on The Office. Follow that rule and you're golden. 

Following is a partial list, and the entire list of all 50 phrases is available in our online gallery or as a TechRepublic download.

Phrases to avoid:

  • It's a win-win situation - If you say this, no one has won anything.
  • Think outside the box - This uncreative saying means you're already stuck inside said box.
  • Grab the low-hanging fruit - This one is a no. 
  • In today's world - It means now. Say now.
  • Push the envelope - There is no special envelope to push. I swear.
  • Drink the Kool-Aid - This was a tragedy. More than 900 people died when cult leader Jim Jones convinced them to drink poisoned Kool-Aid. Quit talking about it as if it's a good thing.
  • Value-added - What, are we grocery shopping? This one is tiring to hear.
  • Let's take this offline - This was creative once upon a time. It's not anymore.
  • Take it to the next level - Am I the only one picturing Super Mario Bros?
  • Actionable - It's great to figure out what's important in a meeting. But can't we just say that? Or are we looking for exponential returns? See? Buzzwords lead to more buzzwords.
  • I don't have the bandwidth - This one is overused. I'm guilty of overusing it. We all are. Let's give it a rest. 
  • Put a pin in it - Stop using it. Please. Instead, say that you'll do it later.
  • Step up to the plate - Oh, the sports metaphors. They'll never die.
  • Breaking down silos - This one is popular in government. Those silos. Are they full of grain?
  • Paradigm shift - This one quickly became overused after several books were published with the phrase in the title.
  • Going forward - This means next. Say next.
  • Put it in the pipeline - Would that be the Alaskan version?
  • Get granular - Oh, just stop saying this. I picture grains of sugar and salt. 
  • Run it up the flagpole - Proof that some phrases never die.
  • Put your ducks in a row - Those who are easily distracted can't hear this without picturing momma ducks and their ducklings. Sitting in a row next to the grains of salt by the Alaskan pipeline.
  • My door is always open - Anyone who says this usually means anything but.
  • Pick your brain - This one has a rather zombie-like appeal.
  • Burning the candle at both ends - How about just say that you're working hard?
  • Earning your chops - I've seen far too many resumes with this phrase lately. Better to leave off the cliches when attempting to land a job in a creative field.
  • Teamwork makes the dream work - At least this one is funny. But it would be hard to hear in a meeting without laughing out loud.
  • Failure is not an option - You'll feel like you're starring with Ed Harris in Apollo 13 if you hear this line.
  • It is what it is - Much too flippant to say in a business meeting. Only say this around your friends.
  • The data never lies - The data never lies, but your colleagues will be annoyed if you say this to them.
  • Literally - Avoid this word. It is overused and is rarely used correctly. Anyone with an English degree will be secretly rolling their eyes at you.

Also see

IT budgeting: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
Cloud providers 2019: A buyer's guide (TechRepublic download)
Policy pack: Workplace ethics  (TechRepublic Premium)
Tech Budgets 2019: A CXO's Guide (ZDNet)
6 ways to delete yourself from the internet (CNET)
Best to-do list apps for managing tasks on any platform (Download.com)
CXO: More must-read coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

think outside the box

 

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