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17 Business Cliches — And What to Say Instead

The only way to move forward is to use language that is clear and direct.

Photo courtesy of 123RF

Please, no more cliches. These well-worn sayings hurt me. I cringe when I hear throwaway phrases such as “go the extra mile” or “think outside the box.” What do these words even mean? Or are these business cliches just an easy choice when we do not want to think deeply about the true meaning of what we are trying to convey?

I was curious if others felt the same way, so I turned to folks on LinkedIn to get their thoughts. Many of you shared your frustrations at having real workplace issues addressed by the boss with tired corporate speak. If those cliches feel like a brush-off, it is because they are.

The problem is that business cliches are typically empty and vague. The more you hear them (or worse, say them), the further you get from the actual truth of the situation.

Let me write it as clearly as I can. You are not a cliche. So, can we stop using meaningless words to communicate real issues and needs?

This is verbal quicksand — cliches are not necessary and they can be interpreted differently or even slightly confusing at times when people are not clear on exactly what the person means. The only way to really move forward as a team is to use language that is clear and direct.

To get you started, our team at Aha! shared some of the worst business cliches — along with a decoded, cliche-free translation:

Be more agile
We need to be more flexible and move faster.

Break down the silos
We need to work cross-functionally. I am going to set up a meeting with other team members so we can discuss how we can all work together.

Can I pick your brain?
I could use your help. Do you mind sharing what you know on this topic?

Cast a wide net
I would like to gather feedback from more people. Let’s talk to X and Y to get their input.

Circle back
Let’s schedule a time to talk about this tomorrow morning.

Don’t try to boil the ocean
Let’s start small and not try to do everything that is possible at the beginning.

Get granular
I need more details than what you have shared. Here is what I am looking for…

Get our ducks in a row
Before we can get started, we need to get everyone and everything aligned.

I want to take this offline
I will follow up with you directly after this meeting.

Ladder up
Can you tell me how this work is connected to our goals?

Let’s double-click on this
Let’s get into the details. What other areas should we examine?

Low-hanging fruit
This task should be easy for us to accomplish — we should prioritize it right away.

Move the needle
We need to make a real impact on the business.

Push the envelope
You need to go beyond your comfort zone and do what you have not done or what has not been done in the past.

Right in my wheelhouse
I have experience in this area and can help you work on this project.

Take ownership of this
I think this is a good opportunity for you to take the lead. Here is what needs to be done…

Think outside the box
The way we are thinking about this problem is not working. How else can we approach it that is different than what we have tried in the past?

Words are powerful — choose to say what you mean. Embrace the freedom of transparent communication.

It would be wonderful if we could agree to stop communicating with empty words. Surely we all have more meaningful things to say.

Otherwise, let’s circle back when you have the bandwidth to think outside the box and push the envelope a bit.

What business cliches would you add to the list?

Originally published on the Aha! blog

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