Which ‘Business Bulls**t’ phrases annoy you the most?

“We can’t boil the ocean by drinking Kool-aid and then circle back when we try to run it up the flagpole.” Absolute nonsense right? So why do we insist on using these irritating, confusing and largely meaningless business phrases when we are conversing with our work colleagues?

Come on, lets be honest, we are all culpable of utilising at least some of these clichéd expressions at work from time-to-time. It does strike me though that their prevalence has been accelerating of late as we appear to be either resurrecting some phrases from the past or (even worse) starting to incorporate language from the digital world into our corporate conversations.

I wrote an article about this very subject back in January this year and was approached by fellow author Mike Adams (check out his book ‘The Intrepid CEO’) who had a rather splendid idea: let’s write a book about the most despised Business BS phrases along with a brief explanation of their meaning and also (if possible) the derivation of the expression. Then we decided to take the notion one step further. Rather than rely upon our own limited knowledge of these frightful idioms, we came up with the idea tocrowdsource as many locutions as we could via LinkedIn.

And that’s where YOU come in. If you want to feature in the book, simply send a LinkedIn message to either myself or Mike with your chosen phrase, an explanation of what it means, the reasons why you loathe it and any information you have about where / how it came into being. If you supply us with an expression which we currently don’t have in our existing list we promise you 3 things:

  1. we will guarantee that your phrase will be featured in the book
  2. you will get your name acknowledged in the book as a contributor
  3. when the book is published, we will send you a free copy

We have already initiated the harvesting process and gathered over 200 of these pesky phrases. In addition, we have also invited various industry icons from a broad cross section of industries to participate. For example, we asked Maarten Albarda (ex Coca Cola and Budweiser marketing guru, co-author of the rather excellent marketing bible ‘Z.E.R.O’ and currently CEO Americas of Flock Associates) to offer up his most hated BS phrases:

“Where do I begin? Oh, I know. ‘New news’. This utter nonsense is usually included in briefings and is used to express that it is not just news to the consumer that we now offer ‘0% financing’ or ‘Chocolate Caramel Flavour’, noooooo, it is NEW news. In other words, we expect the consumer to fall off their chair, sit in shock horror and scratch their heads in disbelief to discover that Chocolate Caramel is now an option when considering buying ice cream brand X”

You have to admit it, Maarten has a point. So do you get where we are going with this? Inspired to share your most reviled phrase with us? If not, to give you even more of a gist of what we are looking for we have compiled a ‘down ‘n dirty’ list of some of the Business BS phrases which we despise the most…

Limited bandwidth – a hideous example of the current trend for putting digital / IT language into the work environment. Unless your brain has been upgraded to fibre optic broadband then we suggest you don’t use it…

Throw under the bus – a rather unpleasant expression which basically means sacrificing a colleague by allowing them to take the blame for a situation that has gone awry. And I wonder why it’s a bus instead of any other form of vehicular transport? If I am going to be undermined by someone I work with then I would at least prefer to be propelled under the wheels of an Aston Martin DBS

Move the needle – unless you are testing tyre pressures or monitoring a speedometer then please cease and desist using this phrase

Bleeding edge – there was a time, several years ago, when the ‘cutting edge’ was sufficient to describe innovation. Now it seems that isn’t enough and that the cutting edge has to slice through the epidermis and draw blood before it can be considered innovative enough…

Think outside the box – what and where is this box? And why do you need one to think? Here’s a thought… forget about this spurious box and just, err, think?

Ducks in a row – this saying apparently comes from the very early days of bowling before machines reset the pins automatically. Back then you had to manually set the pins which was known as putting your ‘ducks in a row’. So why are we still using this archaic phrase at work? Without the context of the bowling story which may (or may not) give it some credence, it simply makes you sound like a 5 year old

Leverage – one of those truly tiresome examples of where a noun has been misappropriated as a verb. It has been used shamelessly to describe how someone, something or a situation can be controlled or manipulated.

It is what it is  no s**t Sherlock, you don’t say. Talk about stating the obvious.

Take it offline – another sibling of those irksome digital terms (see ‘limited bandwidth’). This one is the modern day equivalent of ‘put it on the back burner’ (another abhorrent saying)

Reach out – basically just means to set up a meeting, call someone or email them. So then why don’t you just say that? If you keep using this, the chances are that people will probably assume you are a fan of the Four Tops

Hard stop – as opposed to a soft one? If you have to leave at a specific time for another appointment, then maybe just explain that

Give it 110% clearly not possible. Also is 100% not enough? It always makes me think that people weren’t really trying that hard previously and try to compensate for that by effectively saying they will make up for the lack of effort with 10% extra. Or am I just being a tad cynical? Don’t answer that

Cut and dry – only use if you are a hairdresser. That is all.

Low hanging fruit – simply means going for the easy opportunities first. But isn’t that rather obvious? If you are not already exploiting your effortless options then you need to have a quiet word with yourself. Even a child in an orchard can figure that one out.

So how many of these hateful expressions do you use? Full disclosure, I’ve used them all (I feel so ashamed). I am systematically trying to cut them out but find myself lapsing back into their usage on occasion. Maybe I should try harder given that their over usage can have a detrimental affect on your career. According to Darlene Price, President Well Said and author of the book of the same name:

“You need to avoid business jargon and be clear in order to get your point across and be heard. Most clichés were once a fresh, creative way of expressing a popular thought or common idea but because of long, excessive use, each phrase has lost its originality, impact, and even meaning”

There you have it then, our very own personal list of the worst business utterances. So come on then, we have ‘tee’d it up’ for you, why don’t you ‘bite the bullet’ and ‘open the kimono’ to your additional suggestions – we are looking forward to reading your contributions and will let you know asap if you will be featured in the upcoming book.

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Steve Blakeman is Managing Director – Global Accounts for OMD based in London / Paris. He was named by LinkedIn as a Top 10 Writer for Marketing & Social for 2015 (Top Voices) and also ‘Agency Publisher of the Year’ for EMEA.

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