Today's 10 Worst Phrases to Use in Business

Frances Cole Jones, author of "The Wow Factor"

officeIn January 2009, YouGov published its list of the 10 worst business sayings. Some I more than agreed with ("thinking outside of the box," "blue-sky thinking," "heads up"); some didn't bug me too much ("at the end of the day," "going forward," "credit crunch"). But it also got me thinking about my own version of the 10 worst business sayings.

Consequently, I compiled my own list, complete with definitions and -- most importantly -- the reasons they were included.

The first three top my list for their gross factor, pure and simple. Why? Because regardless of the people or situation in question, I've found that the overt or indirect referencing of bodily functions in a business environment gets me down.

1. Pick your brain: Substituted when someone simply wants to ask you something.

"Do you mind if I just pick your brain?"

2. Throw it against the wall and see what sticks: Often used to describe a haphazard approach to presenting a motley product line, batch of ideas, etc. "Well, let's just throw these against the wall and see what sticks."

3. Sweat equity: Offered up when asking people to give their time and talent, and payment is not available. "We can't pay you your rate now, but -- when we do start making money -- you'll definitely have sweat equity."

The next three were included because of their cliché factor. Like "thinking outside the box" and "blue-sky thinking," their overuse means they no longer catch our attention.

4. It's not rocket science: Used most often when pointing out to someone that the task he's been asked to complete isn't, in fact, complicated. "After all, it's not rocket science."

5. The ball's in your court: This phrase is usually thrown around (pun intended) to let others know that you've reached your limit with regard to handling a situation. "I've now done everything I can. After this, the ball's in your court."

6. Drill down: This is too often used to denote the vigor with which a person or team will be pursuing an objective. "Yes, Bob and I are really going to drill down on that."

The following three made my list thanks to their redundancy:

7. I, personally: Since something that is said by you is, by definition, personal, I see no need to include both words. For example, when you take the "personally" out of the following sentence, the meaning doesn't change. "Well, I, personally, don't think that X should take precedence over Y."

8. Quite unique (and its compatriots "very unique," "really unique" and "most unique"): Despite the fact that things that are unique can't be qualified, I see this all the time. "Our store has the most unique items." Um ... no. You can, however, say, "Our store is filled with unique items." I have no trouble with that.

9. Past history: This one drives me wild every time I hear it, "Well, based on past history ..." History is, by definition, something that occurred in the past, so why on earth say "past"?

And, finally, the most overused phrase in a business context:

10. Urgent (and its frequent companion "crisis"): I include these because, as I'm sure you've discovered, the use of either, or both, of these words does little to resolve what might be going on. Instead, they either ratchet up the tension or make others wonder why you are so out of control. What do I recommend you use instead? I would substitute the use of "immediate" for "urgent," and "situation" for "crisis," as both convey the need for action but leave others room to bring their own skills and intelligence to bear -- while reflecting well on your own.

Next: 7 Worst Career Moves You Can Make >>

Frances Cole Jones is the author of "The Wow Factor: The 33 Things You Must (and Must Not) Do to Guarantee Your Edge in Today's Business World." Her company, Cole Media Management, works with clients to enhance their professional and personal presentation skills. She lives in New York City.

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When my boss often has no clue what to do in a situation, he will ask "What is your gut feeling?" I don't think this phrase is used often in business, but it irritates me to no end. I feel like saying 'Just give me your paycheck and let me handle it'.

December 29 2009 at 6:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The one phrase I can't stand is IN THEORY.... well there is a reason it's called a theory. ughhh. some people.

December 29 2009 at 1:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"ACTUALLY" Work, home, in social situations. Actually, actually, actually, actually.... Spoken with a high frequency, nasal tone, it is ACTUALLY even more annoying.

December 27 2009 at 12:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

actually, how about "punched with divorce"? or even better, "stabbed with divorce"?

December 12 2009 at 12:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert Penzien

In my opinion, this is the worst: "I'll be honest with you."

December 11 2009 at 11:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jerome Thomas

"More bang for your buck." But I want more smoke.
"Poster child for..." Old. tired. Disrespectful. Ineffective.
"Slapped" with divorce. Slapped? Must we always couch divorce in aggressive and hostile terms?
"Do the math." Can I just take your word for it?
"An accident waiting to happen." (It just happened again)
"Uber" anything. No longer chic. Uber stupid.
"Less is more." No it isn't.
"Serious as a heart attack." Why not use a melanoma metaphor? It's more serious.
"At this time." Use "currently," "presently," or "now."
"We stand behind our product!" (Where the customer can't see me...")
"First of all" (Initially) Useless phrase.
"_____ just got ______." (Writing cliches just got easier)
"You can run but you can't hide." No longer macho. Just say "you'll be caught."
"The poor man's ____" Second rate. Disrespectful of the poor.
"The mother of all" anything. Empty. Step-mother.
"Let's face it." Let's not, and say we did.
"Feast your eyes..." My eyes don't eat.
"At the end of the day." What time zone? Just use "ultimately."
"We're (verb), one (related noun) at a time." You sound lazy or inefficient.
"Sudden" heart attack." What's the alternative? "Damn! I should have had that heart attack by now!"
"Growing" evidence. Bad journalistic hiaku. Time to let it die.
"Deja vu all over again." Use the noun. Omit the comedy (...all over again.")
"Dirt poor." My family was poor. Dad made 35 pounds of dirt a week.
Following on the heels of... (Heels aren't pretty.)
"Been there, done that." Go back and do it again. Without me.
"Wake up call." (Will it ever die?)
"All bets are off." Okay...

December 11 2009 at 11:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

johnS,you misspelled,grammar&abbreviation.

December 11 2009 at 9:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to flbob's comment

And you misused a comma. If you are going to point out the mistakes of others,try to not commit any yourself. :) However, few things bug me like misspelling "grammar."

December 11 2009 at 10:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Aboona Joe

My #1 pet peeve. It's right out of -- and remains in -- Broadcast Media. I NEVER hear anyone else say this: "TAKE A LISTEN"! Since when is "listen" a noun, a thing you can "take"???

December 11 2009 at 9:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

another wasted group of syllables: 'Basically'. Will someone please tell me what it adds to any statement? How does it clarify, modify or justify anything? I basically hate it.

December 11 2009 at 8:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm sorry, but the most overused and seriously misused word in business or industry today has to be "impact".
As in - "This is impacting (affecting) me to the point where I feel I will have little impact (effect) on the project.
Who was so insecure about the difference between effect and affect that they had to pick out a word that could mean both but really means neither?

December 11 2009 at 8:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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