Today's 10 Worst Phrases to Use in Business
Frances Cole Jones, author of "The Wow Factor"
In 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.
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.