Workplace jargon, the kind we employ when emailing a colleague or client, relies on certain customs that mark the communication as “professional.” We close our emails with “Thanks,” we provide contact information, we CC relevant parties. These rituals signal to our readers that we are sending the email to communicate official business. While the traditions of professional communication are helpful in some ways, the clichés they constantly recycle are not. So many meetings, emails, and newsletters that I see are teeming with clichés—hackneyed phrases that have lost their meaning. Readers perceive them as symptoms of laziness. More importantly, many of the standard office cliches do not work. Their meanings are confused and their purposes wrongheaded. Let’s examine a few.
How it’s used: “You should make all necessary arrangements for this conference. It’s your baby.”
Why it’s used: To impress upon the listener that the item in question is solely his/her responsibility, something that is completely under his/her control.
Why it doesn’t work: At a literal level, the logic of this cliché is flawed. A baby is something that is made by two people, not one, and most working adults understand the basics of human reproduction. A baby grows and develops slowly, often independently of and in the opposite direction that its parents intend. A baby shouldn’t be examined for defects and forced through rigorous quality assurance checks. Referring to an important project as “your baby” understates the achievement. It downplays the achievement by referring to it in a colloquial, slang fashion. Think of the difference between your boss telling you, “You did a great job with the pitch. You really made it your baby,” versus, “You did a great job with the pitch. I can tell that you were the driving force behind its completion.” Calling the project and the project manager by their rightful terms ensures that the credit is received when it’s due.
How it’s used: “Have we heard back from the finance department? Let’s reach out to the CFO to get some closure.”
Why it’s used: To replace simpler terms like email, call, contact, or walk into his/her office.
Why it doesn’t work: We use reach out in the workplace because it sounds fancier than its literal meaning: contacting someone. Reach out evokes an image of an arm reaching out into space to make physical connection with another body, an action that requires much more effort than the real action, which involves clicking a button or two. The phrase is problematic, though, because it’s not specific. It could refer to leaving a detailed voice mail or sending a generic invite on LinkedIn. When you use reached out, you risk sounding like you’re exaggerating the significance of your action and concealing details. Remember, speaking clearly is speaking smartly. Use the more accurate expression, and expel this overused phrase from your lexicon.
3.“Get in Bed With”
How it’s used: “We’re already in bed together—the teaming agreement’s been signed.”
Why it’s used: To show that two people or groups are partnering.
Why it doesn’t work: I’m no prude, but yuck. In an increasingly co-ed and multi-generational professional world, this phrase’s creep-factor is high. Its slimy feeling grows when it’s used, as it often is, to talk about potential relationships, as in, “How can we get the client to get in bed with us?” Of course sales and marketing have a seductive quality, but is this the best way to characterize it? Realistically, representing a fulfilling, long-lasting relationship with this image is not accurate these days. Getting out of the bed, never to return, is just as easy as getting in it, so this cliché is not only borderline-icky but also dated. .
4.“At the End of the Day”
How it’s used: “At the end of the day, we have to lower prices.”
Why it’s used: To emphasize the goal rather than the process
Why it doesn’t work: Unlike some of the other phrases mentioned here, this logic behind this cliché does work on some level. We use this phrase to tell our coworkers that the final product must be produced, the deadline met, regardless of the actions that get us there. By focusing on the end result instead of the process, though, we risk alienating our team members. Many folks may be irked by this phrase because it’s usually spouted by out by someone who isn’t involved in the process at all. When we dismiss the work, we dismiss the workers, and that does not lead to effective collaboration. Furthermore, wouldn’t it be ideal to have the work completed before the end of the day, so we have some time to proofread? I think so. It’s time for this generic sentence to be retired.
How it’s used: “You told the client to take a cab from the airport? Let’s revisit that.”
Why it’s used: To replace more straightforward phrases like fix it or do it again
Why it doesn’t work: When we tell a coworker that she should “revisit” the third paragraph of her proposal, we’re actually telling her that we believe she should rewrite that paragraph. What’s so heartbreaking about this sentence: “I think there are some errors in that third paragraph. You should go back and revise”? When we select words like revisit, we’re subscribing to the idea that direct language is confrontational language. It’s entirely possible to be forthright without being offensive. If a project or action is in need of fixing, editing, or a good-old-fashion do-over, just say so.