The 20 Most Annoying Business Jargon Phrases & Words That Need To STOP!

The next time you feel the need to reach out, shift a paradigm, leverage a best practice or join a tiger team, by all means do it. Just don’t say it out loud, because that kind of meaningless business jargon can make you sound like a moron. OK, maybe that’s too harsh. You’re just trying really REALLY hard to impress someone with these cool words and phrases. You think it makes you look smart. In reality, when these words come out of your mouth in a meeting, you may see the team nodding their heads in agreement. But, in their minds they are saying, PLEASE STOP! Just be real already. OK, time to get to it. Here are the top ones that need to go away.


Take it up another notch. This phrase was created to replace the overused “take it to the next level” (see below). Let’s replace them with more direct descriptions. How about improvement? Or showing more passion in the work. Those probably could be used more effectively, until the moment THEY become annoying.

Best Practice. A method or technique that delivers better results compared with other methods and techniques. Business consultants use this term a lot, so perhaps they ought use some to some other inclusive ones. Especially if there may be some who disagree strongly.

Core Competency. This awful expression refers to a firm’s or a person’s fundamental strength---even though that’s not what the word “competent” means. Bruce Barry, professor of management at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Business says, "do people talk about peripheral competency? Being competent is not the standard we’re seeking. It’s like core mediocrity.”

Buy-in. Agreement on a course of action, if the most disingenuous kind. Notes David Logan, professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business: “Asking for someone’s ‘buy-in’ says, ‘I have an idea. I didn’t involve you because I didn’t value you enough to discuss it with you.

Empower. What someone above your pay grade does when, apparently, they would like you to do a job of some importance. Also called “the most condescending transitive verb ever.” It suggests that ‘You can do a little bit of this, but I’m still in charge here.: I am empowering you’”, says Dr. Jennifer Chatman, professor of management at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.


Heavy lifting. Who is the one (or ones) that’s most responsible for making the project or event to be successful? What about a new office program, or sales/client incentive? The term helps to camouflage specific people who are leaders (or point people) in making these goals happen, and focus more on a team concept.

Dial it back. Become less aggressive in obtaining a goal, so there is less push back (yep that’s another term that needs to go. My bad). This is common when a recently implemented program, plan or incentive is meeting resistance that could adversely affect the outcome. It could be internally and/or externally.

Drinking the Kool-Aid. A tasteless reference to the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, this expression means to blindly accept something, such as a company’s “mission statement.” Robotic allegiance is bad enough; coming up with tactless expressions for it is horrendous.

Move the Needle. This beauty, which has nothing to do with heroin, is a favorite of venture capitalists. If something doesn't move the needle, meaning that it doesn’t generate a reaction (like, positive cash flow), they don't like it much. So when pitching VCs, make clear that you intend to move the needle. Or you could just say, specifically, how your plan and product are superior to your competitors’.

Lots of Moving Parts. Pinball machines have lots of moving parts. Many of them buzz and clank and induce migraine headaches. Do you want your business to run, or even appear to run, like a pinball machine? Then do not say it involves lots of moving parts.

Corporate Values. This expression is so suffused with phoniness it churns the stomach. Corporations don’t have values, the people who run them do.


Think Outside the Box. To approach a business problem in an unconventional fashion. Kudos to a reader who suggested: "Forget the box, just think."

Ducks in a Row. The saying apparently comes from the earlier days of bowling before machines set pins automatically. One needed to get his “ducks in a row” before hurling a weighty ball down the alley. Better: At work, “make a plan”; then later, if you’d like, “go bowling.”

Deeper Dive. I have actually used this term before, but that’s going to a screeching halt. Starting today. Unless I plan to take scuba lessons at some point. I think a “closer examination” or “more complete analysis” in the process or system would work much better.

Leverage. The granddaddy of nouns converted to verbs. ‘Leverage’ is mercilessly used to describe how a situation or environment can be manipulated or controlled. Leverage should remain a noun, as in “to apply leverage,” not as a pseudo-verb, as in “we are leveraging our assets.”

Window of Opportunity. This breezy expression refers to the amount of time, usually brief, in which to take action; when the window shuts, dreams of freedom die. Better scramble through that sucker. Or at least “take action.”

Low-Hanging Fruit. You’d rather not have to climb the tree to get your apple, so you curb your hunger by picking the low-hanging ones. Same goes for business tasks and opportunities. Except that no one knows which tasks and opportunities you’re talking about, or whether ticking them off, easy as that sounds, is a good idea in the first place.

Take it to the Next Level. In theory this means to make something better. In practice, it means nothing, mainly because nobody knows what the next level actually looks like and thus whether or not they’ve reached it.

Moving forward. There’s a pretty good chance something negative happened; and a really good chance there was a bad idea in the first place. At this point it’s probably too early to be labeled as “crisis management,” since the mistake was caught early enough to put you there. Thankfully.


Scotty Mac

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