Most Irritating Business Cliches

I’m taking a stand at an exhibition event in a little over a week. Making your stand interesting is a challenge when you’re not selling a product. I’ve decided to get around that obstacle by offering people the opportunity to nominate the business cliché that annoys them the most.

In poll after poll, there is a certain set of culprits which set people’s teeth on edge. We help our customers swim down the sales channel; we talk about what will happen going forward and we work 24/7. All of us are guilty of using this cliches. We rely on them as crutches when other words don’t come. The very nature of a cliché is that it’s true.

Here’s a breakdown of 10 common offenders, my view of them and alternative phrases which could be used.

Going forward

The classic bugbear. Going forward where, I always wonder.

Alternative: in the future, in the coming months,

Blue sky thinking.

I presume this refers to innovative or creative thinking.

Alternative: Why not just say innovative or creative thinking.


A plastic substitute for real connection between businesses

Alternative: points of connectivity, chemistry


Conjures up an image of a soulless executive in a suit, BlackBerry in one hand, paper cup of coffee in the other

Alternative: all the hours God sends. May be more unwieldy, but implies dedication. Also more accurate. No one actually works 24 hours a day.

At the end of the day

Not the worst offender in my view, but still used often enough to have lost meaning

Alternative: Ultimately, in the end

Levelling the playing field

I do think this one is quite acceptable. It’s a strong image which people can relate to.

Alternative: creates balance, evens things out

Singing from the same hymn sheet

A meaningless phrase, but not as bad as its counterpart ‘on the same page.’

Alternative: on the same wavelength, in agreement

Green shoots of recovery

An optimistic phrase, again with an image people can relate to

Alternative: signs of recovery, light on the horizon

With all due respect

Possibly the most insulting phrase ever, ostensibly used to soften the blow before launching an attack.

Alternative: None. If you feel a need to make your point, go straight for the jugular.

Content is king

Have to say I like this phrase, since it justifies my existence.

Alternative: None needed!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on which of these phrases annoy you, or indeed, any that I’ve left out. I’ve heard about a fascinating book by Jeremy Butterfield called Damp Squid, The English Language Laid Bare. It examines the tautologies and sloppy language used by public figures. The title originates from a remark by an English footballer, who referred to his Scottish opposition as a ‘damp squid!’ Don’t fall foul of such linguistic laziness. Reach for a more accurate alternative.


7 thoughts on “Most Irritating Business Cliches

  1. One I cannot abide is we want someone who can get this “hit the ground running”? Who the hell can do that, apart from a cat!


  2. Firstly, thanks for the help avoiding these aborent phrases. A few more that wind me up are “under-pinned”, “in terms of” and every politician starting their sentences with “Look..” that really winds me up too! I blame Tony Blaire for that one.


  3. One thing that is nails on a chalk board for me is when after a usually long dissertation in a business meeting, a person says, “having said that” and then goes into another long winded closing.


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