Top 10 worst corporate phrases

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The other day, I was told to reach out to someone. Reach out. Reach out as if I’m dangling Hollywood-style by my fingertips from a cliff, with Stallone looking all Botoxy-slumpy-faced in front of me, telling me to HANG ON! What I was actually meant to do was contact them.

Who on earth thought that “reach out” was a good all-encompassing phrase that could, should or even WOULD replace “contact”? For a start, it’s two words rather than one. Secondly, it doesn’t actually replace the original phrase with something more obvious. In short, it is unnecessary and poncy. Indeed, it is unnecessarily poncy and poncily unnecessary.

I suppose I have more of a reaction to this sort of corporate gobbledigook than most people because it is my job as a copywriter to use the right words to make people do something –usually to convince and sometimes to buy. So the phrase “reach out” makes me break out into a twitchy fit of nonsense-hating irritation.

Maybe it’s the heat. I’m not good with heat. And it’s very hot. But with “reach out” tattooed onto my mind’s eye, here are some more phrases that make up my top ten stupidest corporate phrases that you should avoid at all costs – and an explanation of what they mean if you don’t already know.

And if you already don’t know, then I offer you my congratulations. Nobody but nobody needs to know this rubbish, let alone use it. These jargon nasties will NOT make you sound more businesslike and go-getterish; they will make you sound pretentious and up yourself. So for your own sake as much as everybody else’s, don’t use them:

10. Reach out

We’ve already covered this one, but whatever you do, please don’t reach out to Christine, even if you want to “procure some relevant data” (get some useful info from her). Especially not at the office party, otherwise you are likely to be hauled up in front of HR for sexual harassment.

9. Core competencies

You’ll see this more often in job specifications. You’ll need to have these “core competencies” to do the job. But competence itself doesn’t necessarily mean you’re very good at something, which is what the employer actually wants. For instance, I’m a competent cook, but I’d never get a job as a chef unless I was applying to work at Nando’s – and even then, that’s pushing it.

8. Push the envelope

They’ve clearly been watching Michael Douglas in Wall Street or something and may well have invested in a nice new pair of red braces. It doesn’t, however, simply mean, “let’s get this done quickly”, as a lot of people think. Taken from the aviation industry, it actually means introducing new and innovative ideas into already established and accepted practices.

7. Leverage best practice

This just sounds a bit pompous. It just means a way of working which is better than another way of working (although who judges that to be the case might itself be questionable).

6. Over the wall

If you’re asked to send something “over the wall” to someone, it doesn’t mean bunging it over the partition in your open-plan office. It just means send it.

5. Let’s touch base

Oh, for God’s sake. Let’s just speak shortly, OK?

4. Buy-in

I’ve had a brilliant idea. I want to implement it, but I want you to agree with me unreservedly even though I didn’t consult you about it. Just accept that I’ve done all the work and then you can lazily say, “yeah, I’m fine with that”, right? Thanks. I’ve now got your “buy-in”.

3. Look under the bonnet

Or in normal English, “analyse what might be going on.” But this petrol-head claptrap has “macho” written all over it. Oh, yes, boardroom guys are totally the type to whip open the bonnet of their appendage-compensating roadsters when they go wrong – rolling up their sleeves to perform emergency automotive CPR. In reality, when they’re caught short on the M25, they reach straight for the number of the roadside recovery service. Because one thing’s for sure: we all pop the bonnet and hope to find a giant on/off switch. Anything more complicated and we’re stumped.

2. Fit for purpose

I’d rather go all Ronseal on you instead and say, “it does what it says on the tin”. All it means is that something does what it’s supposed to do. End of.

1. Think outside the box

I once went for a more senior position with one of my former employers. It came down to me and one other candidate, and they eventually chose him. I asked for some constructive feedback about where I could have done better. “Warren was thinking more outside the box,” they said. Useful. When I asked for an example, they said “he showed more proactive lateral thinking.” Hm. Of course, it’s obvious that they meant that he had thought beyond the specified scope of the role, but failing to clarify what I could have improved on to secure the job wasn’t very helpful. They just hid behind a vague, lazy and indeterminate phrase instead.

So, those are my top ten examples of poncy corporate jargon. Got any others? Feel free to reach out and let me know. (Actually, just use the comment box below…)

by Ashley Morrison

Ashley is a copywriter, blogger and editor


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