The Bottom Line on Workplace Phrases

April 30, 2018

“Keep me in the loop.”

I say this to clients, colleagues and…my mom. “How’s grandma doing?” “Not so great?” “OK, well, keep me in the loop.” Ouch.

What could simply be summarized as “let me know” has morphed into some weird phrase I likely picked up years ago during an internship. This is what eight years of workplace culture does to you—it makes you a funny-speaking robot monster.

FOX recently published a study about the most annoying phrases people use in the workplace. “Give 100 percent” was listed as No. 1, with “think outside the box” and “hammer it out” to follow. Some, such as “ASAP” and “win-win situation” didn’t seem so offensive, but I’m not sure I could keep a straight face if someone told me to “run this up the flagpole.”

But are these weird-yet-somewhat-accepted phrases really so bad? I asked the true experts in the field: Barokas Communications employees.

“The most annoying thing I say is ‘leverage.’ It’s not an inherently annoying word, but I use it so often now that it’s annoying in conversation,” says Kayla Klein. “I need to vary my speech, so ‘leverage’ doesn’t lose its significance. I feel like it replaces the context of a sentence, so I need to practice explaining things instead of using leverage as a substitute.”

I think Kayla has a good point here. At what point is a harmless, intuitive and accepted phrase simply a shortcut for a more helpful and intelligent explanation? At what point are we doing ourselves a disservice by using these common workplace phrases?

“I think I say ‘on your radar’ a lot,” says Kayla Gordon. “I definitely could make it more conversational since we’re not fighter pilots.”

What are the most offending phrases?

“Coming down the pike,” says Aubrey Lerche.

“Too many things to list,” says Chris Sanchez. “But if there’s one phrase I’d love to eliminate—if I were, say, the dictator of the world—people would stop saying ‘gut check’ and ‘bandwidth.’ Stop. Please.”

People probably aren’t going to stop any time soon, despite Chris’ pleas. As the article explains, these phrases are so well-known within office spaces that they’ve literally become part of corporate (or really any) office culture. The biggest problem, similar to what Kayla Klein mentioned, is that words lose meaning.

When you’re told to give 110 percent on every project, well, that sense of urgency probably fades. And who is willing to give 110 percent on every single work task, or on anything for that matter? Not to mention that the mere concept of giving 110 percent is impossible, since it’s saying, “Giving your all? Yeah. Give MORE than your all.” Not all that encouraging, and actually, pretty condescending.

And the same is true for many of these sayings. It’s said that six in 10 Americans don’t even understand some of these jargon-y phrases. Not only are people annoyed by them, but often, the meaning is lost completely. Which truly makes you wonder, what’s the point?

The solution seems to be, as it is for many things, everything in moderation. You can’t keep telling John to give 110 percent and expect him to perform his best around the clock. If you say “my gut says” too often, people will probably start wondering where your brain is and if it’s working. How many times can you say “raise the bar” before people start to wonder where the bar actually is?

As PR professionals, we’re known for being “people people.” A large part of our job is to communicate effectively with clients and colleagues in a way that doesn’t just “get shit done,” but also creates a personal, emotional connection to gain understanding, trust and better results. Not things easily accomplished with robot talk.

The bottom line when it comes to annoying workplace phrases is, “let’s think outside the box.”



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