13 Buzzwords (and Phrases) You Should Never Say Around the Office

Employees meeting new boss

Don’t be the buzzword guy at the office | 20th Century Fox

Do you want to find a way to quickly annoy your co-workers? Well, one way to do this is to use a lot of useless jargon and buzzwords. By the end of your conversation or presentation, we guarantee you’ll see a lot of eye rolling.

When you work in an office, you’ll likely hear a lot of jargon. Some employees and managers believe the use of jargon creates a sense of being an insider. Others rely heavily on buzzwords and phrases to sound intelligent. However, jargon can sometimes be confusing and even isolating to those who might not understand what certain office words mean. This is especially true when it comes to new employees.

The overuse of office jargon can be irritating, so make sure you don’t contribute to the problem. Here are 13 buzzwords you should never say around the office.

1. Deep dive

woman pushing off the wall in a pool

Many human resources representatives don’t like this term. | iStock.com

If you and your co-workers are going to perform an in-depth analysis of a topic, you might hear your manager say your team is going to perform a “deep dive” into the issues at hand. However, this term is not the most liked word among office professionals. In fact, “deep dive” is one of the most overused and annoying buzzwords, according to U.S. and Canadian human resources managers polled for an Accountemps survey. They also did not appreciate the words “dynamic” and “leverage.”

2. Pick your brain

Brainiac in DC Comics

We don’t pick brains at the office — we hope. | DC Comics

If you happen to be a brain surgeon, this might elicit some chuckles. If you’re not a medical professional, not so much. The imagery evoked by this phrase might give your teammates the shivers. When someone says this, they simply want your opinion or advice. Instead, office workers tend to say they want to dig into your brain. Unless you want to creep out your co-workers, just ask for their opinion in plain language.

3. Bandwidth

Shocked and surprised boy on the internet with laptop computer

Are you out of bandwidth? | iStock.com/BrianAJackson

Has anyone at the office ever told you he or she has “limited bandwidth” after you asked for help? Or maybe you were the one to use that phrase. Either way, remember we’re people, not computers. Try not to use tech terms to communicate that you don’t have enough time or resources to assist someone. It’s not only annoying but also kind of silly when you think about it.

4. Low-hanging fruit

bunch of grapes

Unless you work in a vineyard, you might not find any low-hanging fruit. | iStock.com

Do you work in a vineyard? If not, it’s a little odd to tell someone at work to look for fruit. Some managers tell employees seeking new business to go for the “low-hanging fruit” first. In other words, seek opportunities that require the least amount of effort. Sounds pretty lazy, doesn’t it? You would think a manger would encourage employees to put in their best effort at all times. We would suggest an alternative for this buzz phrase, but we’d just be encouraging you to be halfhearted. Just avoid any phrases that imply giving less than your best.

5. Bilateral

Dwight and Jim talking in "The Office"

Just say you want a one-on-one meeting. | NBC

Did your boss recently tell you he or she wants to schedule a bilateral? Did you nod in agreement, or did you offer up a puzzled look? Most likely it was the latter. Although it sounds like some kind of fancy medical procedure, it’s not (at least when it comes to work). Some people refer to scheduling a bilateral when they want to arrange a one-on-one meeting. Instead, just ask your teammate or supervisor for a one-on-one meeting.

6. Open the kimono

Girl wrapped in a blanket sitting and working

Some buzzwords and phrases can be offensive. | iStock.com/Kladyk

This phrase could be highly offensive to some members of your team. When used as a business term, it generally refers to sharing key information freely. This buzz phrase is similar to saying “open the books” or referring to an “open-door policy.” Although some people might understand exactly what you mean, it’s best to avoid any phrases using imagery that refer to a particular culture.

7. Employee engagement

man working on computer

This man looks quite engaged. | iStock.com/gpointstudio

This phrase might give you images of being married to your job. Although in some ways this is true (depending on your work ethic), throwing around “employee engagement” doesn’t always relay the right message. And, as you might have guessed, some human resources managers in the Accountemps survey are tiring of this buzz phrase. Instead, say you desire your employees to be enthusiastic and present when it comes to their work.

8. Action the key deliverables

Businessman working on laptop with some documents on table

This man is actioning key deliverables. | iStock.com/jacoblund

What does this even mean? Instead of agreeing to “action the key deliverables,” just say you’ll get your assignment done on time. Although this buzz phrase sounds cool (yet confusing), it really doesn’t say much. Letting your team know you will make an effort to follow through on a task doesn’t have to be complicated. Don’t try to sound smart and spout off phrases that might be unfamiliar to others just so you can stand out. You’ll get your point across more effectively if you communicate in a way everyone can understand.  

9. Put on your big boy pants (or big girl panties)

Dwight from "The Office"

He has his big boy pants on. | NBC

This buzz phrase has a condescending tone to it. The only people who should be putting on their “big boy pants” or “big girl panties” are — you guessed it — little kids being disciplined by their parents. This is work, not your home, and your boss isn’t your parent. The office really isn’t the place for this phrase. So you might want to save it for your kids.

10. Forward-thinking

businessman presenting at a meeting

This is an engaged team of forward-thinkers. | iStock.com

This buzzword is another term human resources managers in the Accountemps survey found highly annoying. We should all be forward-thinking as opposed to backward-thinking. How else are employees supposed to think? Refrain from using this one. Instead, try saying the team should think outside of the box — just kidding, that’s another cliche. Instead, say the team should strive to be innovative.

11. Tee it up

golf course

The term “teeing it up” might only make sense to golfers. | photogolfer / Shutterstock

Unless you’re familiar with golf, this might not make much sense to a lot of people during a work meeting. This phrase evokes images of playing golf and spending time with a group of good friends out on the green. Golf lovers might love this buzz phrase, but it might not mean all that much to those who work with you. Instead of saying, “Let’s tee it up,” simply say it’s time to present the next speaker.

12. Break down the silos

Woman working in home office

This term might not convey the message you want. | iStock.com/undrey

Does your team suffer from communication breakdown every so often? Then, you’ll likely hear your co-workers or manager say it’s important for you to break down the silos. This phrase is often used when managers want different teams to communicate regularly and share information. It would be better to say you want team members to work together or share important information with each other.

13. Drinking the Kool-Aid

Red drink

This phrase has a dark past. | iStock.com

Are we at a picnic? Why are we talking about drinking Kool-Aid? There are better ways to say you agree with something. This phrase is so overused you can practically hear the collective eye roll. Instead, say you fully support a certain initiative. It’s not necessary to resort to this hackneyed saying if you want to demonstrate your agreement with something at work. Besides, the origin of this phrase has a very dark past: the Jonestown massacre of the 1970s.

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