One of my pet peeves is when people overuse clichés that a) don’t really illustrate their point, and b) confuse the reader.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, a cliché is a “hackneyed expression or idea.” Hackneyed means something has grown stale through overuse. I would also add that in a business setting, a cliché is also a useless, often nonsensical phrase that is supposed to sound impressive but really falls flat.
Here are a few examples of some bad, overused business clichés and their intended meaning:
“Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Of course we’re going to cross the bridge when we get to it! You can’t cross a bridge in advance. How about just saying, “Let’s worry about that later.”
“Think outside the box.”
The Management Consulted blog and its Management Consulting Lingo Dictionary has a funny translation for this one: “Can you creatively anemic people please come up with something?”
Why not just say, “Hey team, we need some new ideas. Something different, unusual and interesting. What are your thoughts?”
“Can I pick your brain?”
This is one of Carol Cookerly’s biggest pet peeves. She hates this expression. She says, “Pick my brain? What are you, a cannibal? If you pick my brain I’ll have nothing left!”
How about asking a colleague for a few minutes of their time?
“I don’t have the bandwidth for this.”
Are you a computer? Then why would you have bandwidth? If you have too much to do, then simply say you have too much to do and can’t get to this right now.
A classic cornucopia of clichés: See how many you can find in this sentence.
“Let’s circle back with Jim on this and try to go after some low-hanging fruit, while building synergies, gaining traction and ensuring that we are providing turnkey, value-added and end-user solutions to achieve results.”
Huh? I don’t know what this gobbledygook even means, but I’ve heard people use every one of these clichés in some way – and sometimes in combination – over the years.
• Circle back = we will get back to Jim
• Low-hanging fruit = results that are thought to be easily attainable, i.e. metaphorically, the fruit hangs low enough on a branch that you can “pick” the fruit from the tree without much effort.
• Building synergies = working together to make something happen
• Gaining traction = the project or task is in the works; something is happening
• Providing turnkey, value-added and end-user solutions = we’re offering something that is supposed to be versatile, easy and does what it says it does. (interesting trivia: Webster’s defines turnkey as a noun: the person in charge of the keys at a prison: jailer)
The paradox is that when using all these clichés, instead of sounding impressive or original you just sound bland and ordinary, because you’re using all the same tired expressions that everyone else uses.
People should say what they mean. Try being more direct, use plain language and be clear in your communication. You might be surprised at the reactions you get; people may actually understand you.
What’s your favorite business cliché?