10 Things You Should Never Say At The Office

I love the language of business. I really do. I love its nuance. I admire its complete unwillingness to acknowledge negativity except in the most oblique and disingenuous terms. In its own way, it’s as tightly controlled as the platitudes of state-run media, just informed by a very different financial philosophy.

In that spirit, here are my 10 favorite business phrases and what they actually mean.

1. It’s a growth opportunity. Wickedly hard assignment that you’re probably not ready for. Kiss your weekends goodbye for the next three months…

2. Stretch goals. For some reason this one always conjured up for me the image of an attractive aerobics instructor in a leotard. Unfortunately, the reality has no aerobics instructor or leotard, only goals that are not attainable, at least not by human beings.

3. Thrown under the bus. As in (excitedly): “Whoa, did you see Johnson throw Dorfman under the bus in that Product Development meeting?” Have you ever tried to actually throw someone? (Especially someone as large as many executives?) Much less under a moving vehicle? It’s really hard. And why a bus – why not a truck or train?

4. It’s a win-win situation. A bad deal that should be avoided.

5. “He’s a real crackerjack!” May be used to describe an executive brought in to turn around a failing operation. Actually means he’s ruthless and conscienceless. Employees, take cover…

6. Ramp up. As in, “We’re ramping up our Customer Service operations.” This is code for “We’re woefully behind, and a key competitor is eating our lunch.”

7. Rightsizing. A logical, inevitable-sounding way of saying staff is about to be slashed and a bloodbath will ensue.

8. Headwinds. Most often used by a CFO or CEO: “We faced strong headwinds in the first quarter.” Generally precedes the announcement of disappointing, possibly disastrous, financial results.

9. Challenges and opportunities. My all-time favorite for its durability and flexibility. It’s hard to read an annual report without colliding with a few of these. “Challenges” generally refers to opportunities gone badly awry and “opportunities” refers to challenges like fast-growing businesses where we should be doing well but competitors are inexplicably dominating us.

Someone just pointed out that I promised 10 cliches in the title but listed only 9. Oh, sorry, guess I did. No matter. We business folks have been known to exaggerate a little now and then…

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