(Warning – this article will make you cringe.)

I suspect graduates these days are equipped with a lot more information about the reality of the world of work. 20 years ago, before the masses could widely access the internet, most of us walked out of our universities and colleges, and straight into the unknown.

For the kids of many working class people, like me, who didn’t have the benefit of office experience passed down from their parents, life at work was going to be one big shock to the system.

The biggest shock? The way people spoke. The language they used. The jargon. The in-jokes. The nicknames. The way everyone addressed each other by their surnames. The way you were an outsider if you didn’t subscribe to the vernacular. The company slang, but most noticeably, the way many people talked utter nonsense; stringing lots of big words together to make complex, incomprehensible sentences, with no clear purpose or objective, other than to make the speaker appear more intelligent or knowledgeable than they actually were. I saw consultants win business by confusing the hell out of the client and then damaging relationships, because neither party knew what they were getting from the deal.

The bigger the organisation, the worse it got. I earned myself a reputation as someone who cut through the crap by simply asking “what do you mean?” It got me in front of clients that no one else could access, win business no one else could win and build really strong relationships. It annoyed people, too. A lot.

With all the information and tools we have to help us communicate more easily, you’d think we’d be better at this. Alas, I think it’s getting worse. I called on the scientific medium of Facebook last week to poll my nearest and dearest on some of their most cringe-worthy workplace phrases. Here are some of my favourite responses:

The confusing section:

“”TOUCH THE KEYBOARD!” Once heard that on a call with a client. Meaning who is going to be responsible for something. “Ok, so who is going to touch the keyboard on that?”

“Bucket this out.”

“How does this ladder up?” I wanted to punch everyone that said it. THERE IS NO LADDER.”

“Clear blue water.”

“Ideas shower.”

“Baked in solutions.”

“Message the balloon.”

“When the rubber hits the road.”

The flagpole section:

“Run it up the flagpole.”

“Let’s put this idea up the flagpole and see who salutes it.”

Just nasty:

“Skin in the game.”

“Unpackage the brief.”

“Using the word ‘resource’ instead of ‘person.'”

The bleeding obvious:

“”Let’s ensure we set ourselves up for success”…as opposed to complete failure, I’m guessing?!”

And now for the repeat offender section:

“Touch base.”

“Ducks in a row.”

“Telephone tennis or tag.”

“Let’s take this offline.”

“Singing from the same hymn sheet.”

“Blue sky thinking.”

“Outside the box.”


“Low hanging fruit.”

“Boiling the ocean.”

And surprisingly the one that offended the most was “reach out”. People don’t want to be reached out to or to reach out to others. Just call them, email them, speak to them, or use the correct verb for what you’re actually going to do, I’ve been told.

If you’d like to discuss your most cringe-worthy phrases with us, or want to be able to communicate your messages more effectively to your employees or customers, email Rakhee at rakhee@tigrismanagement.com

We’ll touch base soon, I hope 😉

By Rakhee Verma

Rakhee Verma left PwC in 2011 to pursue a successful career as a management consultant and interim director; helping her clients to fulfil their strategic and commercial objectives, with an emphasis on building successful growth.  With clients in the private, public and third sectors, she brings a unique insight from across a spectrum of businesses and not-for-profit organisations.  To contact Rakhee for a discussion about your needs, email rakhee@tigrismanagement.com