Do you know how to describe your work environment? The following business idioms, phrasal verbs, and vocabulary words about working hard can describe your work situation, responsibilities, job challenges, and successes.
Business Idioms about Working Hard
Be on a roll
Definition: To experience a time of success or good luck.
Example: You made three sales this week and you’re also the Employee of the Month. You’re on a roll!
Definition: To have strong determination and work hard towards a goal.
Example: We have to buckle down and finish this assignment by tonight.
Burning a candle at both ends
Definition: To work extremely hard; to work too hard and not have good health or peace of mind.
Example: He’s working two jobs and going to school: I’m sure he feels like he’s burning a candle at both ends.
Give it 110%
Definition: To make the maximum possible effort.
Example: I gave it 100% at my last job. I will do the same with your company.
Go the extra mile
Definition: To make a special effort to achieve something.
Example: Tom went the extra mile and added graphics and more data to his report.
Definition: To deal with more than one task at the same time.
Example: We need to hire someone who can multi-task: answer phones, speak with customers, and help with office management.
Pull one’s own weight
Definition: To do your fair share of work that a group of people is doing together.
Example: It’s important that we all pull our own weight on this project.
Raise the bar
Definition: To raise the standard of quality for something.
Example: We created a new online platform for customers. It’s really raising the bar for customer service.
Stay ahead of the game
Definition: Gaining or maintaining an advantage in a situation (often by completing a task before its given deadline or knowing the latest about an industry’s trends).
Example: I try to read reports about the latest in my industry’s news. I like to stay ahead of the game.
Business English is more than just learning the language, phrasal verbs, and vocabulary that you need to be confident in a professional setting: it also includes learning the American business traditions that you need to know in order to conduct business in the U.S.! Do you know these American business traditions? See how they differ from the business traditions in your country.
American Business Traditions
The handshake: an important first impression
The handshake is your first impression in business and it is considered VERY important. Make sure that during a handshake you:
Hold the person’s hand firmly
Look the person in the eye
Saying something such as “nice to meet you” or “it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Formal names and titles
Before meeting with the person, make sure that you know their full name . . . but always use “Mr” and “Ms” when you first meet them. If the person has a title, such as “President” or “Doctor” or “Professor,” use this title + the person’s last name. Here are some examples:
It’s a pleasure to meet you, Professor Smith.
Nice to meet you, Doctor Jones.
Pleased to meet you, Vice President Roberts.
If the person prefers for you to use his or her first name, they will tell you. Usually, please say “Please, call me [first name].”
Dress to impress
It is true that Silicon Valley has a reputation of companies that accept very casual attire (think about Mark Zuckerberg, for example: he always wears a grey shirt!). However, in traditional business settings, it is important to dress professionally. For men, this often means a tie and a long-sleeved dress shirt; for women, this can mean nice slacks or a skirt and a dress shirt.
Forget gifts; remember hand-written notes
In the U.S., gifts can be seen as bribes (gifts you give someone to persuade them to make a decision). Instead, try to be thoughtful: send a hand-written note after the meeting and thank the person for his or her time, and suggest an opportunity to meet again.
Business cards before or after
Business card culture in the U.S. is very casual. Once you meet the person and get settled (sit down, take out your meeting notes) you can present your card; sometimes, this is something people do at the end of the meeting. The only thing that is important is giving your card when the other person does. If you’re unsure, wait to see when the other person gives you his or her card, then do the same.
If the card has an interesting design or logo, it is appropriate for you to give the person a compliment.
Smiles, eye contact
Body language is very important during a meeting. Be sure to smile, look at the person when they are speaking, and make eye contact. Avoid using your phone, and take notes if you can. Make sure that your phone is turned on silent so that it does not ring or buzz during your meeting.
Lunch meetings are productive
Lunch can be lunch . . . or, it can be an opportunity to discuss business. In American culture, it’s very common for people to have a productive lunch meeting where they eat together and talk about business plans.
Of course, there are some people in the U.S. who smoke, but many do not. It is considered rude to smoke without asking the people around you if it bothers them: to be safe, leave your cigarettes in your bag and wait until after the meeting.
Common Business Idioms
Do you know these common business idioms?
To talk about similarities
To be in the same boat
Definition: to be in a similar situation.
To be on the same page
Definition: to understand someone; to agree with someone.
To talk about strategies
To cut corners
Definition: to not do things thoroughly; to not follow the normal steps for a process or project.
Definition: a plan of action for a project.
To meet someone halfway
Definition: to compromise.
To think outside of the box
Definition: to think creatively.
Definition: to sacrifice something in order to gain something else; to compromise.
To talk about struggles/difficulties
A long shot
Definition: something that has very little chance of success.
To be between a rock and a hard place
Definition: to have the choice between two difficult decisions, both with outcomes that are not ideal.
To go out of one’s way (to do something)
Definition: to give extra effort, resources, etc. to help someone.
To have one’s head underwater
Definition: to feel overwhelmed, unprepared.
Converse International School of Languages in San Diego and San Francisco provides Business English classes with no more than 8 students per class (an average of 7 students) to help you improve your English skills for the workplace. If you need more intensive practice, CISL’s Premier English Executive Programs for professionals offer intensive instruction with 4-student classes focused on your career’s required English skills. Watch our testimonials below to hear about the success CISL students experience in our small classrooms and intensive curriculum.
“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” -U.S. President John F. Kennedy
In business, it is important to negotiate so that both sides are happy with their agreement. This can be difficult to do in your native language, so it is of course also difficult in English. Use this language of negotiation for English learners and you will be comfortable negotiating deals in your profession.
Language of Negotiation for English Learners
Language of agreement
I completely/totally/wholeheartedly agree.
That’s a fair point/suggestion.
You have a good point.
I think we can both agree that . . .
I see no problem with . . .
I see where you are coming from.
Language of disagreement
I’m not sure if I completely agree with you.
I understand where you’re coming from. However,…
I’m prepared to compromise, but…
The way I look at it…
The way I see things…
If you look at it from my point of view…
That’s not exactly how I look at it.
From my perspective…
I’d have to disagree with you there.
I’m afraid that doesn’t work for me.
Language of persuasion
Why don’t you meet me halfway.
I’m confident we can come to an understanding.
Surely there is a solution that we will both be happy with.
I’m convinced this is the best option for both of us/both parties.
How can you describe yourself, your experiences, and your education in a way that will make you stand out? Language can help! Using creative and original vocabulary will make your resume more interesting to read. Try this useful vocabulary for creating a resume to improve your resume (and perhaps improve your chances of getting an interview).
Useful Vocabulary for Creating a Resume
It is common to use words such as make, do, improve, or get on resumes. However, these words are too common and are seen as “weak” words: there are other stronger verbs in the English language that much more effectively express what you did at your last job. Try using some of the words below instead. In the parentheses, you will see the words or concepts that are commonly used with these power verbs. Some of the words are applicable for more than one category, so they may appear twice.
Prepared (a presentation, a proposal, anything to be presented or given to the public or co-workers or clients)
Presented (ideas, findings, proposals)
Promoted (ideas, companies)
Provided (support, professional help)
Pursued (a goal or new project)
Redesigned or Re-engineered or Restructured (a way of doing things, a system)
Reorganized (a way of doing things, a system)
Represented (a company, an organization, a team, a department)
Spearheaded (a project)
Trained (a person or a team)
Unified (a group, departments, companies)
Utilized (resources, tools)
With CISL’s Career English program, students spend time with an American company and practice their English in a real working environment. Before spending time with their host company, students work with the Career English Coordinator to improve their interview skills and to create their American-style resume.
Would you like to learn more about what it is like to spend time with an American company through CISL’s Career English program? Read about some of the experiences of former students and watch Desi’s video below.
As a manager or business owner, English speakers are expected to provide feedback and criticism to employees and co-workers. This can be exceptionally difficult for language learners because idioms are not just a common part of the English language, but an exceptionally important aspect of the business world.These Business English idioms and language for constructive criticism will help you provide the message you need to your employees or co-workers.
Business English: Idioms and Language for Constructive Criticism
Doesn’t make the cut
Definition: To be allowed to advance in competition or in business; to meet the requirements.
Example: I’m sorry, but your proposal didn’t make the cut. I’m sure that next time you’ll be successful though. Don’t give up!
Back to the drawing board
Definition: To start again after the current idea isn’t working and another one is needed.
Example: The Director did not approve our ideas, so it looks like we are back to the drawing board.
Back to square one
Definition: To start again after the current idea isn’t working and another one is needed.
Example: We didn’t receive funding for our project, so we are back to square one.
Definition: The rate of a person’s progress in gaining experience or new skills.
Example: I know that it difficult to receive such critical feedback, but hang in there: the learning curve is steep for this job.
Learn the ropes
Definition: To learn how to do a particularjob or activity
Example: While you learn the ropes, it’s natural for you to make some mistakes. Please come to me if you have any questions or concerns.
Definition: The small possibility of something happening.
Example: I know that going from Office Assistant to Office Manager in two years seems like a long shot, but you never know. Stranger things have happened. If you work hard, you might have a chance.
Raise the bar
Definition: Provide a higher quality or level of service, product, etc..
Example: I expect each new employee to be more qualified than the last, hence raising the bar in this office.
Shoot something down
Definition: To definitely say no to an idea or proposal.
Example: The District Manager shot down your proposal, but he did provide some valuable feedback.
Definition: An unlucky situation.
Example: I really thought you would close the sale: I’m sorry to hear that they chose our competitor. What a tough break.
Up to snuff
Definition: Meeting the required standard.
Example: I’m not quite sure if your work has been up to snuff lately. Is everything alright?
CISL’s Premier English courses for business professionals and Business English courses are designed to give students the skills necessary to succeed in the English-speaking workplace. To learn more about our intensive programs with small class sizes (no more than 4 students per class) contact CISL.