The business world is full of idioms, expressions, and metaphors. Some are quite useful, but others have become so overused that they have lost their meaning and are now considered by many to be cliché. If you are working in an English business environment, you will probably hear the vocabulary below; therefore, it is important to know and understand these words and expressions. Equally as important, however, is avoiding using them!

Business English Formal Requests

Overused Business English Vocabulary

“Take it to the next level”

This cliché expression, which means “to move forward on a plan or do better at something,” is often overused in the business world. Where it once inspired employees to continuing “climbing” and “reach” their next goal, it now has lost its meaning. Instead of using this vague phrase, be more clear and state exactly what the goals are.

Example: “Next quarter we need to grow our sales staff by 10%, initiate a new training program for employees, and increase sales in our Southern California market by 15%.”

Better? Yes!

“Step up the/your/our game”

Sports metaphors are common in the business world, but they are overused and a little silly: this is business, not the baseball field! When a person says that you need to “step up your game,” he or she means that you need to work a little harder. As with the expression above, it’s important to replace this old, meaningless expression with something more concrete.

Example: “I need you to increase your efficiency by generating reports in 30 minutes less time than it normally takes you.”

The only one who needs to STEP UP THEIR GAME is an athlete. Leave the sports idioms on the field and keep them out of the board room.

“Rock stars”

Just as we are not on the baseball or football field, we also aren’t performers. Calling someone a “rock star” because he or she does their job well sounds silly; more importantly, it doesn’t give them the real credit that they deserve. Instead, use measurable compliments about their abilities.

Example: “She is the leading salesperson in her district.”

Example: “He has broken the records for signed contracts this quarter.”

Now those are some accolades worth mentioning!

“Bite the bullet”

This war metaphor came from the U.S. Civil War, when soldiers would bite a bullet during medical treatments for their injuries. In the business world, it means that we have to “make sacrifices or do something that we do not want to do (in hopes of something better happening in the future).” The metaphor should have stayed on the battlefield, but it somehow made its way into the board room.

Instead of this morbid expression, state the obvious.

Example: “Spending will have to be increased this quarter, despite our efforts to keep costs at a minimum.”

Example: “We are sacrificing productivity this quarter in the hopes that we will make up earnings in the next quarter.”

Much less morbid, and much clearer about the sacrifices being made!

We need to THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX in regard to ways to express creativity.

“Think outside the box”

This cliché, overused expression asks you to think differently and come up with inventive and original ideas. However, it has been used so much that the expression no longer inspires.

Rather than using this tired expression, clearly state what you need.

Example: “Our advertisements look like all the other adverts for this brand. We need to come up with something that shows how our company is different: we should stress that we are a small, family owned company that sells organic, sustainable products. How can we do this in a creative way that appeals to our target market?”

Business English Class
SYNERGY has lost all of its meaning. Instead, focus on words like TEAMWORK. Words like this emphasize the team and the individuals in it.


This word, which means “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” was once a powerful and useful expression. After time, however, it has become overused and lost some of its meaning.

Our suggestion? Instead, focus on using words like “combined efforts” and “working together.” They aren’t buzzphrases* like synergy, but they actually carry more meaning and sincerity.

Example: “With the combined efforts of our Research and Development Department and our Advertising Team, I am confident that we can (and will) work together effectively to create a business plan that will meet our financial goals.”

*Buzzphrases= overrated!

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