Not all leaders are created equal and nor are the phrases they speak.

When it comes to cliché comments in the workplace, there are a dime a dozen.

These days in the workplace, we take words at face value and that’s not always a good thing.

The problem is we’re afraid to challenge our leader’s rhetoric for fear of opening a can of worms and looking combative. We are guilty of saying things at work and often we do it without thinking because it either fits the bill, we’re behind the eight ball or busy as a bee.

For many in the workplace, this type of behavior drives them up a wall.

The biggest culprit here are those pithy cliché comments that sound very smart on the outside but in the inside are hollow and lack any substantive direction or meaning. They literally hide in plain sight.

Don’t believe me? I have already used five clichés so far and I’m not even half way through this article yet.

Let’s start with what a cliché is to ensure we are on the same page:

cli·ché: a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.

It’s time we call out these phrases (and the ones who use them too often) in an effort to get back to clearer communication and clearer direction.

Here are 8 of the most common (and most annoying) clichés used by leaders in the workplace:

“Break down the silos”

This phrase runs rampant when talking about culture and cross functional engagement within organizations. The irony is that silos are above ground typically holding grain on a farm or underground holding a missile. Neither one of these sounds like an endearing way to talk about employees. If the idea is to address silos then focus on what the root cause is that has these silos formed in the first place. Leaders should focus more on the collaboration and less on the confinement when discussing this topic to better engage their teams in what’s possible. Breaking things down is the easy part, what about building it back up?

“Let’s circle back”    

This phrase gets an academy award for best response with least accountability. Unless you are in a walking meeting, say what you mean and skip the riddles. By the way, I asked Siri and Alexa to circle back and they told me they didn’t understand so I am pretty sure this one needs to go.

“Raise the bar”

From where? Who lowered it in the first place? Are you playing limbo in the office? Yes, we all know it means increase the goal and outcome but it’s not a bench press so this simply doesn’t work. What happens after the bar is raised? Is there someone who is going to hold up? Be specific and skip this one.

“Move the needle”

This is so widely used, yet has no actionable steps attached to it. Unless you are a doctor in the operating room, telling a colleague to move the needle I would refrain from using this. Why do you want to the move the needle in the first place? Just say what you mean. Moving a needle an inch or quarter? Is it about increasing performance, output or some other KPI? Say what it is and take the guess work out for those who aren’t doctors.

“My door is always open”

That would be great if you were actually in the office and there was an actual door. Most offices these days are open floor plan so this literally makes no sense. For those who have offices, if you say your door is always open then maybe take the door off the hinges? Obviously, I am joking but the statement actually means a lot to employees and finding out someone isn’t readily available is quite disappointing.

“Think outside the box”

Even people who actually work at companies that make boxes never say this. The intent is to inspire people to push their thinking whether it’s strategic or critical but if someone doesn’t know where the box is in the first place, how do you expect them to get outside? Spend less time using this cliché and more time expressing what it would look like if they did it. Oh, don’t forget to clarify what the box actually is.

 “Moving forward”

Last time I checked, no one is excited to move backwards. If the context and intent is to discuss someone’s performance, then consider skipping the alternative of “looking ahead” and just get to it. Your employees will appreciate skipping the preamble and discussing what’s next.

“Push the envelope”

Have you ever tried actually pushing an envelope? I imagine not. This isn’t a mobster movie and you aren’t sitting at a table shaking someone down asking for an envelope filled with money. If you want someone to push past their limits then consider sharing with them where they are and define where you want them to be. This will save time and paper cuts.

Final thoughts: I realize we live in a world of Slack, IM and emoji’s but we all must put a little more effort into our ability to communicate and connect. It will save time and might just move the needle.

The floor is yours: What workplace cliché would you like to retire?

Please leave your comment below as your insights are greatly appreciated and a learning opportunity for everyone reading this article.

With leadership,

Joshua /

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