25 Overused Business Words With Alternatives

by Cathy Miller on May 19, 2014

Overused Business Words Post PhotoBusiness words and phrases leap from creative to trite faster than you can say value proposition.

Repetition kills even the best of business words.

It’s like witnessing the slow death of a beautiful rose.

  • Petal by petal curls in misuse or neglect
  • Withering until its original form is lost

We can restore life with a little nurturing.

  1. Consider the context of your message
  2. Use the simplest and clearest form
  3. Clip off the overused, dying shell

The following is a small sample of overused business words or phrases and possible alternatives.

Withering Business Words

We all have our pet peeves when it comes to the words we love to hate. At times, I feel sorry for them.

  • Some are solid words or phrases
  • Others were pretentious from the start
  • Many evict passion of love or hate

Some of the following I hate. Others, not so much. See what you think.

1. At the end of the day

As much as I hear this phrase, I wonder how we ever get any sleep. At the end of the day, we have so much to do dealing with whatever follows at the end of the day.

  • Possible alternative − Ultimately, finally
  • Example − At the end of the day, this option is the better choice − Ultimately, this option is the better choice.

2. Best-of-Breed

This phrase, like many of our business word clichés, started in the information technology (IT) world. Well, maybe the dog world would be more accurate but work with me here.

Best-of-breed as it relates to IT means purchasing software from various vendors to have the best available for each application.

The phrase crossed over into other business applications. I can’t help picturing the Westminster Kennel Club dog show when I hear best-of-breed applied to business consulting.

  • Possible alternative − Specialists, experienced professionals
  • Example − We offer best-of-breed logistics management consulting − Our experienced professionals specialize in logistics management for small companies.

3. Buy-in

Asking customers for their buy-in sounds like an added charge on their invoice. But that may be the strange way my mind works.

  • Possible alternative − Agreement, commitment
  • Example − If we have your buy-in, we’ll move on to the next phase − If we have agreement, we’ll move on to the next phase.

4. Circumvent

Circumvent is a fancy way of saying avoid or go around. Not a bad word; however, I prefer a more direct route (bad pun intended).

  • Possible alternative − Avoid, overcome
  • Example − We can circumvent the problem with better communication − We can avoid/overcome the problem with better communication.

Business Words Bubbles

5. Core competency

This one first cropped up for me in personnel evaluations. Next thing I knew, businesses were talking about their core competencies. Maybe my negative, knee-jerk reaction to personnel evaluations has me bristling at this business phrase.

  • Possible alternative − Specialize in…(describe), distinguished, excel
  • Example − XYZ Company’s core competency is its design process − XYZ Company excels in its design process (explain how).

6. Cutting edge

Color me strange but I do not find being on the cutting edge an enviable place to be. Images of blood (especially my own) are not my idea of a good time. They are better left to Stephen King.

  • Possible alternative − Leading, progressive
  • Example − The cutting-edge technology cuts production costs in half (ouch) − The progressive technology cuts production costs.

7. Drill down

Have I told you I was a dental hygienist in another life? You can imagine what this phrase evokes.

  • Possible alternative − Analyze, review
  • Example − We’ll drill down to the details − We’ll review the details.

8. Facilitate

Facilitate is another word that may get a bad rap. It means making things easier, so why not make the word easy, too?

  • Possible alternative − Help, ease, make possible
  • Example − Our company facilitates enrollment through simple technology − Our company eases enrollment through simple technology.

9. Game-changing

I’ll admit I have used the word game-changer. But it’s not one I use often.

That is the flaw in many of our overused business words and phrases. We beat them to death and use them in situations that are not game-changing. Unfortunately, that practice ruins effectiveness for the good words.

  • Possible alternative − Transform, make a difference
  • Example − This game-changing product is unlike any product out there − This product transforms the way you do XYZ.

10. Get on the same page

I know what you’re thinking. Why would a writer not want to use a phrase about getting on the same page? And, yes, I’ve used it. Many, many times. See where this is headed?

  • Possible alternative − Agree, support
  • Example − If all parties get on the same page, we can sign the contract − If we all agree to the terms, we can sign the contract.

11. Get the ball rolling

♫ Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ Rawhide ♫ Sorry. That just popped into my head.

  • Possible alternative − Start, begin ,trigger (no, not the horse)
  • Example − Let’s get the ball rolling with the client call on Tuesday − Let’s start by preparing for the client call on Tuesday.


12. Going forward

When I hear this phrase, my Shoulder Satan shouts, but I want to go backwards.

  • Possible alternative − Continue, in the future (or, in most instances, eliminate the phrase)
  • Example − This will be our new process going forward − This will be our new process.

13. Holistic

This word once had a warm, fuzzy feel for me. Perhaps that was due to all the healthy living, wellness program writing I have done. The business word context means considering the whole system, rather than individual parts.

  • Possible alternative − Complete, full, integrated
  • Example − We take a holistic approach in designing your widgets − We integrate each widget part in our design for complete functionality.

14. Impacted

This takes me back (once again) to my dental hygiene days and impacted teeth. When this business word is used as a verb (instead of a noun), writing purists become unglued.

  • Possible alternative − Affected, changed, influenced
  • Example − The results impacted the bottom line − The results affected the bottom line.

15. Innovative

This used to be such a great word. Then it lost its innovation.

  • Possible alternative − New (or describe what’s different)
  • Example − Our innovative approach… − We take a different approach (describe)

16. Key, key point or key takeaway

I find myself falling into a bad habit of using the word key a lot. Beware how often key creeps into business communication.

  • Possible alternative − Major, important, critical
  • Example  A key point of discussion is… − An important point of the discussion…

17. Mindshare

This marketing term has me thinking of alien forces taking over our minds. It’s pure marketing and refers to the idea of getting consumers to think of your product over others. Think of it as the stepchild of marketshare.

For example, when we think of facial tissue, many people refer to the item as the brand Kleenex. The Kleenex gods have done their mind-grabbing job.

  • Possible alternative − Awareness
  • Example − We want to build our product’s mindshare − Our goal is to build consumer awareness so our product is the first product customers think of when shopping for widgets.

18. Paradigm shift

Doesn’t this sound like Greek mythology? In some circles, we wish it would fade into ancient history.

  • Possible alternative − Pattern change, significant change
  • Example − There has been a paradigm shift in how we view communication − Our pattern of communication changed significantly.

19. Push the envelope

If you are like me, you probably wonder how the heck this business phrase started. It does not refer to our letter-holding pockets of paper. The term has its origin in math. As math-challenged as I am, I will not attempt to explain it but for those who like that kind of thing, click on the previous link.

  • Possible alternative − Take a risk, expand, try something new
  • Example − The team excels at pushing the envelope of design − The team challenges convention by trying something new.


20. Raise the bar

Even pole vaulters may tire of this business phrase.

  • Possible alternative − Higher standard, elevate
  • Example − We need to raise the bar on performance − We need to elevate our performance standard.

21. Reach out

The creators of this phrase probably hoped we’d picture a hand extended in a helpful gesture. Me? I picture a hand reaching out from behind a cage, begging for escape from overused business words.

  • Possible alternative − Assist, support, ask, recruit, enlist
  • Example − Reach out to the customer with another option − Assist the customer by offering another option.

22. Run the numbers

Where exactly do we want the numbers to run to? And why?

  • Possible alternative − Price, calculate
  • Example − Let me run the numbers so we know what we’re dealing with − I’ll calculate the cost of the project for you.

23. Think outside the box

Maybe it’s just me (probably) but I hated this phrase from the start. Imagine if I was trapped inside the box. Wouldn’t I have to think while inside the box to get outside? Or am I over-thinking it?

  • Possible alternative − Imaginative, resourceful, different
  • Example − Let’s see if we can think outside the box on this account − Let’s be resourceful and find a different way to solve this problem.

24. Value-added

Our value-added has become vanilla.

  • Possible alternative − Beneficial, enhancement, additional service
  • Example − We offer the following value-added services − We offer the following additional services at no cost to you.

25. Win-win situation

I wonder if anyone uses the business phrase lose-lose.

  • Possible alternative − Mutually rewarding, beneficial, accommodation
  • Example This approach creates a win-win situation for both of us − The compromise is mutually rewarding.

Overused and Exhausted

Well, that was certainly exhausting. And it’s just a small sample.

I am not a fan of following the crowd or making absolute statements. Business words and phrases rely on presentation. Some work. Some don’t.

  1. Consider the context
  2. Use simple and clear words
  3. Cut out what doesn’t work

I know you have business words or phrases to add to the list. Please share those in Comments.


Helping you Keep it simple, clear & uniquely yours – contact me for help with your business writing needs.


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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne Wayman May 19, 2014 at 7:15 am

How about ‘my mind is blank.’ Not exactly business related, although it can be… but my state as I look to find another cliche… I guess I’m not in ton of business conversations these days.
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Cathy Miller May 19, 2014 at 7:36 am

Ha! Works for me, Anne. Sometimes that phrase is too accurate for me. 😉
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John Soares May 19, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Great list Cathy. I agree that most of these are definitely overused, but there are still a few that are in my vocabulary, like win-win.
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Cathy Miller May 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm

John, that’s the sad part for me. There are some business words or phrases that work. It’s only their overuse that makes us shy away at times. I hate blanket labels. I’d say we’re each unique but apparently unique is considered an overworked word. 😀
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Steve Maurer May 21, 2014 at 4:39 am

Thanks so much for this article. I agree with these overused words, but have had some trouble coming up with suitable alternatives for some of them.

Your article was a blessing and has helped me immensely with a lead generation tool that I’m rewriting now for a client.

Thanks again for the article and here’s to your continued success!
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Cathy Miller May 21, 2014 at 6:45 am

Hi Steve. I’m glad I could help. I figured a list without alternatives is just whining. 😉 I appreciate you stopping by.
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Jennifer Mattern May 21, 2014 at 11:46 am

Great examples Cathy! 🙂

I don’t say “run the numbers” much, but I say “crunch the numbers” far too often. I have no idea why. But apparently I love the phrase. I usually use it when talking to freelancers about setting their rates or in my own notes or chats with my hubby in reference to figuring out business goals.
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Cathy Miller May 21, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Of course, I never overuse words. 😀 I still like many that have become overused but I try to refrain from peppering them everywhere. Never liked pepper much anyway. 😉

Thanks, Jenn.
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Marilyn Grossman October 1, 2014 at 4:27 pm

I think one of the most overused expressions is “pick your brain” and brainstorming. Pick your brain is disgusting image, yet it pops up all the time. Alternate suggestions? Thanks.


Cathy Miller October 2, 2014 at 10:12 am

LOL, Marilyn. You make an excellent point. 😀 Some thoughts on alternatives ~

I’d love to know your thoughts on [fill in the blank]
I’d love to hear more about what you think
I know you are an expert in this area. What do you think? Can you recommend some resources?

Makes the person feel a lot better than they would if you “picked their brain”.

Thanks for a great comment, Marilyn. 🙂
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