25 Overused Business Words With Alternatives

by Cathy Miller on August 9, 2017

How much do you hate overused business words?

  • The ones you’ve read a million times
  • Words you swore you’d never use

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

The overworked words worm their way into communication crevices, spilling into clumps of cliché.

You try to avoid them. But what if your boss (even if that’s you) needs that business communication NOW.

Overused business words prey on those weak moments when your brain shuts down or deadlines loom.

What if you had a handy list of alternatives? Congratulations! You’ve come to the right place.

  • This is an update to a post published on May 19, 2014
  • It consistently hits #1 on my most visited posts
  • I tweaked the old words and substituted a few new ones

To keep this from being one big rant, I included possible alternative phrasing.

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

Even the alternatives become overused. My preferred choice is to use figurative descriptions, so I’ve thrown in a few examples of those.

(Listed alphabetically)

1. At the end of the day

This phrase exhausts me. At the end of the day, we have so much to do 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 started in the information technology (IT) world. Well, maybe the dog world, but the IT business world snatched it.

Best-of-breed means purchasing software from various vendors to have the best available for each application. Like so many of our overused words, the phrase crossed over into other business applications.

Do you picture the Westminster Kennel Club dog show when you hear best-of-breed applied to business consulting? Or is that just me?

  • Possible alternative − Specialists, experienced professionals, accomplished
  • Example − We offer best-of-breed logistics management consulting − Our accomplished 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.

  • 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.

5. Core competency

Have you had this phrase thrown at you during an employee evaluation? You may have seen it on an About page for a company’s website. It makes me think about building up my abs. Not necessarily a bad thing.

  • 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 for Stephen King.

  • Possible alternative − Leading, progressive, streamlined
  • Example − The cutting-edge technology cuts production costs in half (ouch) − Our streamlined technology will have you doing a happy dance over increased production.

7. Engage

As much as businesses want to engage customers (or employees), you would think the diamond business would be booming.

  • Possible alternative – Fascinate, immerse, involve, entice
  • Example – Human resources needs to engage employees in the success of the business – What will entice employees in caring about the business?

8. Facilitate

Facilitate means making things easier. So, why not make the word easier, 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

The flaw in many overused business words is we beat them to death. We use them in situations that are not game-changing. Even the best words lose their effectiveness.

  • Possible alternative − Transform, make a difference
  • Example − This game-changing product is unlike any product out there − Our mesmerizing 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. Whoops.

  • 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 your ducks in a row

Have you ever tried getting ducks to line up? Neither have I. But, it could be amusing.

  • Possible alternative – Review your options, organize
  • Example – You need to get your ducks in a row before applying for that job – You should review your options before applying for the job.

12. Going forward

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

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

13. Innovative

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

  • Possible alternative – New, reinvented, reimagined, distinctive (or describe what’s different)
  • Example − Our innovative approach… − We take a different approach (describe) – We reimagined the way users do X.

14. Low hanging fruit

Talk about a visual. Giving the benefit of the doubt, I guess that’s a good thing. But then why does this phrase annoy so many people?

  • Possible alternative – simplest options, easy access
  • Example – If we eliminate the low hanging fruit, we’ll get a jump on the project. – Let’s start by choosing the simplest options.

15. Paradigm shift

Remember those pet peeves? Doesn’t this sound like Greek mythology? Don’t you 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.

16. Proactive

This overused business word causes a reactive response of disgust.

  • Possible alternative – Enthusiastic, dedicated, tackle
  • Example – We took a proactive approach to solving our client’s problems − We tackle our client’s problems from the start…

17. Push the envelope

This 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 (insert description of what’s new)
  • Example − The team excels at pushing the envelope of design − The team challenges “how we’ve always done it” by trying new designs.

18.Raise the bar

Except if you are a pole vaulter, this is an overworked phrase you should eliminate.

  • Possible alternative − Elevate, higher standard
  • Example − We need to raise the bar on performance. − We need a higher standard for measuring performance.

19. 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 to offer assistance − Assist the customer by offering her options.

20. 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.

21. Take ownership

Why does the repossession of a car pop into my head? And is that the picture you want customers to have when you use the phrase?

  • Possible alternative – Initiative, take responsibility, show a commitment
  • Example – If no one takes ownership, we’ll never get the project off the ground− Mary took the initiative to do whatever needed to be done.

22. Think outside the box

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

  • Possible alternative − Imaginative, resourceful, different, creative
  • 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.

23. Thought leadership

My visual mind sees a parade of words following a drum major. The scene does not inspire the critical thinking the phrase intended. And doesn’t it sound a tad arrogant?

  • Possible alternative – Different, new perspective
  • Example – We will provide the kind of thought leadership that helps your business succeed. – We help you gain a new perspective on evaluating your business.

24. Value-added

Value-added services. Does that mean your other services don’t add value?

  • 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, work for both
  • Example − This approach creates a win-win situation for both of us – If we compromise on this point, it should work for both of us.

Overused and Exhausted

Are you as exhausted as I am? 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.

We had great comments when this first posted on May 19, 2014. How about a little proactive competition to raise the bar on comment performance?

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{ 14 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

Cathy,
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!
Steve
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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.

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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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Paula Hendrickson August 9, 2017 at 9:44 am

Revised or not, your list reads like nine out of ten bad resumes and poorly-written executive bios I’ve had to rewrite over the years!

One day I may try to string a sentence together using only buzzwords.

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Cathy Miller August 9, 2017 at 10:02 am

I’ll admit, Paula, they are easy to fall back on. I try to raise my awareness level in hopes my screen reaches out and slaps my typing hands. 😉
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Anne Wayman August 9, 2017 at 10:34 am

You’re so good at spotting these phrases Cathy! Thanks.
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Cathy Miller August 9, 2017 at 11:10 am

It helps when you hear them over and over, Anne. 😉
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