Decoding Office Lingo

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Posted by Alexandra Levit on June 19, 2011
Decoding Office Lingo

If you thought everyone in the corporate world spoke your language, think again. The business world's language is one of subtlety, filled with euphemisms and pet phrases to cleverly disguise what people actually mean. Because you wouldn't visit a foreign country without a pocket translator, I've provided one here for your convenience that covers office lingo. Study these basic phrases at the beginning of your journey, and you'll be talking like a native in no time.

1. Phrase: "I've got too much on my plate."
What it means: This person has too much work to do or is trying to look like she has too much work to do, so someone else will have to take on any new assignments.

2. Phrase: "I just wanted to close the loop."

What it means: This person has made progress on an issue you were involved in and is, thankfully, keeping you informed.

3. Phrase: "Let's assess the team's bandwidth."

What it means: This person is trying to find out how much work everyone has to do, probably so she can delegate a new assignment to the person who is least busy.

4. Phrase: "You and I are not on the same page."

What it means: This person does not agree with you or there is a communication breakdown regarding the best way to proceed with a project.

5. Phrase: "I'm in crisis mode."

What it means: The person is stressed about a matter that may or may not be urgent. Either way, she does not want to be bothered.

6. Phrase: "I'm just calling to touch base."

What it means: This person wants to give you an update on a project or needs to ask you to do something for her.

7. Phrase: "Don't forget to CYA." (aka "Cover Your Ass")

What it means: This person wants you to take action to ensure that you are not blamed for something.

8. Phrase: "FYI.." (aka "For Your Information")

What it means: This person is indicating to you that you will be held accountable for whatever information she is about to impart.

9. Phrase: "We're going to have to think outside the box."

What it means: This person has received instructions from higher up to make sure that a great deal of thought goes into a project, and the pressure is on you to come up with something creative that is different from what has always been done.

10. Phrase: "Someone dropped the ball."

What it means: This person is absolving responsibility for a failing project and is implicating someone else on the team. Hopefully the "someone else" isn't you.

11. Phrase: "You're on the fast track."

What it means: This person is telling you that you have great potential and will probably be promoted quickly.

12. Phrase: "Let's take it offline."

What it means: This person wants to talk with you privately in an effort to either keep things confidential or stop wasting everyone else's time.

13. Phrase: "Better keep this on your radar screen."

What it means: This person is implying that she plans to forget what she is about to tell you as soon as the words come out of her mouth. You, on the other hand, are responsible for keeping it top of mind and following up appropriately.

14. Phrase: "We need to first capture the low hanging fruit before getting to the heavy lifting."

What it means: This person wants to get the easy stuff over with before moving on to actual work.

15. Phrase: "Let's leverage this best practice to add value and impact our bottom line."

What it means: Whoa, a quadruple whammy! You'll usually find jargon-filled sentences like these in strategic documents, such as business plans. For simplicity's sake, let's break this one down:

Leverage = recycle previous work
Best practice = how everyone else is doing it
Add value = justify a program's existence
Impact bottom line = make money

So in other words: "We must take advantage of the fact that someone has already come up with a working concept that everyone in the company buys into. You should use this concept to convince the higher-ups that your project will make the company money."


Alexandra Levit is the author of four books and a writer for several business and career publications, including the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. Her career advice has been featured in more than 800 media outlets, including the New York Times and National Public Radio.  Levit regularly speaks nationwide on work issues facing young employees.

This article was excerpted from They Don't Teach Corporate in College by Alexandra Levit.  To buy the book, click here.

Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from THEY DON'T TEACH CORPORATE IN COLLEGE, REVISED EDITION © 2009 Alexandra Levit.  Published by Career Press, Franklin Lakes, NJ.  800-227-3371.  All rights reserved.

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