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Career Corner
Decoding Office Lingo

Alexandra Levit -- Thought everyone in Corporate America spoke English? Think again!

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

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 take on a new assignment.

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 he can delegate a new assignment to the least busy person.

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 out 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 him.

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: "FYIS" (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 implicating someone else on the team. Hopefully the "someone" 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: "Better keep this on your radar screen."

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

13) 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 sentences chock full of marketing jargon in strategic documents like 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 already came up with a working concept that everyone in the company buys into. Let's use it to convince the higher-ups that our project will make the company money."

Alexandra Levit worked for a Fortune 500 software company and an international public relations firm before starting Inspiration @Work, an independent marketing communications business. She's the author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World (Career Press 2004), This excerpt was reprinted, with permission of the publisher, Career Press, Franklin Lakes, NJ. All rights reserved.

© 2004 Alexandra Levit

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