To gain more confidence when using English at work, getting familiar with these Business Idioms can be one of the best solutions. See, when you hear one of these expressions for the first time, they can really get you off track. And if you start doubting your comprehension skills, your performance may suffer in consequence. Fear not, we’ve got your back with this short list of business phrases for you to understand, memorise and eventually – use in speaking!
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What are the main characteristics of English idioms used in Business Communication? Well, that’s a great question! We could say that any idiom has the potential to become a Business English star, but there are some criteria that the most popular idioms certainly meet. Think about it – the very concept of Business English is both relatively young (what is two hundred years in linguistics!) and extremely fluctuating. Expressions and phrases get in and out of use and non-native speakers risk sounding like a blast from the past on a business meeting if they don’t pay attention to the language they use.
The all time favourite idioms that seem to stand the test of time are those that express:
- Thinking Patterns And Learning Processes (Eg: Outside the box, by the book, cut corners, to learn the ropes, blue sky thinking)
- Intellectual or Professional Resources (Eg: An ace up your sleeve, to bring something to the table, of the top of one’s head)
- Synonyms of Talk/ Speak / Communicate (Eg: To touch base with someone, Out on a limb, to get/ bring someone up to speed, to hit the nail on the head)
- Sport-related Idioms (Eg: To corner the market, a long shot, to go down swinging)
- Timeline / Deadline Synonyms and Equivalents ( Eg. To jump the gun, To get someone up to speed, Back to square one)
Below, you can find examples and definitions of the most common idioms in each of these categories. We encourage you to write down two or three idioms a week and actively try to weave them into (use them in ) your business meetings as a ‘real life practice’ exercise.
Idioms Related To Our Thinking Patterns And Learning Processes
To think outside the box
to think imaginatively using new ideas instead of traditional or expected ideas
Example: If you want to succeed in this highly competitive economic environment, you have to think outside the box to gain an edge on your rivals.
Can you think of your own example? Give it a try to get more comfortable with this idiom.
By the book
To do things strictly by the rules.
Example: I don’t want to take any chances of getting caught and having to pay a fine. We have to do everything by the book.
The opposite of by the book, do things most quickly and cheaply to save time and money
Example:I know it’s cutting corners, but this cheaper software is all we can afford this year.
To learn the ropes
To learn the basics of a profession, a specific task or activity.
Example: It took her a while to learn the ropes, but now she is confident and we feel that we can count on her to manage her client portfolio effectively.
Blue sky thinking
Ideas that are feasible in a perfect world, excessive optimism
Example: “The manager’s blue-sky thinking always resulted in unrealistic expectations.”
Sport-related Idioms are REALLY common in professional contexts – can you use these three correctly?
To Corner The Market
In finance, cornering the market consists of obtaining sufficient control of a particular stock, commodity, or other asset in an attempt to manipulate the market price. One definition of cornering a market is: having the greatest market share in a particular industry without having a monopoly.
As you can imagine from the use of the word ‘corner’ the phrase originated in the world of box and can be met in its more generic version: to corner someone, meaning to force a person or an animal into a place or situation from which they cannot easily escape.
What company corners the tech market in your opinion?
Something Is A Long Shot
This phrase comes from sports, like basketball for example when a player is trying to shoot from a long distance. It means something unlikely to happen and we use to express that we believe there is very little chance of success.
Example: Getting a senior position in the corporation one day is a long shot, but if you don’t try you’ll never find out if it’s possible.
Can you think of a situation in which to use this phrase?
To Go Down Swinging
This phrase comes from boxing, where ‘to swing’ means to throw an arcing punch. It means to continue to fight or resist someone or something until the last moment of an ultimate defeat.
Example: We might not have any real chance of winning this lawsuit, but we’re gonna go down swinging!
Can you think of a situation in which to use this phrase?
Idioms Describing Intellectual or Professional Resources
(to have) An ace up your sleeve
A secret plan, idea, or advantage that can be utilised if and when it is required. A reference to cheating at a card game by hiding a favourable card up one’s sleeve
She’s keeping all the details of their business practices as an ace up her sleeve should they ever try to fire her.
Off the top of one’s head
Meaning: to know immediately, from memory or without much or careful consideration.
I can’t think of any ideas off the top of my head; I’ll have to do more research.
Timeline & Deadline Related Idioms
Jump the gun
Meaning: to do something early or before the right time
Eg: “Next time, do more research instead of jumping the gun.”
To get someone up to speed
Meaning: to update someone on the current situation or to give them all the necessary information to allow them to complete their task or fulfil their mission.
Eg: ‘Why don’t you come to the office and I’ll take the time to get you up to speed before we go to the meeting’
Business Equivalents of Speaking, Talking or Communicating with Others
Out on a limb = To do or say something risky Eg: She went out on a limb to defend my unconventional strategy.
To touch base (with someone) = to talk briefly with someone. Eg: Let’s touch base after your meeting with Mark. We’ll get more details then.
To get / bring someone up to speed = to update someone on the current situation or to give them all the necessary information to allow them to complete their task or fulfil their mission. Eg: Why don’t you come to the office and I’ll take the time to get you up to speed before we go to the meeting.
Feel like this is just a tip of an iceberg ? You are entirely correct – idioms and collocations are a huge chunk of Business English. We, at MPEC dedicate a lot of attention to speaking and communication. So, if you need to practice or learn more – do not hesitate to get in touch!