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Writing guru Adam Yong, the CEO of Agility Writer, says that using vague jargon like this only muddles your message to co-workers and bosses. While you think you’re “moving the needle,” Yong argues that bosses may actually perceive you to be unprofessional or even disrespectful.

“Jargon masks real meaning,” warns Yong in a statement to StudyFinds. “When emailing your boss, you want to be clear, concise, and get straight to the point. Buzzwords and meaningless phrases just get in the way.”

So, what exactly should your next office email look like? Here are the six phrases Yong says to avoid saying or writing — and why people don’t like hearing them anymore.

‘Think outside the box’

What does it mean? This cliché urges colleagues to think creatively.

Why don’t people like it? Yong contends that this phrase has become so overused it no longer carries much meaning.

What to say instead: Yong recommends explaining exactly what kind of innovative or unconventional approach you have in mind. You can use words that directly encourage creative thinking, such as “be creative,” “innovate,” “explore new ideas,” or “think creatively.”


What does it mean? “Synergy” is a vague term that refers to cooperation or combined efforts.

Why don’t people like it? It doesn’t provide any real specifics about what is being combined or how people are supposed to combine them.

What to say instead: Yong recommends being clear about what groups, skills, or resources you are proposing to merge. Try using more specific language, like “collaboration,” “team effort,” “working together,” or “joint effort.”


What does it mean? “Leverage” was originally used to describe the strategic use of resources to maximize outcomes or to gain an advantage over something or someone.

Why don’t people like it? Yong says that “leverage” has become a catch-all term that lacks any specificity.

What to say instead: Try using clearer language that explains the situation, such as “utilize,” “make use of,” “capitalize on,” or “harness.” Yong notes that these alternatives provide a more concrete understanding of how resources are being employed to gain some “leverage.”

‘Circle back’

What does it mean? “Circle back” is a common phrase that suggests returning to a previous topic or checking in on a task at a later time.

Why don’t people like it? People say it so often now that it can sound dismissive, insincere, or unclear — like someone is trying to simply avoid a topic.

What to say instead: Consider using phrases like “follow up,” “revisit,” “check back in,” “return to this topic,” or “discuss again later.” These alternatives offer clarity and precision and let people know you plan to discuss this subject again.

‘Low-hanging fruit’

What does it mean? This refers to taking or dealing with the easiest or most obvious options first.

Why don’t people like it? It’s an awkward metaphor that can sound glib. Its overuse has also rendered it trite and lacking in impact.

What to say instead: Yong suggests being clear about the specific course of action you recommend starting with. You might want to describe this “low-hanging fruit” as “easy wins,” “quick wins,” “simple tasks,” or “readily attainable goals.”

‘Move the needle’

What does it mean? People say “move the needle” when they’re talking about making a significant impact or progress.

Why don’t people like it? This has become another vague and overused term often said when there’s any kind of movement or success.

What to say instead: Opt for more specific language such as “make a significant impact,” “drive progress,” “achieve noticeable improvement,” “influence outcomes,” or “advance our goals.”


Yong’s message is a simple one: Ditch the buzzwords and jargon, especially when you’re creating emails to co-workers and bosses. These phrases have been so played out that saying them again in 2024 could actually make you look unprofessional in the eyes of your colleagues.

“If you want to earn your boss’s respect and get your point across, take the time to write clearly and directly every time you hit send on that email,” Yong tells StudyFinds.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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1 Comment

  1. R.G. says:

    Thinking outside the box. What box and whose box is it?

    I’m a people person. Well I’m glad to hear you are not an animal person.