8 smart and powerful phrases to use at work

Skip to:

Would you know what to do if your boss tells you to “fast track this project”?
Will you be happy or sad if she tells you “you nailed it!”?

The italicized phrases are called catch phrases and buzzwords. They can also be categorized as idioms. Catch phrases and buzzwords can include jargon (words and phrases used by a particular profession or group) and have assigned or figurative meanings. They also become popular at a specific time. Examples of these are “think out of the box”, “win-win situation” or “we’re in this together”, which is something you’ve probably heard more than once during the pandemic. Just like catch phrases and buzzwords, idioms have figurative meanings. For example, the idiom “hit the nail on the head” is not an order for you to do some carpentry, it means to say exactly the right thing (more examples may be found here: Canadian Idioms).

There are so many of these phrases used in the workplace. You may not be familiar with them if English is not your first language. But don’t worry, you’ll get used to them over time as you get more involved in conversations and meetings. Here are some commonly used ones you might like to learn:

  1. Keep me in the loop

    Meaning: Ask to be informed about a subject or issue.
    Example sentence: “I can’t attend the meeting this afternoon but I would appreciate it if you keep me in the loop. Please call me or send an email when you can.”

  2. Can I pick your brains about something?

    Meaning: This is similar to saying “Can I ask your advice on a matter?” The person is asking for your opinion or expert advice on a certain topic.
    Example sentence: “You’re such a talented artist! We’d love to pick your brains about a good colour scheme to use in a design project.”

  3. We are having a few teething problems

    Meaning: This means that they are experiencing problems at the early stages of doing something new.
    Example sentence: “There were a few teething problems when they installed the new security system but it’s working perfectly now.

  4. Go back to the drawing board

    Meaning: To start over and review the basics.
    Example sentence: “The new product flopped. Maybe we missed something important in our market research. Anyway, it’s back to the drawing board for us!”

  5. Let’s touch base

    Meaning: To meet briefly or contact someone.
    Example sentence: “We’ve given everyone their work assignments. Let’s touch base to follow up on progress next week.”

  6. Throw a wrench into the plan

    Meaning: To prevent a situation from happening smoothly by deliberately causing a problem.
    Example sentence: “The CEO’s decision to cut the budget in half threw a wrench into our plans. We need to review project cost and logistics so we’re moving the launch to next year.”

  7. Step up to the plate

    Meaning: To take on a responsibility. If someone says “you need to step up” or “you need to step up to the plate”, they’re saying you need to improve your performance or attitude, show responsibility, or control the current situation.
    Example sentence: “The president of the company stepped up to the plate and resigned this morning. A group of women who were former employees of the company accused management of sexual harassment and discrimination last week.”

  8. I’ve got a lot on my plate

    Meaning: Saying this means that you have too many tasks or responsibilities (or even worries) at the moment. This line can be used interchangeably with “I’m swamped”.
    Example sentence: “I wanted to help you set up the event but between the contract signing and promotions, I’ve already got a lot on my plate.”

Sources: Useful English expressions for the office that every newcomer should learn, Mary Camino, The Immigrant Education Society; and 50 common business idioms, top correct. Accessed March 4, 2021.

Back to top

We'd love to hear from you!

Please login to tell us what you think.

Related Learning Activities

WorkCom_Before you begin

A woman giving a presentation at work

Thinking about your knowledge and skills is an independent learning strategy. When you think about what you can do and what… Read more »

WorkCom_Week 4

A woman giving a presentation at work

This is our last week of Workplace Communications. This time you are in the driver’s seat. We look forward to your presentation… Read more »

WorkCom_Week 3

A woman giving a presentation at work

We have now reached week 3 of Workplace Communications! This week, we are engaging in a number of activities that allow… Read more »

WorkCom_Week 2

A woman giving a presentation at work

In week 2,  we continue practising working with others by doing a peer review. A peer review helps you develop… Read more »

Back to top

CC BY-NC-SAText of this page is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA, unless otherwise marked. Please attribute to English Online Inc. and link back to this page where possible. For images and videos, check the source for licensing information.