10 popular business English expressions, what they mean and how to use them

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Native English speakers have a colorful way of expressing themselves, especially in business! Why do people use such indirect ways to express their ideas? One reason is that it’s a shortcut. People in business often say “time is money.” By using these sayings (or idioms) we save time – we rely on people’s shared understanding of these phrases so that we don’t have to go into too much detail.

Another reason people use these expressions is that it shows that you have experience. It’s like you’ve joined a special club of people who know these sayings. You want to be in the club, right? Lingoloop is here to help you improve your business English! Here are ten common business English expressions, their meanings and how to use them.

At the end of the day

If I had a nickel for every time I heard this expression, I’d be a millionaire! People love to use this when they are trying to decide what to do or contemplating a plan of action. It is often used to state (or restate) the most important point in an argument.

“At the end of the day, this will require money that we don’t have. So let’s postpone the plan.”

When there are many competing reasons or factors in a decision, often times someone will use this phrase to cut through or simplify the analysis.

“I can appreciate everyone’s thoughts about Amy, but at the end of the day she was the candidate I got along with the best, so I think we should hire her.”

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Move the needle

What kind of needle are they talking about? This phrase refers to the indicator meter on machinery (think of the speedometer on your car, or a temperature gauge on a grill). You use this phrase when you are describing whether an action will have a big enough effect.

“I like Bill’s plan to move our accounting software into the cloud, but I just don’t know if it will move the needle on our overall budget.”

Drop the ball

In business there are many English expressions that have to do with sports. “Dropping the ball” is one of the more popular ones. In the sports that involve catching (like football, basketball and baseball), dropping the ball is really bad! You can use it to talk about other people:

“Fred forgot to call the customer back. He really dropped the ball.”

You can also use it to talk about yourself:

“Sorry, I dropped the ball! I should have cc’ed you on that e-mail.”

Good problem to have

This is a weird expression because generally problems are bad to have! In business, it is used to describe a situation where something bad happens because you are making money or your business is growing. It can be used to describe something hypothetical, or in the future:

“If we keep on going at this rate, we’ll have to double our staff, but that will be a good problem to have.”

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

English expressions can be dramatic and brutal, but that’s why they can be effective in helping you express yourself. This phrase is used to express caution: when you are trying to eliminate something bad, don’t remove something good by accident.

“We need to cut back our spending during this recession, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. We still need to operate our core business.”

The big picture

What is this “big picture” and what does it look like? When people talk about the “the big picture” they are not talking about a literal picture or painting. This phrase is used when you want to talk about something at a high level. You may want to revisit the main point of doing something:

“Thanks for all the details, but let’s not forget the big picture. We are doing this to simplify our customer service strategy.”

It is sometimes used to criticize someone’s lack of vision:

“Amy is a tireless worker, but sometimes she forgets the big picture. I need her to channel her work ethic in the right direction.”

People person

Aren’t people just a bunch of persons? This expression is used to describe someone friendly our outgoing – someone who likes to interact with people.

“I’m so glad we hired Janet. She is a real people person. She’s great with customers.”

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Lots of moving parts

People love simplicity. They hate things that are complicated. Things with “lots of moving parts” can be difficult to understand or learn:

“I love the new strategy, but the plan has lots of moving parts. I hope the managers will be able to explain it to their teams.”

“Our new digital advertising campaign is great, but there are lots of moving parts. I will need a couple hours to show the team everything we are doing.”

Low hanging fruit

Business people love fruit, especially the ones that hang low! Use this phrase to describe achievable targets:

“Let’s focus on the low hanging fruit. I say we start by selling the new product to our existing customers.”

It can also be used to describe tasks that are easy to complete:

“Before we tackle the large boxes, let’s take care of the little ones. It will be easier if we just take care of the low hanging fruit first.”

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Think outside the box

People in business love to talk about the ‘box” and whether their thoughts are on the inside of it. This phrase is used to talk about creativity. Sometimes in order to generate new ideas, you need to change the way you do things. That is what it means to “think outside of the box.”

“Let’s think outside the box. Instead of hiring a tutor to teach English to the staff in person, maybe we can hire Lingoloop to give them online English classes.”

We hope our take on these English phrases was helpful to you! Business people also use many abbreviations or acronyms. Click here to read our post on common business acronyms. Are you ready to learn English “outside of the box” with Lingoloop? Sign up for a free trial class today.

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