If your boss comes up to you one day and says: “Look sharp and be on the ball, we cannot afford to lose this client.”…
Or if he or she says: “Step up your game or you’re going home!”
Do you know what they mean?
In the corporate world, it’s every man for himself. What these examples show are some common English idioms used daily by major businesses throughout the world. One thing about business idioms is that you cannot take the meaning of each word literally – you have to look at the words from a deeper point of view. Therefore, you tend to struggle a little bit if you’re not proficient in English.
Does understanding the meaning behind these English idioms essential for you?
YES! Not only will your employers use these English idioms throughout the day with you, but if you are preparing yourself for a career advancement or a promotion later in life, learning these business idioms can be really beneficial as they make you sound more knowledgeable and smarter, not to mention more proficient in English – the international language of business.
There are quite a number of methods to learn English idioms. Taking ten to learn English every day is one way to do this, or you could also read this article and learn how to use 20 English idioms commonly found in businesses!
Lose your touch
You feel like this doesn’t sound positive, and you’re right! This business idiom means you have lost or are in the process of losing the abilities that you were once good at.
Example: “The feedback from our recent customer surveys are not good – we are slowly losing our touch with the target market!”
Ballpark figure/ballpark number
If you’re asked to give a ballpark figure or a ballpark number, just give an estimate.
Example: “I don’t know exactly how much those printers will cost, but to give you a ballpark figure I’d say about RM5,000.”
(Be) on the ball
We mentioned this English idiom in the introduction, and you might be curious to learn. It actually means that you’re quick when it comes to understanding things, and are well-prepared to face anything that comes your way.
Example: “You’ve finished your tasks? Wow, you are really on the ball!”
By the book
You’d better learn this business idiom up if you’re not aware of its meaning so that you can use it in daily conversations. To do things “by the book” is essentially asking you to follow the company’s policy and structure when you’re completing tasks.
Example: “We are constantly audited by regulatory agencies so it’s best if we do things by the book.”
Ahead of the pack
This English idiom means to be better and more advanced than your competitors.
Example: “We have to stay ahead of the pack, and in order to do that we must stay focused!”
Cut to the chase
Let’s say you’re in a meeting and a junior is wasting a lot of time elaborating on a problem that the company is facing without proposing a solution, you could just politely speak up and ask him or her to cut to the chase. It might elevate your reputation.
Example: “Thank you for elaborating on the extent of our problem, but since we are well aware of the damage done, I feel like it’s best to cut to the chase and find a solution as soon as possible”.
Get the ball rolling
To “get the ball rolling” is one of the business idioms commonly used in professional settings. It means to start something. Learn this English idiom and use it whenever you want to take the lead on a project.
Example: “Our deadline is in three weeks, so let’s get the ball rolling!”
Go through the roof
Normally you can rejoice in the presence of this English idiom as it means that something is increasing rapidly.
Example: “Our sales have gone through the roof this month!”
Step up your game
Also mentioned in the opening paragraph, this business idiom means to improve your performance.
Example: “If you want to get promoted quickly, you’d better step up your game!”
We hope that you might not be a yes man as major corporations nowadays are looking for people who are more dynamic, but we can’t deny that sometimes agreeing with your superiors might give you certain advantages, and that’s what a yes man is – someone who always agrees with his employers or superiors!
Example: “My company is looking for someone who is not a yes man, someone who has more depth in him.”
Not going to fly
Feel like someone’s ideas are not helpful to the company? Do you have a fresher take? Learn to use this English idiom and politely present the ideas to your superiors.
Example: “With all due respect, I personally think that those ideas are not going to fly. I, however, do have some new suggestions that I would like to present to you.”
Word of mouth
If your company relies on word of mouth to gain customers, it means that its customers are spreading the company’s reputation or services through casual conversation.
Example: “We are currently relying on word of mouth to push our sales.”
Keep your eye on the ball
There are a lot of business idioms with the word “ball” inside, huh? This English idiom means to not lose focus and pay full attention to something.
Example: “If you keep your eye on the ball, we won’t lose it.”
Keep your chin up
To “keep your chin up” means to not let difficulties overcome you. This English idiom is especially useful if your boss is feeling low over something.
Example: “Sir, I understand that the business is suffering losses, but let’s keep our chins up and think of possible solutions.”
Raise the bar
This idiom is commonly heard in business English. When your company has set higher expectations or has achieved something better than the past, then it’s safe to say that you can learn this English idiom up and apply them when the time comes.
Example: “I have good news – our new initiative just raised the bar for the other competitors!”
If the company is using cheaper and quicker ways to achieve something, it means that it is cutting corners.
Example: “In light of the expenses needed for this product, we have to cut corners.”
Back to the drawing board
This English idiom is not only used commonly in businesses but also in pretty much any daily conversation. It means to restart or re-do something.
Example: “If this prototype isn’t good enough, we can go back to the drawing board.
In full swing
Being “in full swing” means that something has begun.
Example: “The workshop is in full swing now.”
Twist someone’s arm
Do not go and literally twist someone’s arm! This English idiom means to persuade someone to do something that he or she originally doesn’t want to do.
Example: “I had to twist his arm to get him to agree on our increased budget!”
In the driver’s seat
Last but not least, if you’ve learned and applied all those business idioms above, your boss might just ask you to be “in the driver’s seat”. In this case, congratulations on being one step closer to a career promotion!
Example: “I’d like you to be in the driver’s seat and take our company to greater heights.”
There are many more English idioms used in the business world. If you still feel like learning these 20 Business idioms isn’t enough, sign up for local intensive classes in business English to hone your skills!