Business communication words and phrases: what to use and what to avoid

Natasa Milojevic

Last updated on: January 20, 2022

Do you frequently “circle back” because you have to “wordsmith” a couple of reports? Are you unable to “deep-dive into it” because you need to “touch base” with a coworker first? If you didn’t have trouble understanding these questions, someone from your team could be guilty of poor business communication. In case that’s you, corporate jargon might get the best of your ideas. Although nobody has to avoid your phone calls or ignore your messages to hint you to mind your words, using vague language in business communication certainly doesn’t make you a favorite team member. To ensure your coworkers have nothing but a good word for you, we’ve compiled several lists of business communication words and phrases to use and avoid. From properly phrasing your instant messages to communicating in meetings, no communication situation will catch you off guard anymore. 

Business communication words and phrases what to use and what to avoid

Why is the right use of words and phrases important in business?

We usually believe that a completed report has more value than discussing it for hours. When we tick a task off our to-do list instead of responding to a heap of business emails, it’s only natural to feel accomplished. After all, the benefits of a proactive task are right in front of your eyes. However, when the words fall short, and our projects are at risk of failure, the importance of proper business communication quickly comes to light. 

The right words generate leaders

Whenever we hear common phrases such as “Easier said than done” or “Talk is cheap,” it’s easy to fall under the impression that words do not have the same value as actions. However, a conversation analysis study shows that there’s more to our words than meets the eye. Analyzing an interaction during a business meeting, the researchers show how an ongoing conversation puts leadership into practice. By carefully crafting his sentences, the observant from the study manages to achieve agreement, decide on behalf of the team, and, as the study claims: “talk himself into being a leader.” The research also claims that the way leaders talk is what defines and models the entire organization. Putting their words before actions, they reduce the chances of miscommunication, planting the seed of an efficient workflow. 

Treading your words leads to action

It is undeniable that our words inspire action. Sometimes, they lead a coworker to help you out on a busy day. Other times, they result in their clicking the X button in your team chat conversation. If that happens, your message will disappear from both their list of direct messages and their sight. Meaningless, empty corporate buzzwords, negative phrasing, and weak language affect the clarity of your message and construct a significant barrier to effective communication. When our business communication is ineffective and not contributing to the organization’s climbing the ladder of success, we might just as well remain silent. The effect of keeping to ourselves would be the same — we would still deal with missed deadlines, disorganization, and low-quality projects. Although, this time, it would be in silence. 

Business communication words and phrases to use

Weighing your words before you speak is not reserved for business communication only. We usually look before we leap in our daily conversations with friends and family too. However, according to the recent workplace communication statistics, detailed instructions increase the efficacy of the overall task completion in your team. Minding your words is never a bad strategy, so let’s go over some business communication words and phrases you can use to ensure your message is always heard.

Simple words and phrases 

It’s not uncommon to follow the habit of using complicated and rare words. Sometimes, we do that when we communicate with a person for the first time. Other times, we use unusual vocabulary when participating in a team discussion. However, the need to make a great impression takes its toll on the meaning of our message. Let’s look at some examples of different ways we can communicate the same message:

“In lieu of commencing our project, we need to consolidate our goals and intents beforehand.“

“We need to delay the project because we have to discuss our goals first.”

Both sentences mean the same thing: the work on the project will not begin until everyone from the team is on the same page. However, the structure of these two sentences is different. The first sentence appears more formal and could potentially lead the recipients of the message to misunderstand it. On the other hand, the second sentence states the meaning more clearly, reducing the chances of somebody not being sure of its message. 

Why do we use complex words, and what can we do instead? 

Sometimes we unintentionally use archaic and vague words, but now and then, we fall under the illusion of complicated words making us seem more intelligent. Science, however, explains our ability to communicate the same message in different ways. The nature of language is what permits us to complicate matters. According to the famous linguist Noam Chomsky, every sentence has both deep and a surface structure. 

Deep structure refers to the meaning, ideas, and thoughts that we want to share with others.

The surface structure is what we actually say when we want to share our ideas, the very language we use. 

In line with the two previous examples, both sentences share a deep structure, however, their surface structure is different, making the second example seem more ambiguous.

Instead of adding to an overall confusion by using complex words and phrases in your business communication, whenever in doubt, choose the simple option. 

Let’s look into some alternatives:

❌ Instead of: ✔️ Use:
Limited numberFew
Prior toBefore
Comply withFollow
Endeavor Try

Modal verbs

Whether you plan to schedule a meeting or participate in a negotiation process, a reminder to pay attention to modal verbs wouldn’t do any harm. Although the speech process already requires you to use them, carefully plotting how you put them to use can make a difference between great collaboration and a project that fell through. Using a modal before an action verb isn’t reserved for dealing with sensitive issues or asking permissions only. Proper use of modal verbs can be a great addition to your business communication that can impact your overall tone. Instead of sounding harsh and commanding, your sentences become diplomatic and polite. 

Let’s go through how this looks like in practice:

❌ Instead of: ✔️ Use:
I want you to finish that report by tomorrow. Would you be able to finish that report by tomorrow?
I’m not going to help you. I may not be able to help you.
I want to hear your explanation.I would like to hear your explanation.

Specific words and phrases

Opting for words and phrases with broad, general, and vague meanings is usually a flawed decision. Apart from interfering with the message you want to convey, the choice of non-specific words could also overshadow your expertise. Choosing meaningless expressions instead of concrete language in business communication decreases the value of the message and casts doubt upon your familiarity with the topic. Moreover, the more frequently you use vague language, the more endangered your team collaboration becomes. When faced with unclear messages and poor information-sharing, teams are more likely to develop a siloed mentality, which is a tough nut to crack once it appears. 

The examples of vague phrases and their alternatives could give you a helping hand in preventing this from happening. 

❌ Instead of: ✔️ Use:
The majority of the team members73% of the team members
Insubstantial amount of money$350
In the recent past/near futureTwo weeks ago/On December 18
I need to finish this thingI need to finish this report/article/email

Positive phrasing

The power of positive words in communication is not a breakthrough discovery. We tend to use it to a greater extent than we are aware. 

For example, you might notice your coworkers getting into a heated discussion in the #general channel of your business collaboration app. Instead of risking entering the argument yourself by openly telling them to stop arguing because they might be bothering the rest of the team, you find an alternative. By choosing to say “Let’s discuss this one over later/Let’s continue this conversation tomorrow” or addressing them in a group direct message instead of typing “Stop this argument already!” you went for a more positive approach. 

Our choice of words in business communication impacts not only teamwork and collaboration but also every external business outcome. Psychology has already proven that the way we frame our sentences affects our listeners’ choices and values. A study on our decision-making process in risky situations has demonstrated this human trait. The researchers offered two options to 132 undergraduate students:

A: Would you accept a gamble that offers a 10% chance to win $95 and a 90% chance to lose $5? 

B: Would you pay $5 to participate in a lottery that offers a 10% chance to win $100 and a 90% chance to win nothing?

Although both options are objectively the same, 42% of the students rejected the A option but readily accepted the B option. Researchers have concluded that when negative consequences are phrased so that they do not look like a loss, our subjective thinking process changes. 

Even though the hypothetical problems posed by the research seem manipulative, positive words and phrases in your business communication don’t necessarily have to take this turn. Let’s examine some actionable examples: 

❌ Instead of: ✔️ Use:
Why are you constantly supervising my work?I am more used to working independently.
You will not go on vacation until you notify everyone from the team.Before going on a vacation, notify your team members first. 
I think this is a bad idea.I don’t think this is such a good idea.
Now that article looks better.The article looks even better. 

Business communication words and phrases to avoid 

The wrong choice of words and phrases in business communication seems to be the root of most communication failures at the workplace. The pitfalls of poor workplace communication vary, from low employee morale to money loss and a decrease in everyone’s productivity levels. Although being reckless with your words could have colossal consequences on your organization’s performance, there’s no need to hem and haw for hours before responding to a message. Make sure to avoid the following words and phrases in your business communication, and you’ve covered all the bases. 

Overused buzzwords

Every once in a while, we all fall under the spell of corporate jargon. We hear these words and phrases too often, so they perhaps cloud our judgment. Sometimes, buzzwords such as “synergy,” “low-hanging fruit,” or “bandwidth” just seem like a good choice in particular situations. Whichever category you fall under, eliminating or reducing the use of jargon will do wonders for your business communication. Similar to ambiguous language, buzzwords do not contribute to the value of your conversations. Jennifer Chatman, a management professor from the University of California, claims that people who use jargon usually do not put much thought into getting their goals straight. The meaning they produce by using jargon is slippery and difficult to pinpoint. 

However, alternatives to the catchy but empty buzzwords do exist, so let’s shed some light on the words we can choose instead of them.

❌ Instead of: ✔️ Use:
Let’s dialogueLet’s talk
Low-hanging fruitAn easy task
Circle backRevisit something/Review a topic
Ping someoneContact someone


Whenever our fingers approach the keyboard, we are at risk of using the frowned-upon clichés. Written communication, especially email correspondence, naturally calls for stereotypical phrases. Sometimes they do have a purpose, but more frequently, they don’t contribute to the meaning of our messages and stand in the way of our productivity. 

Instead of communicating our message instantaneously, we waste precious time going over salutations, subject lines, and closings, which is just one of the disadvantages of email communication

Choosing a team chat app whenever possible would save you a considerable amount of time and prevent you from being in doubt whether your wording sounds too pretentious. Since there’s no need to fret over lengthy closing lines or salutations, getting in touch with team members using a team chat app allows you to transmit your message swiftly and go back to your tasks.

However, if you still need to compose an email from time to time, proper substitutes for stereotypical phrases can help.

❌ Instead of: ✔️ Use:
I hope you’re well/I hope this email finds you wellI hope you’re having a great day/week
Please do not hesitate to contact mePlease call me/schedule a meeting if you have any questions
Per our conversationAs we talked about on Monday/last week
Sorry for the late responseThank you for your patience

Sometimes we get carried away and use clichés in verbal communication too. Let’s go over some of the frequently used stereotypes and their possible alternatives.

❌ Instead of: ✔️ Use:
At the end of the dayFinally, ultimately
Game-changingTransformational, evolutionary
Raise the barIncrease your standards, improve
Be on the same pageAgree, support
Pick your brainShare ideas, thoughts
Reach outContact, support
Take ownershipTake responsibility 

Sentence fillers 

Sometimes, they pass unnoticed. Perhaps we are even unaware that we use them, ever. However, sentence fillers pose a threat to clear business communication. Apart from that, their appearance in your written or spoken communication makes you appear less confident in your words. 

Professor of communication at the University of Baltimore, Steven Cohen,, claims that the best strategy towards eliminating sentence fillers such as “just,” “like”, “um”, etc., is to take a break from speaking. Putting your speech on pause for a couple of seconds leads you to collect your thoughts and put them into coherent words. 

When it comes to writing, putting an end to filler words should be much easier. Instead of clicking the Send option, proofread your message as soon as you type in the last dot in a sentence. If you notice they don’t add to the meaning of your message, either substitute them with a more precise word or delete them completely. 

Let’s examine some common filler words we should try to avoid in writing.

❌ Instead of: ✔️ Use:
Very, really — I was very happy to see Josh. Try to find a more precise verb — I was delighted/glad to see Josh.
BasicallyTry to avoid using it
JustTry deleting it
ActuallyAvoid it whenever it looks unnecessary

Department jargon

Although discussing segmentation during a marketing department meeting won’t result in head-scratching, doing the same when talking to the IT department might cause confusion. Successful cross-functional collaboration depends on many factors, from a positive workplace climate to being familiar with long-term goals. Unclear communication, however, poses a significant threat to the cooperation between separate departments. If you frequently use department jargon in conversations with people from the outside of your team, you risk concealing information from them. Apart from blocking the information flow, using a term whose meaning varies across different departments gives rise to confusion and repetitive misunderstandings.  

To prevent frequent delays due to an unhealthy communication flow, always make sure to use simple language. When a conversation requires you to use a term that is not considered to be common knowledge, try to provide detailed explanations before moving on to the next topic. Let’s look into some examples of how you can solve the issue of department-specific language.

❌ Instead of: ✔️ Use:
Segmentation (frequently used in Marketing)Reducing the target audience to smaller groups according to their traits (location, age, preferences, etc.)
360-degree survey (an HR term)Multiple perspective feedback, usually coming from both managers and team members.
SAAS platforms (mostly used in IT) Cloud platforms that let users store files, share them, and collaborate. 

Business communication in meetings

Pinpointing some of the biggest interruptions we deal with while we struggle to finish our work efficiently, Atlassian identified meetings as one of the main time eaters. 

An average employee, according to the analysis, attends 62 meetings a month. However, the scheduled meetings distract us from completing the work and demand our complete attention.

Since we can rarely fall silent in meetings, the words we use have to be well-thought-out and appropriate for the context. 

To help you stay on the right track, we’ve compiled a list of practical phrases you can use in meetings even when you lose focus.

🖐 Interrupting – Excuse me for interrupting.
– May I have a word?
– Sorry for interrupting, but before we move on, can I add my thoughts on this topic? 
👥 Sharing your opinion – I feel that…
– The way I see things…
Asking for an opinion– How do you feel about…?
🤝 Agreeing – That’s the way I feel/think, etc.
– I have to agree with you.
🙅 Disagreeing– That is a valid point, but…
– I respect your point of view, but…
💡 Suggesting – Why don’t we…
– How about…
🔎 Clarifying – Could you repeat that, please?
– If I understood it correctly, you meant…
– I think it might help me if I could understand a few more details on…

💡 If you’re looking for the best tricks to prevent frequent interruptions lurking from your virtual team chat conversations, make sure to check out our blog post: How to ensure your business chat is not distracting your team

Wrapping up

Issues arising from poor communication are difficult to come to grips with, especially because they come in all shapes and sizes. 

Disguised as low morale, high turnover rate, or breach of deadlines, inefficient workplace communication doesn’t do your business any service if left unattended. 

However, the use of the right business communication words and phrases is a formula to a success story. When used adequately, the correct business phrases bring on subtle differences in your team communication at first. In time, polishing your writing and making sure all your words fall into place in discussions change the direction of your entire workflow. 

In the end, instead of the words being in charge of your business outcomes, you take over and own your words. 

Author: NatasaMilojevic

Natasa Milojevic is a writer and researcher dedicated to exploring the depths of human communication and collaboration. You can usually find her engrossed in her research on the quickest and most reliable ways of transmitting ideas in a remote work environment. Leaving no stone unturned until she discovers the most valuable advice for fostering efficient teamwork collaboration, Natasa spends most of her days behind the keyboard.

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