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12 Workplace Phrases You Probably Don't Know ... But Should

Christine Lambden and Casey Conner, authors of "Everyday Practices of Extraordinary Consultants"

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Getting along with people sometimes requires speaking their language, especially in the workplace. One of the ways employees try to emphasize their smartness is with specialized vocabulary.

Due to the nature of a lot of people's work, technical language and terminology is often necessary, but buzzwords can make you sound pretentious. On the other hand, if you are working on a team full of buzzword-addicted co-workers, you'll need to fit in. Learning and properly using the latest buzzwords and TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) can help you create high-bandwidth communication with your colleagues.

Here are 12 of today's hottest workplace phrases:

Boil the ocean
Definition: This scope is too big to do in one project. Break it up into more than one. We often hear "We're not trying to boil the ocean here. We just need to" when the client is trying to keep costs down and avoid an overly ambitious project scope.

Drink the Kool-Aid
Definition: To enthusiastically perform a task or follow a leader without knowing how this may affect you or to buy the "company line" without question. In business, you may hear someone say "He drank the Kool-Aid," when they mean, "He has been thoroughly trained in the program and we have his unconditional support," or "He is on board with our strategy." In political commentary, it is used to imply that people who disagree with you have been brainwashed or are under the influence of drugs.

Going native
Definition: This is what happens when a consultant stops acting like a consultant and starts thinking they are part of the client organization. If you aren't willing to go somewhere else, go ahead and apply for a permanent job. You aren't providing the same value you were in the beginning.

Greenfield instance
Definition: Clean, new installation of an application without customizations, configuration or data. When a brand new application is installed, it is a "greenfield instance" until the consultants and programmers go in and start messing it up with configurations and code changes.

Definition: A big picture view or a solution that includes upstream and downstream impacts. Whatever it means, it's a great consulting word and we use it a lot.

Definition: The perspective or view you have of a situation. For example, "When ownership of our order fulfillment project moved from Operations to Sales, it caused a paradigm shift that resulted in a whole new project strategy and approach."

Running in parallel
Definition: Processing normal operating data through two systems simultaneously to compare performance and output. When a client is feeling particularly paranoid about a new system that his consultants have developed or implemented, even after exhaustive testing and training, we will sometimes recommend running the new system in parallel with the old for a short period.

First draft of a solution or proposal intended to provoke discussion. It is an object, document, person or argument that temporarily stands in for and is intended to be "knocked down" by something more substantial.

Talking to the dog
Definition: Thinking it through by talking it through out loud. You'll often hear engineers and programmers say that they finally solved a problem by talking to the dog.

Use case
Definition: A particular circumstance or situation in which the solution would be used. For example, when designing a system, the engineer will refer to all the use cases that have been documented to determine if his solution will be effective in each situation.

White paper
Definition: An authoritative report or guide published to share technical or business information, particularly related to solving common problems. Writing white papers is a great way for consultants to get exposure in their industry and develop a reputation for expertise.

Definition: Simple pictures that show a proposed user interface, often used by business analysts to communicate expectations to users and developers.

Christine Lambden and Casey Conner, authors of "Everyday Practices of Extraordinary Consultants," teach consulting and interviewing skills workshops and seminars around the world.  After a combined total of more than 30 years in the consulting industry, they now bring their accumulated wisdom to business professionals in various industries. For complete bios, please visit

Last Updated: 11/05/2009 - 1:13 PM

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