A quick guide to passive-aggressive workplace communication

Decorum must prevail when you’re in the office, so nasty-nice code words and phrases stand in for candor. Here’s how to decipher them.


Every workplace has its jargon, its code words.

Some buzzwords and insider phrases are industry-specific; others are just trendy and spread like germs.

Below are euphemistic phrases that have become ubiquitous in the modern office—along with their translations.

See how many you recognize:

“Good to know.” Translation: I couldn’t possibly care less.

“Sounds like a plan.” Translation: A terrible plan, actually. A recipe for seismic failure.

“I know you’re busy.” Translation: My ears are bleeding; please shut the hell up.

“I see what you did there.” Translation: That’s the least funny thing I’ve ever heard.

“Maybe that project isn’t the right fit for you.” Translation: Stay away from that project, you blithering buffoon.

“I’m not growing in my job.” Translation: They don’t even trust me to run the copy machine.

“I don’t think I’m getting the idea behind your graph.” Translation: Who did this? A chimp with an Etch-a-Sketch?

“We need to circle back on this one.” Translation: We’ll wait until your day off to take another shot at this.

“Vic is a great guy, but a little over the top.” Translation: Vic desperately needs a lobotomy.

“They’ve got a great culture at Disruptive Widgets.” Translation: Do they even wear pants at Disruptive Widgets?

“Let’s make this meeting proactive.” Translation: Bring bagels and coffee.

“That’s incredibly innovative.” Translation: We should keep sharp objects away from you.

“This needs a little tweaking.” Translation: This reads like a fever dream.

“Right, well, I’ll let you go then.” Translation: You are a walking cure for insomnia.

“If I’m not there, start the meeting without me.” Translation: I’ll send you a postcard from Barbados.

“I’d like to hear more of your ideas.” Translation: They make great punchlines.

“You certainly have the courage of your convictions.” Translation: You’re as stubborn as a mule, and half as smart.

“This will take five minutes and two phone calls.” Translation: Kiss your weekend goodbye, sucker.

Bill Sweetland contributed to this article, which, as per our earlier email, first appeared in 2016.

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