Across industries, words and phrases are created, adopted or co-opted to convey concepts specific to the business. Using the word outside of the office context can range from slightly odd to completely confusing.

Using jargon inside the work environment can go from completely necessary (finish the WENUS) to completely annoying (the next person who says the word shenanigans). Here are a few of the best practices behind oft-used jargon and how to ensure your use aligns with your intent.

Circle back

Circle back can be used as both a request and a warning. The idea behind circling back, however, is a good one.

One of the biggest challenges when managing a project is ensuring everyone is informed. As leaders, it is also necessary to monitor progress. Ensuring the appropriate people stay in touch and informed and the milestones of the project are tracked are all necessary steps to success.

Unfortunately, asking someone to circle back can sound like we are checking up on them. In other words, we are asking them to do something they should know they are supposed to do. As such, it can be a sign of a lack of trust in the employee or a hint we might have micromanaging tendencies.

Similarly, telling someone we are going to circle back can sound like a warning that we are watching them and will be back to check up on them later. Leaders who find themselves using this or similar phrases (check-in, reach out, ping me, follow-up) frequently, should figure out why and address the underlying problem.


Anyone who dates or works in an office feels comfortable wielding the term passive-aggressive. This fantastic article summarizes our ability to frequently use and be annoyed by business jargon.

One survey question focused on passive-aggressive email lines. Rounding out the top three were: as per my last email, just a friendly reminder, and please let me know if I’ve misunderstood.

The intent behind these phrases, however, is a good one that addresses a very common issue: the need to call out our colleague on something they missed that is negatively impacting our progress. The problem is our desire to say it nicely instead of just saying it.

As an HR person, I take full ownership of perpetuating the problem simply because most people are really bad at stating anything clearly, directly or neutrally.

In other words, until we can comfortably strike a balance between any updates on this and RTFE, feel free to rely on this less-than-authentic method to call someone out.

The bottom line is that we all have our pet phrases, and that is OK. The important thing is to understand why we use them so much.

Is it simply out of habit, an annoying leadership trait, or an indication about the strength of our team? The phrases we lean on can reflect more than just the latest buzzword trends.