Idioms and expressions for professional settings


Idioms and expressions are like clothes – some are inappropriate in certain settings. Just like wearing sweatpants in the office would be frowned-upon, so would using very informal expressions. Conversely, there are many idioms and expressions that will help you fit right into a professional English environment. 

Using idioms helps you sound natural, confident, and friendly in conversation. And not knowing what a given idiom means, can put you on the back foot when it comes to liaising with clients, negotiating contracts, and getting along with co-workers. Knowing some of the following, could go a long way in the office or boardroom:

‘to make a concession’  This expression describes allowing someone to have what they ask for, even if you disagree with them. ‘If you’re asking for a discount, I can make a concession and charge you 10% less for this project'.  

‘to reach a deadlock’  This idiom describes a total lack of agreement between two parties. ‘The client and the contractors reached a deadlock – they couldn't agree on the terms, fees, timeline and procedures at of their contract at all.’    

‘to keep things civil’ This expression describes keeping a discussion/negotiation polite and friendly, even if the other person doesn’t.  ‘I try to keep it civil during contract negotiations because I want to have good relationships with my collaborators.’   

‘play by your own rules’ This idiom describes not following social conventions. ‘That company plays by their own rules – they cheat subcontractors and they don't care about their reputation.’   

‘a hiccup’ This idiom describes an unusual problem that happened by accident and without bad intentions. a: ‘I’m so sorry I’m late for our first meeting, I got lost!’  b: ‘It’s okay, it’s your first day in the office, there are bound to be a few hiccups.’   

‘opposite number’ This common term describes someone who has the same (or a very similar) position in their work/company as you do in your work/company. When different companies meet, ‘opposite number’ is used when describing contract negotiations or shared projects. ‘My opposite number wants to talk about the collaboration between our companies today.’   

‘mutual’ This adjective describes conditions that are the same for both parties. ‘The success of this project depends on mutual respect between the contractor and the subcontractors.’ 

‘to dig your heels in’  This idiom describes not allowing someone else to change your ideas. ‘The client dug her heels in – she kept asking that we commit to an earlier deadline even though we already explained that we couldn't.’     


Vocabulary in Context 


Look at this dialogue between Mike and his manager, Kim, discussing a meeting between two fictional media companies.    

Mike: ‘Do you have a second, Kim? I’m meeting my opposite number at DreamSEO for negotiating our biggest social-media contract today and I’m a little nervous.’ 

Kim: ‘What’s worrying you, Mike? We’ve never had any problems with DreamSEO before. In fact, your opposite number usually keeps things civil, doesn’t she?’ 

Mike: ‘She used to. At our last meeting though, she dug her heals in, insisting I commit to a higher fee for DreamSEO’s subcontractors.’

Kim: ‘Did you make the concession?’ 

Mike: ‘No, I couldn’t. It didn’t fit our budget.’ 

Kim: ‘So, you reached a deadlock?’ 

Mike: ‘Unfortunately’. 

Kim: ‘That’s too bad. We can only keep working with DreamSEO if there’s mutual respect between our companies.’ 

Mike: ‘I used to like collaborating with them, but they’re starting to play by their own rules.’ 

Kim: ‘Thanks for letting me know about this, Mike. Just try your best to keep things civil with your opposite number today and let me know how it goes. Who knows, the previous meeting might just have been a hiccup.

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