To be successful in any career it is critical that you become au-fait with “management speak”, as there are many instances when what is said is not really what is meant. Saying one thing and meaning another can be called irony, but it can also be called hypocrisy, being two-faced, dishonesty and cowardice. Whichever form it takes, it is important that you familiarise yourself with the true meanings of these phrases that are used by many managers.

Here are a few to get you started:

“With the greatest respect” is generally used when someone is about to insult you, but they hope that it won’t get you too angry. It actually means “with no respect at all”, and is just an attempt to diffuse the insult that will follow. This expression can also be used upwardly.

Author: ChinaFlag (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

“In all honesty” is used by people who want you to feel that what they are about to say has significantly more value than if they just said it on its own. It is meant to elicit the feeling that the speaker must be telling the truth, and that what they will say next has great significance and will be equivalent to a wondrous pearl of wisdom.

“I haven’t started yet but I have been thinking about it a lot” is a cover-up for the fact that a project is behind schedule and that the speaker will either need an extension or will submit an inferior result.

“The pipeline is light but I am confident of making the numbers” means that the sales strategy is based on hope, despite the fact that hope is never a strategy. It means that even if the numbers are actually achieved, the speaker has no understanding at all of what is actually going on in his business area and that it was just good luck that he achieved the goals … this time.

“What a creative idea” usually means that the idea will not get past the speaker, either because s/he hates or mistrusts anyone who is truly creative (as most managers prefer the safety of those who support the status quo), or else s/he thinks that you are an idiot and has used the word “creative” as a synonym for “stupid”.

Author: -Majestic- at en.wikipedia; via Wikimedia Commons

“Let me get back to you on that” means that they have no interest in what you are saying and are just trying to stop the conversation, or that what you have said is too complicated for them to understand, so they will have to go to their assistant to explain it to them in case it is actually something that they should know.

“Great idea but the CEO would never go for it” always means that they do not like the idea, but do not want to say that to you, so they will feign their support and will lay the blame on an authority figure above them who is not as creative or supportive of you as they are.

“Why don’t we sleep on that” means that they do not want to discuss this any further, or generally ever again, and that they would prefer to move on to their own topic which they consider much more interesting than yours.

“I hear what you say” means that they have not been listening to you at all, and will now comment on the one thought that is in their mind on this topic.

Author: David Benbennick; under GNUF License; via Wikimedia Commons

“My mind is open on this issue” means that the speaker has no idea of what needs to be done and is therefore accepting of any opinion, generally taking the most recent one that s/he has heard as their interim stated position. What they really mean is that their mind is blank on the issue.

“Let’s look at this from 30,000 feet” usually means that the manager has no idea of the details that are needed to solve a problem or set a specific direction, so looking at something from 30,000 feet allows the speaker to pontificate his own brand of generalisations without having to admit that s/he has no clue about what actually needs to be done.

“It’s hard to turn an oil tanker” is the manager’s way of saying that he has no idea of how to circumvent the bureaucracy that exists in the organisation to actually achieve anything worthwhile, by suggesting that change is impossible (and unwelcome) in anything as large and as wonderful as the company has become.

“Let’s talk about that offline” usually means that the conversation has become embarrassing for the manager so he is not prepared to continue it in public where it will become increasingly obvious to the whole group that he actually knows nothing about the topic. This way he can make it personal by pretending that it can be better handled in a one-on-one.

“Help me to understand” is usually a roundabout way of saying that what has been said is really stupid, and that no matter how many times, or different ways, the idea is repeated it will never make sense to the speaker.

“How brave of you” is just another way of saying that you have either just uttered, or done, something that is totally career-limiting, and that you may as well go and start to update your CV and to pack up your cubicle.

As was said by German scientist and satirist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799) “The most dangerous untruths are truths moderately distorted”

Author: Daniel Schwen; under CCA-Share Alike 2.5 License; via Wikimedia Commons



  1. Jen Roach says:

    ha a ha – have heard every one of these over the last 15 years and glad to say the chief perpetrators have now left the company!

  2. Frank says:

    Les, how true they all are..I use “I hear you” when I mean, I hear what your saying but I don’t agree with you (but I tell the person, thats what I mean). And domn’t I want to drop the 30,000ft person from that height.. rgds, Frank

  3. leshayman says:

    Frank … you are such a “nice guy” …. 🙂

  4. leshayman says:

    Jen … I am sure you will meet new ones who use them …

  5. Trevor Jarrett says:

    the one that drives me nuts is “In all honesty…. ”

    working for Mike Bloomberg he always used to say “What .. are you being dishonest the rest of the time ? “

  6. leshayman says:

    Hi TJ … To be honest , it is the one I hate most …. 🙂

  7. Eric Cooper says:


    So I get invited to this ex Sun dudes lunch and now I am comparing notes with you….amazing!

    The one I like is “so what I am hearing is…” which means they have heard only the bit they disagree with and are about to totally drive their point home till you cringe in the corner!

    Eric Cooper …still doin’HR stuff just received a 30 yr purple heart for service to HR??

  8. leshayman says:

    Eric, you need to not do the “HR cringe” at any time from now on, but just respond with ” So when will you get an Invisi hearing aid you deaf twit ?”

  9. Adriana says:

    I must be really masochist to have laughed at this article, but I did it wholeheartedly! It took me a while to understand what “I hear what you say” means…

    I heard a lot of “How brave of you” for leaving a great job to start from scratch in another country where I don’t speak the language and “although the pipeline is light, I am confident I’ll make my ‘numbers'” 🙂 Adriana

  10. Adriana says:

    …I do thank you… 🙂 Adriana

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