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10 Phrases That Make You Sound Like a CEO

Step up your work presence by decoding these common business phrases CEOs and other higher-ups like to use.

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Let’s use this one in a sentence for you: “We don’t have enough bandwidth.” Now, if you work in the world of IT, this very well could mean Internet speed. However, if this phrase comes up in regular conversation, it means that there’s too much work for the number of employees present to do. Just like when a file is too big to process with your actual internet bandwidth, the work team doesn’t have the manpower to deal with many issues all at once. The smartest CEOs know that rewarding their employees is especially important when resources are stretched thin.

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When you align picture frames or shelves, you are trying to make sure they are straight and parallel to each other. In the business world, alignment means having all of the moving parts of the business on the same page. Having company alignment means that everyone at the business knows the overall goal of the business, understands what part they play in reaching those goals, and exacts the business strategy on all fronts. It’s basically a fancy way of saying everyone is in agreement and working toward the same goal. Check out the winning attributes all successful people are aligned with.

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Let’s take it offline

This business phrase actually has two interpretations. Some people use it to mean that a subject should be dealt with in private or outside of the office. Others use it as a means of couching an idea during a meeting and moving on to something of more immediate importance. When you’re “offline” in terms of the Internet, you aren’t engaged with it, just like a CEO may not want to be engaged in dealing with a certain project at the moment.

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Manage the optics

An general rule of human enterprise and interaction is that appearance is at least half of the battle. This is why PR is such an integral part of any business operation. A company’s image and public perception can mean either success or failure. So when someone at work talks about “managing the optics” of a situation, they’re really concerned with how this particular matter should be presented to the public in the best light possible. This phrase literally refers to the anatomy of the eye and the sense of sight to talk about publicity and campaigns.

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Let’s square the circle

In the business world, much like in everyday life, people don’t always agree. If two sides are trying to push their own agenda through and negotiations aren’t going well, they’re going to need to “square the circle”, or compromise. Squaring the circle refers to a particularly difficult task. If two companies are considering a business merger for example, finding common ground can sometimes seem impossible. Interestingly, the phrase has ancient origins. It is very literally based in the geometry problem of trying to find a square that is equal in area to a circle.

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Moving the needle

Our world is filled with measurements. Lie detector tests (are you telling the truth?), seismic activity monitors, and the gas meter on your car are all examples of measurements that are taken using a needle. When a needle moves greatly on a piece of paper it means that there is more activity than usual going on. The same concept applies to “moving the needle” in business.

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Getting the best ROI

Trying to decode an unknown acronym can be pretty difficult. In this case, ROI simply means “return on investment.” When a CEO talks about wanting to get the best ROI on a product or a business move they’ve made, they want to make sure that they get the best possible outcome when they put their time, energy, and money in. Ideally, they don’t want to just break even, they want to grow and expand as a result of their initial investment.

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It’s a paradigm shift

This is essentially a classier way of saying, “We don’t know what the hell is going on.” If the company is experiencing some turbulence and doesn’t have a proper handle on the situation yet, they call it a paradigm shift. A paradigm is basically the accepted order of things. (Cultural and political spheres experience paradigm shifts, too.) So when the business climate or the economy undergoes a paradigm shift, it means that something new is happening that the company has to figure out how to adjust to.

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Disagree and commit

If you really want to know what CEOs are thinking and doing on a daily basis, look at the heads of huge international companies like Amazon. CEO and founder Jeff Bezos abides by a rule called “disagree and commit.” This phrase describes an element that is very important in a work environment, but is also often very lacking: Trust. “If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus,” Bezos writes in his 2017 shareholder letter, “it’s helpful to say, ‘Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?'” According to the Amazon CEO, he operates with this rule in mind all of the time and claims it saves valuable time when it comes to decision-making. It’s also great for team-building—and so are these 8 ways to build trust with your coworkers.

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Actionable data

Companies filter in all sorts of data; consumer reports, product reviews, etc. A good CEO or head of business strategy will know how to sort through all of that data and discern what is meaningful and what can be disregarded. The data deemed significant is referred to as “actionable data,” which means that it is information that the company should use to implement a new plan right away. Any task that is referred to as “actionable” in the business environment means that it need to be handled ASAP.

Taylor Markarian
Taylor Markarian is a regular contributor to RD.com covering culture, advice, travel, pets and all things weird and haunted. She is the author of "From the Basement: A History of Emo Music and How It Changed Society," which analyzes the evolution of punk and mental health. She holds a B.A. in Writing, Literature and Publishing from Emerson College.