Common English Business Idioms

In this lesson, we are going to learn 20 business idioms in detail. These are business idioms and should be used at workplace or wherever you feel like using them. There is no hard and fast rule.

I suggest that you read the example sentence carefully. Also, pay attention the context we can use them in.

First let’s have a look at the list.

  1. Thinking outside the box
  2. Cutting corners
  3. Get the ball rolling
  4. Hit the ground running
  5. Bite the bullet
  6. Jump on the bandwagon
  7. Back to the drawing board
  8. In the same boat
  9. Keep your eye on the ball
  10. Break the ice
  11. Put all your eggs in one basket
  12. Play hardball
  13. Turn a blind eye
  14. Keep someone in the loop
  15. Throw in the towel
  16. Square the circle
  17. Close ranks
  18. Pass the buck
  19. Move the goalposts
  20. Play devil’s advocate
Now, here are the meanings of the business idioms:

“Thinking outside the box”: Coming up with new and different ideas, not sticking to the usual ways of doing things.

“Cutting corners”: Doing things quickly or cheaply by not following all the necessary steps, which can lead to problems later.

“Get the ball rolling”: Starting something off, getting it started.

“Hit the ground running”: Starting something with a lot of energy and effort right from the beginning.

“Bite the bullet”: Facing a difficult situation bravely, even though it’s tough.

“Jump on the bandwagon”: Joining something that’s already popular or successful.

“Back to the drawing board”: Going back to the start because the previous plan didn’t work.

“In the same boat”: In a similar situation as others, facing the same challenges.

“Keep your eye on the ball”: Stay focused on what’s important and not get distracted.

“Break the ice”: Making it easier for people to talk or interact by starting a conversation or activity.

“Put all your eggs in one basket”: Investing or relying completely on one thing, which can be risky if it fails.

“Play hardball”: Being tough or aggressive in trying to achieve your goals.

“Turn a blind eye”: Ignoring something, usually because you don’t want to deal with it.

“Keep someone in the loop”: Keeping someone informed about what’s happening.

“Throw in the towel”: Giving up, admitting defeat.

“Square the circle”: Trying to do something impossible.

“Close ranks”: Coming together and supporting each other, especially when under pressure.

“Pass the buck”: Blaming someone else or making them responsible for something you should do.

“Move the goalposts”: Changing the rules or requirements so it’s harder for others to succeed.

“Play devil’s advocate”: Arguing against something to make people think about it more carefully, even if you don’t really disagree.

Now, let’s get into little details. And see how we can use them correctly.

So, sit back, relax, and let’s explore some fun idioms that’ll make you the life of the party!

Thinking Outside the Box: Business Idiom

Ever heard someone say, “Let’s think outside the box”? No, they’re not suggesting a trip to the container store.

This phrase means to approach a problem or situation in a creative and unconventional way. It’s like when you’re stuck on a tough math problem, and instead of following the same old formulas, you decide to try a completely different approach.

Example: Imagine you’re brainstorming ideas for a school project, and everyone keeps suggesting the same tired old ideas. You decide it’s time to shake things up and suggest building a miniature roller coaster instead.

At first, your classmates look at you like you’re crazy, but then they start to see the potential. Before you know it, you’re all thinking outside the box and coming up with wild and wacky ideas that nobody else would have thought of!

Cutting Corners: Business Idiom

Hold your scissors, folks – we’re not talking about arts and crafts here! When someone says they’re “cutting corners,” they mean they’re taking shortcuts or doing something in a less thorough way to save time or money.

It’s like when you’re baking a cake and you decide to skip the step of sifting the flour because you’re in a hurry.

Example: Picture this: you’re working on a big project for work, and the deadline is looming ever closer. You’re feeling the pressure, so you decide to cut corners and skip the step of double-checking your work for errors.

But when the project is finally finished and you present it to your boss, they notice several mistakes that could have been easily avoided if you had taken the time to do things properly.

Lesson learned – sometimes, cutting corners can end up costing you more in the long run!

Get the Ball Rolling: Business Idiom

Ready, set, go! When someone says it’s time to “get the ball rolling,” they mean it’s time to start something or get a project underway.

It’s like when you’re about to start a game of bowling, and someone pushes the first ball down the lane to kick things off.

Example: Imagine you’re planning a surprise party for your best friend’s birthday, and you’ve spent weeks brainstorming ideas and making arrangements.

But now it’s the day of the party, and nothing’s been set in motion yet. It’s time to stop procrastinating and get the ball rolling! You start by sending out invitations, ordering the cake, and decorating the venue.

Before you know it, the party is in full swing, and your friend is blown away by all the effort you put into making their day special.

Hit the Ground Running: Business Idiom

No time for dilly-dallying – it’s time to hit the ground running!

When someone says they’re going to hit the ground running, they mean they’re going to start something with a lot of energy and enthusiasm right from the get-go.

It’s like when a runner bursts out of the starting blocks at the beginning of a race, ready to give it their all.

Example: Imagine you’re starting a new job, and you’re determined to make a good impression right from day one. You show up early, dressed to impress, with a smile on your face and a can-do attitude.

You dive headfirst into your tasks, eager to learn and eager to prove yourself to your new coworkers and boss.

Before you know it, you’ve hit the ground running and set the tone for your future success at the company.

Bite the Bullet: Business Idiom

Ouch, that sounds painful! When someone says it’s time to “bite the bullet,” they mean it’s time to endure a difficult or unpleasant situation with courage and resilience.

It’s like when you’re faced with a daunting challenge or obstacle, and instead of shying away from it, you tackle it head-on, even though you know it’s going to be tough.

Example: Imagine you’ve been putting off going to the dentist because you’re terrified of needles. But now your toothache has become unbearable, and you know you can’t put it off any longer.

It’s time to bite the bullet and make that dreaded appointment. You summon all your courage, grit your teeth (pun intended), and march into the dentist’s office, determined to get through the procedure no matter what.

And you know what? Once it’s all over, you realize it wasn’t as bad as you feared, and you feel a sense of relief and pride for facing your fear head-on.

Jump on the Bandwagon: Business Idiom

Ever heard someone say, “Hey, everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon”? Well, they’re not talking about an actual wagon here.

This phrase means to join a popular trend or activity because it’s gaining momentum or popularity.

It’s like when all your friends start binge-watching a new TV show, and suddenly you find yourself watching it too, just to be part of the conversation.

Example: Imagine you’re at a party, and all your friends are raving about this new dance craze called the “Funky Chicken.”

At first, you’re skeptical, but after seeing everyone else having a blast doing the Funky Chicken, you decide to jump on the bandwagon and give it a try.

Before you know it, you’re flapping your wings and shaking your tail feathers with the best of them!

Back to the Drawing Board: Business Idiom

Uh-oh, it looks like it’s back to square one! When someone says, “Back to the drawing board,” they mean that a plan or idea has failed, and it’s time to start over from the beginning.

It’s like when you spend hours working on a jigsaw puzzle, only to realize that you’ve misplaced a crucial piece, and now you have to dismantle the whole thing and start afresh.

Example: Imagine you and your friends are planning a surprise birthday party for your buddy, but everything seems to be going wrong.

The caterer cancels at the last minute, the decorations don’t arrive on time, and the venue gets double-booked. Finally, after a series of setbacks, someone sighs and says, “Well, looks like it’s back to the drawing board.”

Time to regroup and come up with a new plan to save the day!

In the Same Boat: Business Idiom

Ahoy there, mateys! When someone says, “We’re all in the same boat,” they mean that everyone is facing the same situation or problem.

It’s like when you’re stuck in traffic with a bunch of other drivers, and you realize that you’re all in this together, patiently waiting for the road to clear.

Example: Picture this: you’re sitting in a crowded classroom, anxiously waiting for the professor to hand out the midterm exams.

As the papers are distributed, you sneak a peek at the questions and feel a wave of panic wash over you. Glancing around the room, you catch the eye of your classmates, who all look equally stressed out.

At that moment, someone whispers, “We’re all in the same boat, guys. Let’s do our best and hope for the best!”

Keep Your Eye on the Ball: Business Idiom

Attention, all sports fans! This one’s for you. When someone tells you to “keep your eye on the ball,” they’re not just talking about sports.

This idiom means to stay focused on your goals or objectives and not get distracted by outside influences. It’s like when you’re playing a game of baseball, and you keep your eyes fixed on the ball as it hurtles towards you, ready to swing for the fences.

Example: Imagine you’re studying for a big exam, and there are distractions everywhere – your phone keeps buzzing with notifications, your favorite TV show is calling your name, and your bed looks incredibly inviting.

But instead of giving in to temptation, you remind yourself to keep your eye on the ball. You block out the distractions, buckle down, and hit the books with laser-like focus, knowing that all your hard work will pay off in the end.

Break the Ice: Business Idiom

Brrr, it’s getting chilly in here! When someone says they want to “break the ice,” they mean they want to overcome initial shyness or awkwardness in a social situation.

It’s like when you’re meeting new people at a party, and you tell a funny joke or share an interesting story to get the conversation flowing.

Example: Imagine you’re at a networking event, surrounded by strangers in suits and ties. You feel a bit out of place and unsure how to start a conversation.

Suddenly, you spot someone across the room wearing a quirky pin that catches your eye. Taking a deep breath, you muster up the courage to approach them and compliment their pin.

Before you know it, you’re engaged in a lively conversation, and the awkwardness melts away like ice in the sun.

Put All Your Eggs in One Basket: Business Idiom

Ever heard someone say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”? No, they’re not talking about farming.

This idiom means to risk everything on a single opportunity or venture, without having a backup plan. It’s like when you invest all your money in one stock, hoping it’ll skyrocket in value, but if it crashes, you lose everything.

Example: Imagine you’re planning a beach day with your friends, and you’re in charge of bringing snacks. You decide to put all your eggs in one basket and only bring potato chips.

But when you get to the beach, you realize that everyone else brought chips too, and nobody thought to bring drinks or sandwiches. Now you’re stuck with a basket full of chips and a bunch of hungry friends looking at you expectantly. Oops!

Play Hardball: Business Idiom

Time to bring out your game face! When someone says it’s time to “play hardball,” they mean it’s time to be tough and aggressive in negotiations or competition.

It’s like when a baseball team enters the playoffs and starts playing with extra intensity and determination to win.

Example: Imagine you’re negotiating a salary raise with your boss, and they’re trying to lowball you with a small increase. But you know your worth, and you’re not afraid to play hardball.

You come prepared with evidence of your contributions to the company and a list of comparable salaries in your industry. You stand your ground and negotiate for the raise you deserve, refusing to back down until you get what you want.

Turn a Blind Eye: Business Idiom

Ever seen someone turn a blind eye to something? No, they’re not practicing their yoga moves. This idiom means to ignore or pretend not to see something, usually because it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient to acknowledge.

It’s like when you see your sibling sneaking cookies from the cookie jar, but you choose to look the other way because you don’t want to get them in trouble.

Example: Imagine you’re a teacher, and you catch a student cheating on a test. You know you should report it to the principal, but you’re feeling conflicted.

You’ve always liked this student, and you don’t want to get them in trouble. So, you decide to turn a blind eye and pretend you didn’t see anything, hoping they’ll learn their lesson without any consequences. But deep down, you know it’s not the right thing to do.

Keep Someone in the Loop: Business Idiom

Time to share the news! When someone says they’ll “keep you in the loop,” they mean they’ll keep you informed and up-to-date on any important developments or changes.

It’s like when you’re working on a group project, and your teammate promises to keep you in the loop with regular updates on their progress.

Example: Imagine you’re planning a surprise party for your friend, and you’ve recruited their significant other to help you pull it off. You’re in charge of decorations, while they’re in charge of inviting guests.

You agree to keep each other in the loop with updates on your respective tasks, so there are no surprises on the big day. You send them pictures of the decorations you’ve bought, and they send you a list of guests they’ve invited.

Together, you make the perfect party-planning team!

Throw in the Towel: Business Idiom

Time to call it quits! When someone says they’re going to “throw in the towel,” they mean they’re giving up on something because it’s too difficult or not worth the effort.

It’s like when a boxer throws a towel into the ring to signal that they’re forfeiting the match.

Example: Imagine you’re training for a marathon, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to improve your time. You’re getting frustrated and exhausted, and you’re starting to wonder if it’s worth all the effort.

Finally, you decide to throw in the towel and quit training for the marathon. It’s disappointing, but you realize there are other ways to stay active and healthy that don’t require running 26.2 miles.

Square the Circle: Business Idiom

Ever heard someone say, “It’s like trying to square the circle”? No, they’re not talking about geometry class. This phrase means attempting the impossible or trying to reconcile two conflicting ideas or concepts.

It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – it just doesn’t work.

Example: Imagine you’re trying to plan a surprise party for your friend who hates surprises. You want to keep it a secret, but you also want to make sure they’ll enjoy themselves.

It’s like trying to square the circle – finding a way to surprise them without causing them undue stress or anxiety.

You brainstorm ideas, consult with mutual friends, and ultimately come up with a plan that strikes the perfect balance between surprise and comfort.

Close Ranks: Business Idiom

When someone says it’s time to “close ranks,” they mean it’s time to come together and support each other, especially in the face of adversity or criticism.

It’s like forming a protective barrier by standing shoulder to shoulder with your friends or colleagues.

Example: Imagine you’re part of a tight-knit team working on a project, and one of your teammates comes under fire for making a mistake. Instead of throwing them under the bus, you decide to close ranks and show solidarity.

You reassure your teammate that everyone makes mistakes, and you offer to help them fix the problem and learn from it together. By closing ranks, you strengthen your team bond and demonstrate that you’ve got each other’s backs, no matter what.

Pass the Buck: Business Idiom

Uh-oh, looks like someone’s passing the buck! When someone says they’re “passing the buck,” they mean they’re shifting responsibility or blame onto someone else instead of taking ownership of the situation.

It’s like playing a game of hot potato with accountability – nobody wants to be left holding the potato when the music stops.

Example: Imagine you’re working on a group project, and one of your teammates fails to complete their assigned tasks on time.

Instead of owning up to their mistake, they try to pass the buck by blaming it on a family emergency or technical difficulties.

But you and your other teammates aren’t fooled – you know they’re just trying to avoid taking responsibility for dropping the ball.

In the end, you all pitch in to pick up the slack and get the project back on track, but the teammate who tried to pass the buck learns an important lesson about accountability.

Move the Goalposts: Business Idiom

Hold on a minute – did someone just move the goalposts? When someone says they’re “moving the goalposts,” they mean they’re changing the criteria or expectations of a situation in order to make it harder for someone to succeed.

It’s like playing a game of soccer and suddenly finding out that the goal has been moved further away.

Example: Imagine you’re negotiating a contract with a client, and you’ve finally reached an agreement on the terms and conditions.

But just when you think everything’s settled, the client suddenly announces that they want to renegotiate certain clauses and deadlines.

It feels like they’re moving the goalposts – changing the rules of the game halfway through to make it more challenging for you to meet their expectations.

But instead of throwing in the towel, you calmly discuss the changes and find a compromise that works for both parties.

Play Devil’s Advocate: Business Idiom

Hold onto your halo – it’s time to play devil’s advocate! When someone says they’re playing devil’s advocate, they mean they’re presenting an opposing viewpoint or argument for the sake of debate or discussion.

It’s like wearing a different hat for a moment to see things from a different perspective.

Example: Imagine you’re having a heated debate with your friend about whether pineapple belongs on pizza. You’re firmly on Team Pineapple, while your friend is staunchly opposed to the idea.

But instead of digging in your heels and refusing to budge, you decide to play devil’s advocate and argue in favor of pineapple-free pizza.

You bring up valid points about taste preferences and cultural differences, sparking a lively and thought-provoking conversation that enriches your friendship and expands your horizons.

Phew! That’s all about business idioms. Hope you found some of them useful and easy to use.

Whether you’re trying to square the circle, close ranks, pass the buck, move the goalposts, or play devil’s advocate, these quirky phrases are sure to make you the talk of the town.

So go ahead, give them a try, and watch as your language skills soar to new heights!

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