When I was in elementary school, not a very long time ago, our English teacher was giving us a class on idioms and figurative speech.  For people who don’t remember, idioms are basically sayings that are used to express the meaning of the situation with a bit of drama and pizzazz.

That’s when we learned “it’s raining cats and dogs,” “the grass is always greener on the other side” and “it’s not my cup of tea.”  Interestingly, I thought that was the last time I’d come across idioms since, in the real world and specifically in the business world, there’s no place for idioms (or emoticons.)

I was wrong.

Imagine this: I was sitting in my office with my business hat on trying to follow up on a shipment that was delayed for no apparent reason.  So I, being very professional in my emails, started with a courtesy, asked nicely but firmly about the shipment, and ended with a nice closing.

A few minutes later, I get a reply that started with my name misspelled. (long pause)  This is not and never is a good start to any email.  A few lines into the email I come to a halt staring at the unimaginable words: (please hold your horses).

WHAT????

I was dumbfounded.  I could not believe that anyone would use such rude and unprofessional words in a business context. But what I did learn in this situation is if you want to catch someone off guard, use an idiom.

For reference, these a few:

1- It’s raining cats and dogs – can be used when a colleague you barely know brings up the weather to fill in the silence.  You can say, “it’s raining cats and dogs” if it is raining heavily but you could also say “it’s not raining cats and dogs”

2-“the grass is greener on the other side”- can be used when your boss is scolding you and you feel like you are getting fired.  Please note that you will probably get fired after this

3- It’s not my cup of tea- can also be used with your boss when he/she gives you work you are not comfortable doing or you just don’t want to do.  Please note that this is not good for your performance evaluation.  Alternatively, you can also use it when someone is asking about an actual cup of tea in the break room.  To do so, you need to position yourself in the break room and have a cup of tea near you but not directly in front of you.  Try to engage the person in a conversation regarding the item he/she is holding.  For instance, start with, “is this your sandwich?” then casually say while pointing to the cup “it’s not my cup of tea.”

4- Hold your horses- also hazardous but you could get away with it when talking to your fellow colleagues.

And finally

5- You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.  DO NOT USE THIS.  THIS MAY BACKFIRE IN SO MANY WAYS!

Choose your words wisely, they can move mountains.

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