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Skills 360 – Giving and Receiving Feedback (Part 1)

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Welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host Tim Simmons, and today I want to talk about giving feedback.

Say “feedback” and a lot of people will immediately think of a performance review. You sit down with someone you manage and explain what they’re doing well and what they need to improve. It’s a situation we’ve all been in, on both sides of the desk.

However, feedback is much more than what we do in a structured and scheduled situation. Feedback is an ongoing process, and we give feedback to everyone around us, not just those who report to us. That includes colleagues and co-workers, and our managers or superiors. Feedback happens every day, between everyone in a company. You might be giving feedback and not even realize it. Every time you let someone know what you think about what they’re doing, you’re giving feedback.

Okay, now let’s talk about the kinds of feedback we give. First, there’s negative feedback, or criticism, such as “Joe, I think you need to shorten your sales presentation and work on your delivery. I think it’ll be more effective that way.”

Then there’s positive feedback, or praise, such as “Tanis, I think your presentation was great. You didn’t overwhelm people with information and the visuals really helped emphasize the key points.” Those statements are easy to recognize as feedback, but feedback can also be daily reassurance in which you let people know you’re okay with what’s happening. Like this: “Yep. Looks good.” Or this: “That makes sense. Let’s do it.”

It’s very important to balance these kinds of feedback. You don’t have to deliver every critique sandwiched between praise, but be aware of your overall balance. Too much negative feedback can damage a person’s confidence and sense of well-being. It can be demotivating, which is the opposite of what we want to do. How do you feel when someone keeps saying “Well, you could have done that differently.” Or “that just doesn’t work.” Or “that idea is never going to fly.” It’s very easy to dwell on what people need to improve, but we can’t ignore what people do well.

And we should tell them about it. Positive feedback can inspire, motivate, and reassure. How do you feel when you hear things like “Great job.” Or “I think that looks fantastic.” Or “Just wanted to let you know I read your report, and it was just what I was hoping for.”

Now, good feedback has a few important qualities: it is immediate, direct, and specific. Feedback is immediate when it comes not long after the work or behavior you’re giving feedback on. Feedback is useless, and rather annoying, when it comes months after the fact.

Feedback is direct when it’s delivered to the person who it’s intended for. That means you shouldn’t get others to deliver feedback for you. It feels disrespectful, and there’s a good chance that it won’t be delivered in the way you want.

And feedback is specific when it includes evidence to support the central idea. An example of specific feedback might be: “Joan, I noticed that some of the personnel files are incomplete. We need to make sure that each file includes signed performance reviews.”

By being specific, especially with negative feedback, we’re giving people ways to rectify the situation. Remember, feedback is about enabling success and producing better results. And to do that, make sure you give a good balance of feedback and that you keep it immediate, direct, and specific.

Now, while giving good feedback is not always easy, receiving feedback can be even harder. The important thing is to keep the conversation focused on the work, not on the person. It’s easy for the receiver to begin taking things personally, so just watch your language and be sensitive to the needs of different people. Tune in next time to learn more about how to receive feedback well. Should be a great show.

That’s all for today. If you’d like to test yourself on what we’ve just covered, have a look at the myBEonline.com website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript.

So long! And see you again soon.

360 – Making the Most of Personal Learning 2

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Welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. My name’s Tim, and today we’re going to look at some more tips and ideas for making the most of your personal learning.

And FYI: listening to Skills 360 just got easier. Yes, this podcast now has its own channel on iTunes. If you don’t already subscribe, visit BEP or myBEonline for the free subscription links.

Okay, so last week I talked about setting yourself up with a system of personal learning. Today, I’m going to be talking about maintaining your momentum and staying on track.

All right. You’ve set some goals, found some resources, and come up with a plan for your personal learning. How are you going to stick to that plan? One of the greatest things you can do to maintain your momentum is to establish a routine. If you keep thinking that you’ll study if and when you get the time, or if you just try to fit in some listening practice every now and then when you get 20 minutes of free time, chances are you won’t achieve your goals. You’ll go nuts with frustration. You need to be regular. This usually means studying at the same time every day. Whether it’s on your commute, over your morning cup of joe, or part of your evening routine, doing it the same time every day will help make it a habit. It will become second nature, just like brushing your teeth.

Part of your routine should include a regular review of what you’ve already done. There’s nothing worse than putting in the work to learn something and then forgetting it a short time later. In last week’s episode we talked about variety, which means the breadth of input. But you also need depth. So don’t forget to look back and reinforce what you’ve already studied.

Now, remember in our last episode I talked about setting goals… SMART goals? Well, as you work toward those goals, you need to track or assess your progress. Are you actually coming closer to reaching your goals? Assessing your progress could involve breaking your goals down into stages. Reaching those stages means making progress. This could also mean keeping a careful record of what you do and what you can do. You will be able to look back through your record and see how far you’ve come. Another way to track yourself is to use our BuddyBucks system on mybeonline.com. What are BuddyBucks? Basically, they’re points that you earn for participating and learning. The more BuddyBucks you earn, the more progress you’re making. It’s a great way to see how much you’re getting done.

But tracking your progress is not always enough to keep your learning on track. You might need to dangle a carrot in front of yourself. I’m talking about rewards, which are closely related to motivation. You have to feel like you’re getting something for your hard work. You can certainly set different kinds of rewards for yourself for achieving certain milestones or reaching certain goals. For short-term goals, it could be something as simple as a cup of coffee. For larger goals, it could be a movie or concert or even a weekend away. And this is another way that BuddyBucks might help give you a spark. When you earn enough BuddyBucks, you can cash them in for access to more Business English Pod resources. Or access to human resources… by that I mean teachers… which brings me to my next point.

Sometimes learners encounter roadblocks when they have difficulty in their studies or can’t find answers to their questions. When this happens, some people flounder or become dejected. But you don’t have to. Someone has the answers to your questions, and you don’t need to suffer in silence. I’m talking about teachers. Get help when you need it! If you’re not taking a class and don’t have a flesh and blood teacher to help you, then go online. Post your questions to popular forums and watch the responses pour in. Or connect with a teacher online for one-on-one help. How or where to find a teacher? We’ll, we’ll have answer for that soon, so keep your eyes on myBEonline.com

Great stuff. That’s all for today. I’d like to wish you the best of luck in your journey of learning. Take good care of your motivation and you’ll do great. If you’d like to test yourself on what we’ve just covered, have a look at the myBEonline.com website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript. So long, and see you again soon.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you have a regular schedule for studying English?
2. How can you know whether you’re improving your English skills?
3. What are your greatest personal motivators for studying English?

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360 – Telephone Tips for Communicating in English 2

Free Resources: PDF Transcript | Quiz & Vocab


Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m Tim Simmons, and today we’re going to have a closer look at telephone skills. In particular, we’re going to talk about controlling the call and the flow of information.

Communicating effectively on the phone is an essential skill. And whether you’re talking to a client, a colleague, a supplier, your boss, or a bicycle courier, you need to make sure your purpose and the information is clear. Last week, we focused on your telephone attitude. Today, we’ll look at ways you can make sure information is flowing smoothly and that you are guiding the conversation.

Good telephone communication can actually begin before you pick up the phone, with a bit of preparation. Grab a piece of paper and jot down your key questions or issues that you need to resolve. Put them in a logical order so that you’re not just jumping from topic to topic. The less you have to rely on your memory, the better. Nothing’s worse than hanging up and realizing that you didn’t get everything you need. People are busy, and it’s best to handle things with one call rather than two, or three. So, if you’ve got a clear purpose for your call, then you can start working down your list. And that paper and pen should be handy for taking notes as you’re talking.

Okay, you’ve managed to get ahold of the person you want to talk to, you’ve got the right attitude, and you’re dealing with information. Now you need to make sure everything is clear and that you’ve understood what the other person is saying. To do that, you need to confirm information. You can do this in a couple of ways. First off, you can repeat information back to the other person. So, if someone says “I can meet you at 4:30,” you can say “Right. 4:30.” You can also do this by asking for confirmation and restating the information in different words. So, if someone says “It’s pretty unlikely that the delivery is going to make it there on time,” you can say “Do you mean that our delivery is going to be late?” And when you do this, it’s best to restate things in the simplest and easiest language possible. Just to avoid any confusion.

Another thing you need to do with information is give feedback about it. In other words, tell the other person clearly what you think about what he or she has just said. “I can meet you at 4:30” could be followed by “4:30 is a great time for me.” Or “The delivery is going to be late” could be followed by “I understand and I’ll let everyone else here know.”

After you confirm the important points and give feedback, you can move on to another question. Remember, the person who is asking the questions is in control. By asking questions, you can direct the conversation to the topics you want.

Sometimes when you ask questions, it’s a good idea to limit options rather than leaving things open-ended. Think about the difference between these two questions: “What day is good for you?” and “How about Tuesday or Wednesday morning?” Which is easier to answer? Which will reduce the amount of discussion involved? That’s right, the second one. Tuesday or Wednesday. Whenever possible, limit the number of options to two. If neither option is acceptable, give another two.

In some cases, you won’t be able to reach the person you want to talk with and you’ll have to leave a message. Don’t forget to leave a complete message. That includes your name, your company, your purpose, and your number. Leaving out any of those pieces of information will reduce the likelihood that you’ll be called back. It will also reduce the amount of discussion needed at the beginning of the call back. One of our older podcasts, BEP 72, covers lots of language for leaving a message and is well worth a look.

Can you see what ties all these ideas together? It’s all about clarity. Information should be clear. Any time information is not clear, time and energy is wasted. And that brings us to the end of your phone call, when you want to guarantee that clarity. Before you bring the call to a close, confirm the basics of what you discussed. That means the what, the where, the when, and the how of any action that is required. It’s pretty embarrassing to have to call someone back because you didn’t understand everything.

Your telephone is one of your most important communication tools. Learning to use it is about more than just figuring out the speed dial options. Maintain a positive and professional attitude, and use the techniques we’ve covered today, and you won’t dread that next call.

If you’d like to test yourself on this lesson, have a look at the myBEonline.com website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript and vocabulary explanations.

So long, and see you again soon.

Discussion Questions

1. How much planning do you usually do before an important telephone call?
2. What do you usually do when you don’t understand what someone is trying to say on the telephone?
3. What information do you normally include when you leave a message for someone?

360 – Telephone Tips for Communicating in English 1

Free Resources: PDF Transcript | Quiz & Vocab


Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m Tim Simmons and I’m glad you could join me. Today we’re going to take a look at an activity you do every day: talking on the telephone.

Telephones don’t stay at the office anymore. We carry them around in our pockets. We use them when we’re commuting, when we’re out for lunch, when we’re working on the computer, and even when we’re supposed to be talking to someone else face-to-face. They’re always on. And that means we have to be ‘on’ too. Being ‘on’ means having the right attitude.

The right attitude starts with promptness. When you hear that ring, don’t delay. Grab it before the third ring so the caller knows he’s important. And when you answer, be sure to smile. You might be thinking that a smile is unnecessary because the other person can’t actually see you. But in this case, smiling is about more than just turning up the corners of your mouth. Smiling is an attitude. It means having a voice that is pleasant and enthusiastic. That voice helps create a connection with the other person and open the door to good communication. And keeping a smile on your voice is something you should do when you initiate the call as well. It’s not just the job of the person receiving the call.

Okay, you’re smiling, but what should you say? If you’re answering the phone, you can always fall back on the standard four-part greeting: you need to greet, to identify yourself – and your company – and to offer help. That goes something like this: “Good afternoon. This is Jim at Kepler Marketing. How can I help you?” Even if you know who’s calling, you should still keep this same format, even if you present it a bit more informally. For example, you might say “Hi, this is Jim. What can I do for you?” Want more information and practice on this kind of thing? Look up BEP 69A, which is all about answering the telephone.

Now, if you’re the caller, you will follow a similar blueprint. But instead of greeting, identification, and offer, you’ll have a greeting, identification, and request. That could go something like this: “Good morning. This is Fred Collins with WebStar. I’d like to speak with Mr. Tony Flair.” Again, if you’re calling someone you’re familiar with, you’ll still follow the same pattern. For example: “Hi Sue. Fred with Webstar here. Could you put me through to Tony?”

Great. You’ve started the call out with the right attitude. Now keep it up throughout the call. How you communicate is just as important as what you communicate. Remember to speak slowly and clearly. The less people have to ask you to repeat yourself, the better. Surely you’ve seen a person in the street with a mobile phone at one ear and a finger plugging the other, saying “pardon?” and straining to hear what the other person is saying. Let’s try and avoid that. That also means choosing clear words. Say “yes” instead of mumbling “uh-huh.” And “I understand” instead of “got it.”

Another important tip is to stay focused on the call and the other person. If you’re trying to do several things at once, the chances of miscommunication shoot up. And it’s usually pretty obvious to others when you’re trying to order a sandwich at the same time as talking to them. Give the other person all the courtesy you would if you were dealing with him face-to-face. That includes being patient. Let the other person take the time he needs to talk. In return, you should receive patience and the time to talk as well. The same goes for common manners. Unfortunately, manners often go out the window as soon as there’s a device or machine placed between two people. You can see this in email, text messages, and the attitude of people driving in their cars. And you hear it on the phone as well. But people with good telephone skills will use “pardon” over “what,” and all those other common courtesies that we accept as normal when we’re standing in front of another person.

Great. Now you’ve started the call off right, you’ve got a great attitude, you’re smiling, being polite, and speaking clearly. The communication pathway should be smooth, and what you are saying should come through clearly. And that’s what we’ll look at in our next episode. We’ll learn some tips and tricks for making sure that the content of the call gets through clearly.

If you’d like to test yourself on what we’ve just covered, have a look at the myBEonline.com website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript and vocabulary explanations.

Thanks for listening, and see you again soon.