Tag Archives: Clarifying

Skills 360 – Business English Hacks (Part 2)

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want look to give you more great tips for ramping up your business English skills.

You’ve probably heard that one of the traits of a great business leader is the ability to communicate. So, what does it mean to be a good communicator? What does a good communicator actually do? Well, there are a few things that every good communicator does. In our last lesson I covered a few of these simple techniques, and today I want to add to that list.

When you think of being a good communicator, you probably think about speaking skills. But my first bit of advice is all about listening. Nobody likes it if you drone on and never give anyone else a chance to speak. You’ve got to learn to keep your mouth closed and your ears open. And you’ve got to listen actively to actually show people you’re listening. That starts with smiling and nodding, which are simple habits that let the speaker know you’re tuned in.

But that’s not all. You can throw in the occasional “yes,” or “I see.” Or you can echo what the other person is saying, like “a 30% increase? Impressive.” If you do this, people know you’re engaged. And that’s especially important when you can’t actually see the other person, like when you’re talking on the phone or in a teleconference.

All right, so we’ve covered listening. Now I want to give you some speaking techniques. First off, have you ever found yourself at a loss for words when you have to criticize someone or their work? Because you know that it’s not just what you say that is important, it’s how you say it, right? If you just come out and say “your report was lousy,” you’re going to put the person on the defensive. Instead, you need to be a bit more indirect. Try something like “well, I think there are some things you could work on.” Better yet, combine the criticism with some praise, like this: “I think you captured the main ideas, but you might want to make the summary a little clearer.” Wouldn’t you rather hear feedback like that?

This kind of indirect criticism is wrapped up in something bigger that every great communicator has a special knack for: being diplomatic. Diplomatic language is careful language. And I’m not just talking about criticizing or disagreeing. Careful language is also necessary when you make suggestions or pitch an idea.

One of the tricks to being diplomatic is using words that soften what you’re saying. We can do that with modal verbs, like “can” and “could” and “might.” For example, think about the difference between “that is too expensive” and “that might be too expensive.” Sure they have the same meaning, but one is softer. And a bit of indirect language will make it even more diplomatic, like “I’m wondering if that idea might be a bit on the expensive side.” That’s certainly not going to get anyone’s back up, is it?

Another way to soften a statement is to use words of possibility, such as “maybe” or “perhaps.” Imagine you want to suggest buying new computers. You might say “we need to buy new computers,” but that might sound too forceful. Instead, how about something like “perhaps we could buy some new computers?”

So, a diplomatic approach can make people more receptive. But you also want your ideas to stick in people’s memory, and a great way to do that is with repetition. You can try repeating an important word or idea so people don’t forget it. Or you can try repeating a certain structure or way of saying something. For example, think about a sentence like “we’ve got to get costs down and get our revenue up.” Using “get down” and “get up” in this way makes it more impactful, and more memorable.

So there we have it: some quick and easy ways to improve your business English… Oh wait, there’s one more killer technique that beats all the rest: preparation. If you have difficulty speaking on the fly or phrasing things the way you want them, then plan ahead. Find out who you’re going to be talking to, and adapt what you say for that audience. Make sure you know what talking points are so you can do well in that negotiation. Before that big interview, rehearse your answers. Whatever you do, don’t go in blind.

So there you have it: surefire ways to be a great communicator. Remember to be an active listener, careful with criticism, diplomatic, and use repetition. And finally, don’t forget there’s no substitute for good preparation.

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

Skills 360 – Business English Hacks (Part 1)

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want look at some quick and easy hacks you can use to improve your business English.

Business is all about relationships, and relationships are founded on good communication. And while English may seem like a difficult language, being a great communicator and connecting with people isn’t rocket science. You can learn just a few techniques that will take your business English skills to the next level. And I’m not talking about learning a thousand new words or some obscure rules of grammar. The tips I want to give you are fully within your grasp right now.

Let’s start with a real easy one: keep it simple. Use the language you know, and that your listeners know, to communicate your message in simple terms. Do you really think a sophisticated vocabulary is going to impress people? Or help you negotiate a good price from a supplier? Probably not. And it won’t help you connect with people on a human level. Listen to any great political speech or watch any great presentation online, and you’ll notice that the speaker keeps things simple.

Simple also means short, or concise. Why use 50 words when you can use 15? Everyone appreciates language that is clear and to-the-point. So keep it simple, and you’ll keep people engaged.

But what happens when other people don’t keep it simple? Communication is a two-way street, and sometimes you find yourself scratching your head at what someone else is saying. So what you really need to do is to clarify. And remember to be specific about what it is you don’t understand. If a supplier tells you a part is “temporarily unavailable,” which isn’t very clear, don’t just raise your eyebrows and say “pardon?” Instead, say something like “what exactly do you mean when you say this part is temporarily unavailable?” That will encourage the speaker to be more specific.

Another way to clarify is to check back and confirm. That sounds something like “So, you think we shouldn’t build a new website, right?” Or maybe it means saying “You’re saying John is the best applicant, am I correct?” Checking back and confirming is a great way to clarify because it poses a yes-no question. The person can either say “yes, that’s what I mean,” or “no, that’s not what I mean.” And if it’s the latter, the person can then give it another shot. And you can bet they’ll be extra clear so you don’t have to ask again.

So, we’ve talked about being simple and clarifying. Now here’s another crucial technique for communicating clearly: connect your ideas. Your ideas are, in fact, connected, right? So make that clear to your listeners. You can use simple linking words, like “and,” “so,” and “but.”

Or you can dress it up a bit with some more formal expressions. For example, you might say: “Product A is the cheapest. However, cost is not the only consideration. We also need to think about quality. For this reason, I think we should go with Product B.” Can you hear how important those words “however” and “also” and “for this reason” are? These linking words help show the connection between your ideas. And they help listeners see your logic.

Connecting your ideas can also mean showing a sequence. And once again, you don’t have to get fancy. Basic words like “first,” “second,” “next,” and “lastly” can help people see where you’re going. But if you don’t connect your ideas, they will sound like a random collection of thoughts. And you yourself might have to answer some of those clarifying questions I just mentioned.

Now there’s one more business English hack I want to give you today: remember to be polite and courteous. After all, you’re trying to connect with people and make a good impression, right? There’s an old saying that goes like this: “people buy from people they like.” So be friendly and polite.

And being polite begins with those little words we call modals, like “could,” “might,” and “would.” Whether you’re making a suggestion, giving feedback, or asking permission, modals are your ticket to courtesy. And remember that questions are always better than commands. So we don’t say “give me a pen.” Instead, use a modal and a question and say: “could I have a pen?” You don’t have to go over the top, but with a simple, polite, and courteous approach, you’ll do great.

So, let’s run through these four tips once again. First of all, I suggested keeping it simple to keep people engaged. Next, I advised you to ask questions to clarify when you don’t understand. Then I talked about the importance of connecting your ideas so listeners can understand your train of thought. And finally, I suggested making sure you’re friendly and polite. These are all great ways to communicate better and connect with people. But is that all there is to it? No, actually, I’ve got a few more great techniques for you in our next episode. So be sure to tune in!

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

Skills 360 – Communication Skills 2: Clarifying

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Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want to continue our look at how you can improve your communication skills.

Communication between people is never perfect. Even with the people closest to us, who you might think we can understand very well, there is miscommunication. Sometimes we don’t hear things correctly, or we don’t hear them at all, and sometimes people don’t express ideas precisely. That’s enough to complicate the situation, but then we can throw in implied meaning and our own understanding of what’s being said indirectly. Add to that the challenges that arise when you’re working in your second, or third, or fourth language, and it might be surprising that we understand each other at all!

But have no fear. There are ways to work though the minefield of communication and make everything clear. And that’s exactly what we’ll look at today: clarifying what people have said. There are basically two reasons to clarify: first, when we don’t know what someone said because we didn’t hear them; and second, when we don’t know what someone meant because we didn’t understand them.

Let’s begin with clarifying what someone said. When you don’t hear someone, you can simply tell them, politely of course. Use diplomatic expressions like “Pardon me?” Or, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch that.” Or, “Would you mind repeating that please?” Avoid short and blunt questions like “What?” or “What did you say?” These questions seem rude to many people. And when in doubt, too formal is a better mistake than too informal.

Now, if you heard what someone said but you don’t know what it means, make sure they know that. If you use the expressions we just looked at for when you didn’t hear someone, they might just repeat what they said. But if you didn’t understand the first time, chances are you won’t understand the second time. So how do you make it clear that you haven’t understood?

Well, avoid just saying “I don’t understand.” That feels too blunt and direct. Instead, try, “I’m not sure I follow you.” Or, say a speaker uses the expression “contingency plan” and you don’t know what that means. You can say, “Could you explain what you mean by contingency plan?” Or, “What exactly do you mean by contingency plan?” These kinds of expressions let the speaker know that you haven’t understood, not just that you haven’t heard.

Okay, so in some cases you might think you understand, but you’re not sure. So you want to clarify by checking your understanding. The first thing you can do is paraphrase what someone has said and ask for confirmation that your interpretation is correct. Paraphrasing just means saying the same thing but in different words. And you can do this by acknowledging what someone has said, restating it, and confirming with a tag question.

Here’s an example: if someone says “we anticipate that the share price will continue to soar,” you might say “I see, so you’re saying the stock will remain high, right?” Or if someone says “our marketing strategy needs a complete overhaul,” you can say “okay, you mean we need to change our strategy, right?” If you’re correct, the speaker will let you know. And if you’re incorrect, he will explain. Notice that the tag question “right?” is a yes/no question. Yes/no questions make it easy for the speaker to confirm your understanding or provide further explanation if you misunderstood.

Another technique for clarifying what someone has said is echoing to get confirmation or more explanation. This means repeating the key idea with question intonation. So if someone says “this year’s recruitment drive needs to be more aggressive,” you might say “it needs to be more aggressive?” In this way, you’re inviting more detail or examples. And the speaker might come back with “yes, last year we missed our goal. This year we need to work extra hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again.” Now you can be sure what the speaker meant.

Now, here’s a word of warning: some of the questions we use for clarifying can also be used to cast doubt on someone’s ideas or opinions. We act surprised and ask for confirmation to show that we disagree or don’t believe what someone has said. Sometimes our intonation makes it clear what our purpose is, but it’s often best to make it extra clear by adding something like “just to clarify” or “just so I understand here” to the beginning or end of a question. You don’t want someone get bent out of shape because he thinks you disagree him.

Now let’s recap. When you don’t hear someone, just politely let them know. If you don’t understand, tell the person, but don’t be too blunt or direct about it. And to avoid misunderstanding or invite greater explanation, you can use paraphrasing or echoing. So, now you’ve got clarifying techniques to go along with the listening techniques we learned last time. Remember, listening and clarifying go hand in hand. And with these tools and a spirit of understanding, you can improve your communication skills.

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.

360 – Telephone Tips for Communicating in English 2

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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?