Tag Archives: Listening

Skills 360 – Business English Hacks (Part 2)

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Transcript

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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Transcript

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 – How to Improve your English Vocabulary 2

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Transcript

Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want to look at more ways to take your English vocabulary to the next level.

So, you’ve found some great resources for studying English that suit your purpose. You’ve got a variety of listening and reading material chock full of great words and expressions that you want to learn to use. But how do you do it? How do you take those words and expressions and not only remember them but also make them an active part of your working vocabulary? Well, there are several things to keep in mind, and a few key techniques that you can use, as we’ll see today.

One really important idea is that words are used in groups. Sometimes we call them “chunks” or “collocations.” The basic idea is that we put words together in common patterns, and we should learn those patterns, not just individual words. Think of a simple sentence like “Dave is interested in golf.” Understanding what “interested” means is a piece of cake. But if you really want to make that a useful word, you need to pay attention to the fact that we say be interested in something. Take another example like the noun “profit.” It’s hard to use the word if you don’t know that we usually say make a profit or turn a profit.

The idea of groups of words is especially important when it comes to idioms and phrasal verbs, because together words can have a new meaning. So when we hear “give up”, we don’t think about giving or the idea of up, but the meaning they have together, which is “quit”. And don’t think about squares when you hear the expression “back to square one.” Together, those words mean “start again.”

Once you understand the importance of chunks of language, how can you sort out what those chunks mean? A good starting place is context. Look at how the words are used in the situation. From the situation, you can usually get clues to the meaning. Only after examining the context should you look at a definition. And if you really want to get a solid grasp on the meaning, you should look at more examples of the word or expression in a sentence. Good study materials should give you example sentences to learn from.

But it’s not enough just to notice vocabulary and chew over its meaning. You need to do something with it if you’re going to remember it and be able to use it. That starts with writing vocabulary down. Keep a record of good words and expressions that you come across. Write down the word, the context, and example sentences if you can. This is not just so that you have something to review. The act of writing the word and examples down will help you remember it later.

Okay, beyond writing down what you’ve learned, you need to put your new vocabulary to good use. The means trying to use the words you’ve learned in new sentences. You don’t need to write a masterpiece on business communication; you just need to practice putting that new word into a different context. And if you struggle, look back to where you found it or your example sentences. From that context, you should be able to see how the word or expression fits into a sentence. And again, practicing like this will really give you a leg up in recalling the words.

Okay, it seems like we’ve been dwelling on reading and writing, but let’s not forget listening. Learning words through listening is great if you want to actually apply them in conversation. We can learn how individual words sound, and how groups of words sound together. If you’re using listening materials that include a transcript, don’t lean on that transcript too soon. Really listen carefully before reaching for the written version.

Again, vocabulary you learn through listening should be written down and practiced in sentences. But to really take it to the next level, you should actually say the words. Start by repeating what you hear in your listening. Really try to mimic the sound and flow of speech. Then read aloud from your examples or the sentences you’ve written. And try to make completely new sentences just in speaking. In this way, you’re getting your brain and mouth ready to actually apply the words in conversation.

As you probably realize, it’s pretty easy to forget new words if we don’t take steps to commit them to memory. And even when we remember them when we hear or read them, it can be difficult to use them. But if you focus on chunks of language, if you look closely at how words are used in context, and if you write them down and practice using them in writing and speaking, you’ll be well on your way to building a better vocabulary.

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.

Skills 360 – Communication Skills 1: Listening

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Transcript

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

We spend a lot of time looking at different ways that you can make other people understand your ideas. But what about your ability to make sure you understand what other people are saying? Some people say that there’s a good reason we have two ears but one mouth: because we should spend twice as much time listening as we do speaking. And countless business leaders have emphasized the importance of good listening skills as the foundation of good communication.

Okay, but listening and understanding are not always easy. We’ve all found ourselves in situations – it could be a meeting, a presentation, an interview, or a negotiation – where we think “what did he just say?” or “what was that word?” Well, for starters, we need to accept that we might not understand everything. That’s not necessarily a problem. But what you do when you don’t understand something is what separates a good listener from a bad listener.

You see, it wouldn’t always be a good idea to stop a speaker and say “what was that word you just used?” Or “can you repeat that sentence?” If you didn’t catch something, well, get over it. And fast. You don’t have time to stop listening and think about what something means. And you don’t have time to translate either. You’ll get lost, and it will be difficult to get your head back into what you’re supposed to be listening to. Instead, you need to grab onto what you do understand, and then fill in what you don’t with logical guesses.

What you should be shooting for, first and foremost, is the gist of what’s being said. That means the main idea or underlying point that the speaker is trying to make. Details will support that main idea, and if you don’t catch them all it’s not the end of the world.

Okay, but how do we catch the gist? Well, one way is to focus on key words. Key words are the words that we understand that show the central message. They provide direct clues to the main idea. So if you hear someone say “blah blah new plan blah blah blah terrible idea blah blah blah can’t support blah blah blah”, then you have a good idea what the person is saying without understanding all the “blah blah.” If you focus on the “blah blah,” however, you might miss those important words that you do understand.

Another thing to remember is that people often repeat or explain their ideas further. If you don’t understand an idea right away, just be patient. The speaker might explain what she means, or give an example, or repeat the idea in different words. But if you get hung up on not understanding the first statement, you risk confusion. Here’s an example: say you’re listening to someone give a presentation on the latest sales figures, and he says “The last quarter was particularly disconcerting.”

Now, do you know what “particularly disconcerting” means? If not, don’t worry too much. Because the speaker will probably go on to explain or give examples. He might say something like this: “Our electronics division was down 13%. Mobile was down 16%. And automotive was down a whopping 24%.” Now, you can probably guess that “particularly disconcerting” is negative, right? But if you stopped listening and started wracking your brain to figure out what it meant, then you might have missed the explanation.

Of course, sometimes there are things that you hear that provoke questions that you need answered. That does certainly happen. And in those situations, the best thing to do is to write them down. You can make a note of a couple of important words, or write down an entire question. Then you can follow up on the matter later. And because you’ve written it down for later, you can put it aside at the time and keep listening.

So let’s do a quick review of what we covered here and see how well you were listening. Remember to accept that you might not be able to understand everything. Don’t stop listening when something you don’t know comes up, just keep trying to get the gist and the key words. And be patient because sometimes explanation or repetition can clear things up for us. And finally, make notes if you have to. Now, will these strategies guarantee that you understand everything perfectly? Of course not. Sometimes we need to ask for clarification, and if you tune in next time you’ll hear some tips for doing just that.

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