Tag Archives: Understanding

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 – Dealing with Criticism (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 to look at ways to deal with criticism.

Criticism is something we all have to face. During a performance review, we have to listen as our boss criticizes our work. In meetings, people criticize our ideas. And every day we might hear people criticize us in the staff room and over the phone. We might also hear praise in these situations, but more often than not it’s the sting of criticism that lingers. And let’s face it: hearing people criticize our work, or criticize us, is never really easy.

So, how can we face criticism with the right attitude and approach? Well, start by thinking about the situation and the source. The situation might be formal, like your performance review or another evaluation process. Or it might be informal, like in the staff room.

In formal situations, it’s often a supervisor or superior who is criticizing; in informal situations, well, it could be anyone. It’s important to think of the situation and the source, because that might help determine whether the criticism is constructive or destructive.

Although some people use the word “criticism” to refer to unfair negative comments, a lot of criticism is actually constructive. I mean, it’s intended to help us do something better, to improve, to change in positive ways. Of course, there’s always destructive criticism, which has different motivations. Destructive criticism is sometimes personal, intended to hurt people rather than help people. You need to be able to handle both.

Now, we’ve talked about formal and informal situations and constructive and destructive criticism. You can probably see the difference here: constructive criticism in formal situations is just a part of working life! More than that, it’s necessary. And your job probably requires you to deliver this type of criticism too. So you should look at this criticism as an opportunity – as hard as that might be to do.

Okay, but what about destructive criticism, especially in informal situations? I mean, what do you do when Dave your snarky colleague says “Geez, you really messed up that presentation, didn’t you?” Well, your attitude and approach shouldn’t actually be too different, even though you want to tell Dave exactly what you think of him.

You see, the best thing to do first, no matter what the situation, is to ask a question. If your boss says you need to take more initiative, you can ask “can you give me an example of a situation where I should have taken more initiative?” And if Dave tells you you’re terrible with PowerPoint, you can ask, “what do you think I need to do better, Dave?” By asking questions, you show that you take constructive criticism seriously, and you can challenge destructive criticism. Either way, you are maintaining a professional attitude.

The alternative to maintaining a professional attitude is getting defensive, angry, or resentful. In other words, responding emotionally. Nothing good will come of that type of reaction, regardless of the situation. In fact, studies have shown a connection between emotional responses to criticism and a lack of confidence or self-esteem. It’s true! If you get defensive, you show people that you’re fragile, and that’s not one of the qualities that leads to success.

Maintaining a professional attitude also means not shooting back with your own criticism against the other person. So that means we shouldn’t say “Oh yeah Dave? Well your writing skills leave a lot to be desired.” That kind of response is a one-way ticket to a nasty argument.

Of course, you probably wouldn’t be tempted to respond critically in a formal situation, when you’re listening to your boss review your performance. Still, in these formal situations, criticism can still be tough, and some people are not very skilled at giving criticism gently. We’ve all had bosses who sound harsh, or rude, without even knowing it. But we still need to separate the how from the what. That is, it’s not about tone of voice or word choice. It’s about the work, the performance, and the outcomes.

That’s the secret right there: think about outcomes. Don’t take things too personally. Instead, leave your ego out of it and consider your work objectively. Think about what you do and how you might do it better. If you can focus on improvement, and maintain a professional attitude, you’ll shine in the face of criticism, no matter what the situation.

So long. And see you again soon.

Skills 360 – Communication Skills 1: Listening

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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.