Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today, I want to look at some of the business English skills everyone needs in order to be successful.
As any guru worth his weight in salt will tell you, business is all about relationships. That means connecting with new people and maintaining good relations with people in your existing network. And one of the ways we do this is through small talk.
We call it small talk because it’s not about big, important business topics. It’s about things like the weekend, the weather, sports, or family. You hear it every time someone walks into the office and says, “Oh, hey, Dave, how’s it going?” Or at a conference when someone says, “So, where are you from?”
Making small talk in English allows us to connect with people, find out more about them, and set a mood. This kind of conversation involves a back and forth of simple comments, questions, and answers. You need to show interest in the other person, but also reveal a bit about yourself. And it’s important to stick to topics that are common to both people.
Once you’ve broken the ice with small talk, then you can move on to bigger topics. And that’s where you bring in the skill of expressing opinions in English. Exactly how you do that depends on the situation. If you’re in a meeting and want to add your perspective, you might just introduce it with an expression like “the way I see things” or “as far as I’m concerned.”
But if you’re making a suggestion or pitching an idea, there are a couple of ways to go about it. You might do it carefully with words like “perhaps” or “maybe” or “we could.” Or, if you want to state something more confidently, you can use stronger words like “have to” or “should.” The important thing here is that you assess the situation and adapt your language accordingly. If you’re new to a team or the most junior person in the room and you come out with guns blazing, telling everyone what must happen, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot.
After all, conversation isn’t just about speaking; it’s also about listening, and that leads me to asking questions. I don’t just mean “yes or no” questions. I mean substantive questions that show that you’re listening and engaged. This could include follow-up questions during small talk, which helps you connect with people.
Beyond small talk, this also includes discerning and sincere questions about people’s ideas. This is a big part of being an active listener, which means listening to understand, not just listening to respond.
Of course, being a good listener doesn’t mean being a yes-man. Participating in a meeting or negotiations in English requires the ability to reject ideas. And that’s not as simple as saying “no” or “I disagree.” Most situations require a more nuanced or careful approach.
If you don’t like someone’s idea, you might soften your comment by expressing uncertainty. For example, you might say, “I’m not sure that’s the best way to do this.” Or “I wonder if that might be too expensive.” You can also use the “yes but” approach, such as “I see what you’re saying, but I’m not sure we can do that.”
But be careful with this kind of softening language. If you’re in a position to say no or reject something, be clear about it. You can still be diplomatic without waffling. To do that, you can comment on the positive aspects of the idea, or the intention behind them, before saying “no.” For example, you could say, “I agree that would help our branding, but we just can’t afford it right now.” Or “I appreciate your concerns for the timeline, but we have to postpone this.”
Rejecting ideas effectively is one aspect of being decisive and getting results. And that brings me to one last skill I want to mention today: getting people to take action. You’ve probably been in an English meeting where there was a lot of great discussion, but no real action points.
So you need to learn how to delegate effectively. I don’t just mean giving orders. “Jenny, take care of the report” sounds like an order. But effective delegation at the end of a meeting sounds more like “Jenny, I’d like you to take care of the report.” Or maybe “Jenny, I think you’re the best person to handle the report.”
Alright, so we’ve looked at five essential business English skills. Let’s do a quick recap: you need to know how to make small talk, express opinions, and ask good questions. At the same time, you need to be able to reject ideas and get action from people.
That’s all for today. Happy learning. And see you again soon.