Are you rude or professional when you speak English?
You may be wondering why I’m asking that question.
Of course, you don’t want to be rude.
But…Sometimes the way we speak and the way we want to sound don’t match.
Using English with your boss, customers, or even colleagues can sometimes feel tricky.
You may feel a little stressed, or unsure of yourself, or shy.
So you give short, minimal responses.
But did you know that it can sound unprofessional, even rude?
Let’s make sure you sound professional in English.
Here are some things you should never say at work.
And what you should say instead.
1. Advanced Business English Communication Situation #1: You don’t understand what someone says
It’s OK if you don’t understand.
It happens to all of us. In real life there is noise, there are unfamiliar topics.
In an international business environment there are accents we still need to adjust to.
We don’t need to understand everything.
We just need to know how to be professional when we don’t.
Here are some things to NEVER say when you don’t understand at work:
NEVER say: “What?”
It can sound rude, even aggressive.
Instead say: “Sorry, what was that?”
NEVER say: “I don’t understand your accent.”
It is likely you will offend someone around you if you say this. We don’t comment on people’s accents in English.
Instead say: “Sorry, can you say that again?”
NEVER make a face when you don’t understand.
This might sound obvious to you. So why do I mention it?
Because I see clients doing it in English conversations sometimes.
Instead say: “Sorry, I’m learning English. A little more slowly please.”
If you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to admit it. But don’t be rude!
Stay professional and you’ll feel more confident in Business English settings.
Also check out my lesson: How to Make a Good Impression on Potential Clients.
2. Advanced Business English Communication Situation #2: Someone asks you for some information
In life and in business, people ask us for all kinds of things.
We don’t have all the answers. We can’t always help.
But you can still sound professional and helpful in English.
NEVER say: “I don’t know.”
It sounds like you’re saying, “I don’t care.”
It sounds like you don’t want to help.
Or that you think “It’s not my problem.”
It’s ok if you don’t know the answer to a question.
Or if you’re not the right person to ask.
But saying “I don’t know” can make you sound uncaring, unhelpful or uncollaborative.
To sound professional in English say this instead:
“I’m not sure, but I can find out if you want.”
Here, the phrasal verb ‘to find out’ means that you will go and look for the information, ask about it or check.
“Hmm, I don’t know. Can I look into it and get back to you?”
Here, the phrasal verb ‘to look into’ means I’m going to do a little research or ask someone. And the phrasal verb ‘to get back to someone’ means I’ll contact you again–in this case with the answer.
“I’m not sure, but Matthew might know. Check with him.”
If you really can’t help, my favorite “I’m not sure. Try googling it.”
This way, you can still try to be helpful even when you don’t know the answer–by suggesting that the person can find it by searching the internet.
Also check out my lesson: 4 Things You Need to Know to Understand Americans Who Talk Fast.
3. Advanced Business English Communication Situation #3: Someone asks you to do something
Imagine a client asks you this question:
“Can you send me the report by the end of the day?”
NEVER say: “I’ll do my best.”
These are not clear or helpful.
Besides, this is a yes or no question, so your answer should be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’
To sound professional and helpful in a business English situation, use one of these expressions:
If you can do it, it sounds professional to say:
“Sure, I’ll take care of it.”
If you can do it but at a later time, it sounds professional to say:
“Sure, but can I send them to you tomorrow morning?”
“I can, but not before Wednesday. Does that work?”
If you can’t meet someone’s request, NEVER say:
“No, that’s not possible!”
That sounds rude and unhelpful. Especially if you don’t offer an alternative.
Another phrase to avoid:
“It’s going to be complicated.”
It’s not clear if you can or can’t.
If you can’t meet someone’s request be honest, but professional:
“I’m afraid I can’t, but maybe Shona can. Maybe ask her.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t because… “
Here, be sure to give a valid explanation to help other person understand why.
You don’t have to be perfect, but with practice you can be professional in Business English situations.
These are just a few very simple ways you can make your English more professional and polite.
You can start using them right away.
Keep practicing and I’m sure you will make progress toward your goals of confident Business English.
Also check out my lesson: How to Answer the Phone in English.
Take the next step: Improve your English in the comments
The best way to become more confident using Business English is to practice!
Here’s your weekly challenge for this week:
- In the comments, tell us about a situation where you might need to use one of these expressions in English.
- Then, try writing down what you would say in your situation.
a) Brain tip: Visualizing or imagining what you will do in a difficult situation will help you feel more prepared–and more confident–when you face that situation!
If you learned something from this lesson, please share it with your coworkers & friends. You can send your message to them in English for more practice!
Become more fluent & comfortable in conversations
If you would like to take the next step with me, discover my Faster Fluency Conversation Club Membership Program!
It helps you become more confident speaking in conversations, and get a lot more vocabulary on many different topics! And it’s a fabulous community of “English buddies” from around the world!
TIP: Use the code FFCC40 to save -40% off your 1st month of membership!
Can’t wait to see you in the Club,
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