Business English Communication Skills

All Business English lessons for communicating in English. Our English communications skills lessons are listed below with the newest lessons first.

Skills 360 – Top 10 Business English Skills (2)

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Welcome back to Business English Skills 360 for today’s lesson on the top 10 business English skills.

In our last lesson, I focused on small talk and English conversation skills such as expressing opinions, asking questions, rejecting ideas, and getting action. Of course, “conversation” is what comes to mind when someone talks about language skills. But a lot of our English communication is not conversation, per se. Your skill set has to include a lot more than expressing opinions, agreeing, disagreeing, and making small talk.

Imagine for a second that you’re delivering a presentation in English or conducting a training session. What kind of skills do you need in those situations? Well, one thing you need to master is talking about how something happens or how something is done. By that I mean describing a process or giving instructions.

The key skill here is what we call sequencing, or putting your ideas in a logical order and making that order clear to your audience. To do this, you might use simple words like “first,” “second,” “third,” “next,” and “finally.” But you might also use expressions like “at this point,” “meanwhile,” and “subsequently.” Using this kind of language helps you organize your ideas, and you’ll be less likely to lose your audience.

Connecting words aren’t limited to processes and instructions. Adept English speakers will use all sorts of words to connect their ideas and structure a good argument. Think about proposing an idea to your boss. Will you rattle on and hope he picks up the thread of what you’re trying to say? Or will you present a cohesive and persuasive argument using expressions like “because of this,” “therefore,” “nevertheless,” and “furthermore?”

Now I am not suggesting that you pepper your speech with these kinds of words just to sound intelligent. There’s a time and place for these formal expressions. But the importance of organizing your ideas holds true in any situation. And in more casual circumstances, you can simply rely more on simpler words like “and,” “but,” and “so.”

Besides presentations or training, another important situation with a special skill set is bargaining, or negotiating in English. And I’m not just talking about high-level talks on corporate partnerships or negotiating a major business deal. Any situation that involves give and take, cooperation, or compromise involves a kind of bargaining.

Maybe you and a colleague are trying to design a website together. Or you and your boss are trying to figure out a work schedule. Or you are trying to get two of your employees to agree on a project budget. These are all situations that demand bargaining skills. You need to acknowledge both sides and propose trade-offs. Often this requires you to make conditional sentences, using words like “if,” “unless,” and “as long as.” And if those statements are hypothetical, you’ll have to make sure you get a handle on important helping verbs like “would” and “could.”

I’ve talked a lot today about organizing your ideas, and about situations that require clarity of information. This brings me to another essential skill: summarizing. What happens after you’ve presented a clear and logical argument, or you’ve negotiated a compromise in a meeting? Well, you need to ensure everyone can latch on to the main ideas. That’s when you summarize.

You might hear a summary introduced with expressions like “to sum up,” or “let’s recap briefly.” But the real skill is figuring out what those main ideas or points are and then stating them concisely. You can’t repeat everything that was said verbatim. You need to distill only what is essential and paraphrase ideas appropriately.

Now before I do exactly that with my own ideas for this lesson, I’ve got one more essential but challenging skill for you: speaking clearly. You probably know some people who seem to just have a knack for clear speech. But it’s not just innate talent. You can learn to sound clear too, if you put in the time and effort.

So practice correct pronunciation. Try to enunciate clearly, even when it doesn’t feel natural for your mouth to make certain shapes or sounds. It gets easier with practice. But if you mumble, or don’t make the effort to try to produce the right sounds and intonation, then it doesn’t matter what you say, because people won’t be able to understand you.

Now how about that summary? I’ve covered five essential skills for every ace English speaker. First, there’s the ability to present a sequence or step-by-step instructions. Next is the skill of connecting your ideas logically. Then there’s bargaining and summarizing. And finally, you need to work on your pronunciation and intonation.

Lesson Resources: Lesson Module | Quiz & Vocab | PDF Transcript

Skills 360 – Top 10 Business English Skills (1)

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Welcome back to Business English Skills 360 for today’s lesson on 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. 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.

After all, English 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 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.

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.”

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.

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.

Lesson Resources: Lesson Module | Quiz & Vocab | PDF Transcript

Skills 360 – Levels of Formality in English (Part 2)

Skills 360 - Levels of Formality in English (2)

Welcome back to Business English Skills 360 for today’s lesson on the different levels of formality in spoken English.

Think about how you speak in your first language. Do you talk the same way to your colleagues as your wife? Or the same to your friends as your boss? Of course not. Different people, and different situations, mean different levels of formality.

We can think about four different levels of formality in spoken English. First, is “formal” English. This is what you might use when you’re giving a public presentation or speech. Next is what we call “consultative,” which is basically professional conversation like talking to your colleagues in a meeting. Then there is “casual,” which is the style you use when talking with your friends. And finally, there’s “intimate” language, which is used with your spouse or family members.

But what if you’re not sure about whether the situation requires formal or more casual language? Well, in that case, stick to language that you know is neutral. And remember, neutral language is acceptable at all levels. Also note that there are individual differences in formality. Different people have different conversational styles. Some tend to be more formal, while others are more casual.

Lesson Resources: Lesson Module | Quiz & Vocab | PDF Transcript

Skills 360 – Levels of Formality in English (Part 1)

Skills 360 - Levels of Formality in English (1)

Welcome back to Business English Skills 360 for today’s lesson on levels of formality in spoken English.

Imagine you are looking for a job, and you have an interview at a big company. You walk into the interview room and say to the panel of interviewers: “hey there, how’s it going?” Believe me, that’s a bad first impression.

Or what if you go to the bar to meet an old friend and when you see him you extend your hand and say “Good evening, and how do you do?” Chances are your friend is going to ask you whether you’re feeling okay.

In both these situations, the problem is that you used the wrong level of formality or register. You simply can’t use the same expressions, words, and idioms in every situation. You need to gauge the situation and adapt how you speak accordingly.

Lesson Resources: Lesson Module | Quiz & Vocab | PDF Transcript

Skills 360 – Communicating Clearly in English (2)

Skills 360 - English Communication 2

Welcome back to Business English Skills 360 for today’s lesson on how to communicate clearly in English..

There are times when you want to impress people with your language abilities. But there are actually far more situations that require the opposite approach – situations where you don’t want to risk confusing people, so you want to make sure you’re communicating clearly.

In our last lesson, I talked about clear pronunciation and word choice. Today I want to look at making clear sentences and organizing your message.

When it comes to sentences, shoot for simple and short. Rather than stringing a bunch of ideas into one long sentence, break it up into several short ones. Use simple words like “but” and “so” instead of words like “nevertheless” and “consequently.”

There’s something else that can add clutter to our sentences: the softening words and phrases we use to be diplomatic, polite, or careful. These expressions can be very important when the situation requires. But not all situations or audiences require such diplomacy. We also have some very confusing ways of asking questions in English. And if you’re trying to be clear, you should avoid some of these. That includes tag questions, such as “you’re quite busy, aren’t you?” And negative questions, like “aren’t you going to read my report?”

The last thing I want to talk about is how we structure our messages. And I mean longer messages, like a set of instructions or something. First off, it’s good to be clear about purpose. Tell people what you’re going to tell them. That’s exactly what I did when I said “the last thing I want to talk about is how we structure our messages.” You see, when you heard that, you knew exactly what I was going to talk about next.

Secondly, it’s a good idea to use words like “secondly.” We call this “signposting.” Signposting is basically giving clear structure and logic to what you’re saying. That means introducing things clearly. It means outlining, using words like “first, second, third” and “last.” But it also means being clear about how your ideas fit together. Signposting makes it a lot easier for people to follow what you’re saying, and to remember it!

Lastly, it’s a good idea to summarize what you’ve said. Just a little recap is good enough. And you can introduce your summary using signposting expressions like “to sum up” or “what I’ve been trying to say is.”

Lesson Resources: Lesson Module | Quiz & Vocab | PDF Transcript
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