How can you sound more professional when you speak English in business?
Working at a company where the language, the culture, and even the mannerisms are different to your native language can be challenging - perhaps even intimidating at times. At work, you want to show your colleagues that you’re professional and capable of doing a really good job, right?
Well, the way that you communicate plays a huge part in this. If you’re surrounded by English speakers at work or if you’re planning on getting a job at a company where you have to speak English most of the time, then this article is worth the read! I've got 5 tips to help you sound more professional at work.
In this article, you’ll learn simple, but important speaking tips for Business English to help you communicate clearly and confidently in your job.
Tip 1: Slow down
My first tip is to slow down. Now, this may sound really simple, but English learners spend so much time and energy trying to speak faster; you get told to “speak like a native speaker”! You may think you sound more fluent and confident when you speak quickly.
However, in business, this isn’t always the case. If someone speaks quickly (whether they are a native speaker or not), it actually makes it much more difficult to understand them. It’s harder to follow what they're saying. In a professional context, this is not ideal, is it? It is essential to communicate our message clearly in the workplace.
Benefits of slowing down:
- The person you are talking to will feel like you are having a conversation with them, rather than at them. You’re giving them a real chance to join in the discussion.
- It is much easier for people to understand what you are saying as you will have time to think about what you're going to say and how you're going to say it, so that it comes out clearly and accurately.
Tip 2: Make direct statements
In a professional context, you need to communicate your needs and wants clearly, and direct statements will help you do that.
Here is an example: “Can you get this report done by Friday?”
While this sentence is accurate, it’s not as direct as it could be. By using the modal verb, can, I’m asking, “Is it possible? Are you able to?” While can does make the request more polite, it doesn't clearly set the expectation that it needs to be done - that it must be done - by Friday. When giving someone a deadline at work, it’s important to use a direct statement, rather than asking if it’s possible with a question.
So, to make it clearer and more assertive, you could say: “I need this report handed in by Friday”.
When you respond to a statement like this (perhaps if your boss gives you a deadline to meet), it is important that you provide a clear and direct response.
Instead of saying “I’ll try” or “I’ll try my best”, a more direct and professional response is, “Yes, I can get it done by Friday”. If you are unsure whether you can meet the deadline, you could explain, “It’s going to be difficult for me to meet that deadline because I have a big meeting with the marketing team tomorrow afternoon.” Then, you are being honest and have the opportunity to negotiate a different deadline, rather than disappoint your boss if you can’t deliver on your promise to get the work done.
Tip 3: Practise your intonation and non-verbal communication
Annotation really helps you express your mood, your feeling, your attitude and your meaning. If you use the wrong intonation or facial expression, your message can easily be misunderstood. This is particularly important in a business setting because getting the best outcome often relies on your relationships with other people (be they clients, colleagues or customers). It can be tricky because it’s often your first language and culture that gets in the way - what may be completely acceptable in your own culture may not get you positive results when you are communicating in a business English environment.
The best advice I can offer you here is to observe this behaviour (non-verbal communication and intonation) in the people you work with. Watch closely to see how these techniques help to build trust and develop relationships. If you feel comfortable enough, ask your colleague or manager to give you feedback on your communication style so you can make some adjustments.
Tip 4: Avoid filler words and sounds
Did you know that there are particular words and sounds that immediately make you sound unprofessional and uncertain?
Well… There are actually plenty of them!
Ehhh, uhhh, ehmm – these are used to buy time as you're thinking of the right word or the right idea that you want to express. But overusing these sounds can make you seem unsure, and of course, unprofessional. It can also be quite distracting for those listening to what you have to say.
A short pause is much better. In fact, it is far better to pause between your words or ideas when you are feeling a bit lost, than to make filler sounds such as uhhh.
At work, we're often facing challenges or difficult situations that require us to consider different options and to discuss solutions. In these situations, pausing allows you to really stop and think about what you want to say, and it shows others that you're carefully considering your options and coming up with solutions that are well thought through. So, while many people think that pausing is a bad thing, it can actually help you to sound more professional.
Tip 5: Avoid unhelpful phrases
“I don’t know” is an extremely common phrase you might hear at work, but it’s best avoided completely.
Why? Because it’s so unhelpful (and therefore, unprofessional).
Instead of saying “I don’t know”, it is much better to say, “I'll find out”. This lets the person know that you’re committed to solving the problem, rather than just waiting to be told what to do about it or waiting for someone else to do it for you.
So, there you go… We’ve been through my five tips to help you be more professional in an English-speaking workplace!
Let me remind you that of course, it’s okay to make mistakes - in fact it’s expected. None of us are perfect. We are talking about breaking habits, so the first step is identifying and recognising these bad habits as they occur.
Practise changing your behaviour (breaking the habit!) and then, replace them with new habits that will make you more professional, clear and confident at work. One way to start breaking these habits is to put a note on your wall or next to your desk at work, to remind yourself about these five things so that you can keep improving your professional communication at work.
Interested in learning more about Business English? This video will help you learn words and phrases to sound more professional at work.