Business Speaking

Agreeing to and Declining Requests

06 Jan 2019

When agreeing to a request, agree to it in a positive manner. Don't just say 'Ok' or 'All right.' Use these positive phrases:

Yes, I'd be happy to.
No problem.
That should be OK.

Sometimes, you may be undecided and unable to give a definite answer at that moment. In such cases, use these phrases to buy yourself a little time:

Can I think about that?
I'll get back to you. Let me have a think.
If you don't mind, can I give you an answer this afternoon?
Give me some time to consider it.

At other times, you may agree to a request but with certain conditions. Then you can use these phrases:

OK. But only with the following conditions:
Yes, that's fine. But only if...
Sure, but I'd prefer it if you...

Declining a request is more difficult. Don't decline a request directly. Use one of tentative the phrases below and follow it up with a good reason:

I'm afraid I can't.
That's really not possible, I'm afraid.
I wish I could but...
I'd really love to help you, but...
I'm not sure if that's a good idea.
I don't know about that. You see...


Making Polite Requests: Different Requests for Different Situations

23 Dec 2018

When you are asking someone to do something for you or trying to influence their actions, you can often show that you want to be polite by saying things in an indirect way:

Help me file these documents please. (Very Direct - more demand than request)

Please will you help me file these documents? (Less Direct)

Could you help me file these documents please? (Even Less Direct)

Do you think you could possibly help me file these documents? (Indirect)

I was wondering if you could possibly help me file these documents. (Very Indirect)

Generally speaking, the more indirect the expression you use, the more polite you will seem. If you are too direct you may be considered impolite. However, the more indirect expressions can sound "too polite". When deciding which expressions are suitable for which situations it is useful to ask certain questions.

  1. What is the relationship between the speaker and the listener? More direct expressions are often used between friends or when the speaker is in a position of authority.
  1. How important is the action to the speaker? Usually, the more important the action, the more indirect the expression.
  1. How much inconvenience will the action cause for the listener? If, for example, the listener is being asked to make a lot of effort or do something which they do not usually do, the speaker will probably use a more indirect expression.

Introducing Yourself at Work Part 2

09 Dec 2018

There are a number of ways of making a self introduction. It usually needs to be on a case-by-case basis; however, here's some more basic advice and sample dialogues to get someone's attention and finally make an acquaintance.

Making a Comment

Make a comment to someone about the situation you're in or the environment. Once they've responded, introduce yourself.

A: You wouldn't have any change on you for the coffee machine, would you?
B: I might have. Let me just check.
A: Can you change a $10 bill?
B: Sure. Here you go.
A: Thanks a lot. I'm Ken Carlson by the way. I work in the IT Department just down the corridor.
B: I'm Sheila Thomas. Nice to meet you, Ken. (shakes hands)
A: Nice to meet you too, Sheila.

Use a Third Person to Get an Introduction

If the person you want to introduce yourself to is speaking to someone you already know, then take it as a chance to get acquainted. Walk towards them and say hello to your friend or the person you know. An introduction can then follow naturally. This isn't strictly a self-introduction.

A: Hi, Warren. How are things?
B: Fine, Jeff. And you?
A: Great!
B: This is my colleague, Veronica. Veronica, this is Jeff. Jeff works in the Design Department.
A: Pleased to meet you, Veronica. (shakes hands)
C: Pleased to meet you too, Jeff.

When You Know the Person's Name

If you want to introduce yourself to a person you only know by name, you can start a conversation by confirming their name - "Mr Reynolds?' Once you get their attention, continue by stating how you know about them and then introduce yourself.

A: Henry Warne. Hello. I saw you speaking at the conference last week. That's how I recognized you.
B: Oh, I hope you found it interesting!
A: I certainly did. You gave an excellent presentation. I'm Karen Booth from Production.
B: Pleased to meet you, Karen. (shakes hands)
A: Pleased to meet you too, Henry.


Introducing Yourself at Work Part 1

25 Nov 2018

There are a number of ways of making a self introduction. It usually needs to be on a case-by-case basis; however, here's some basic advice and sample dialogues to get someone's attention and finally make an acquaintance.

Direct Introduction

The direct approach works for most people who have the confidence to do so. Simply go up to the person whom you want to introduce yourself to. Say "hello,' offer a handshake, and tell them your name.

A: Hi. I'm Peter Holden. I'm from Accounts. How do you do? (shake hands)
B: Hello. Nice to meet you, Peter. I'm Jason Warrick.

If, however, it is a group you are approaching, politely ask if you can join them.

A: Hello. Is it alright if I join you?
B: Sure, no problem.
A: My name's Gordon Brand. I'm new here.
B: Pleased to meet you Gordon. I'm Tom Bevan. (shakes hands)
A: Pleased to meet you, Tom.
C: And you too, Gordon.
B: And this is Benjamin Pratt.
A: Pleased to meet you, Benjamin. (shakes hands)

Giving a Compliment

Giving a compliment is also a good tactic. Remember to give a compliment that you really mean. Sincerity is the key here. You can start the conversation with a statement like, "I like your shirt' or "You have a nice watch'. The other party can reply with a "Thank you'. From that point, be prepared to talk about the object you are complimenting on to prove that you really admire it. After a minute or two, or when appropriate, start introducing yourself.

A: I love your shoes. Where did you get them?
B: Oh. Thanks. I got them from Harvey's just yesterday.
A: What kind of leather are they made of? It's got a really nice pattern.
B: Aligator, actually.
A: I don't dare to ask you how much they cost. But they look so expensive.
B: Not as much as you'd think. I got them in a closing down sale.
A: Really? I'm Francesca Tomlins by the way.
B: I'm Robert Downing. Pleased to meet you, Francesca.
A: Pleased to meet you too, Robert. (shakes hands)


A Six-Step Strategy for Customer Service

11 Nov 2018

1. Listen Positively and Empathise

Don't try to defend yourself or the company. Allow the customer to let off steam. Show understanding.

What seems to be the problem?
Can you elaborate?
Could you give me the details?
That must have been very irritating.
I understand how you must feel.

2. Admit the Mistake and Apologise

Don't put the customer on the defensive or question his judgement. Admit mistakes immediately.

I really am sorry.
It seems something has gone wrong here.
There's definitely a problem here we need to deal with.
I'm very sorry about this.
I must apologise on behalf of the company for this.

3. Accept Personal Responsibility

For customers, you are the company. They don't care whose fault it is. You have to deal with it. If the problem can be dealt with only by someone higher in the hierarchy, stay with the customer until it is clear that the problem is being resolved.

I'll make sure this is dealt with.
Let me see what I can do.

4. Act Immediately

Show customers that you are taking their complaints seriously.

I'll get on to it right away.
Let me see what we can do to help you immediately.
I'll deal with this straight away.

5. Offer Compensation (if possible)

Demonstrate your concern practically if you are able to. Often, the form of compensation is less important than the thought.

Please accept this to make up for some of the inconvenience.
Would you like a cup of coffee while you're waiting?

6. Thank the Customer

We should be grateful for complaints. It's one way we can find out how to improve our service. Remember, too, that it costs five times as much to gain a new customer as to keep an old one.

Thank you very much for bringing this to our attention.
Thank you. This will help us to improve our service in the future.


Common Interview Question Types

28 Oct 2018

The Knowledge Question

Do you consider yourself knowledgeable in your field?
What are two most challenging issues facing your industry today?

Make sure you answer the question clearly and thoroughly. Be concise, clear and organized.

The Human Question

Do you consider yourself a hard-working person?
What personal traits are you most proud of?
What do you do when you're not working?

These questions are asked to get a sense of who you are. Now is not the time to talk about how you are a recovering alcoholic or have been proud of staying out of prison. Something which makes you sound interesting, intelligent and reliable. Remember that if they ask about personal things, keep it brief and always try, if you can, to tie everything back to your professional life.

The "What if" Question

What would you do if your boss asked you to do something you disagreed with?
What might you say if you were told you had to leave town tomorrow for business for three weeks?

The rule of thumb is the boss is always right, always discuss problems with your superiors and that you are always flexible.

The "Tell Me" Game

Tell me about your experience.
Tell me why you are interested in working for this company.
Tell me about your greatest strengths and weaknesses.

Again, be clear, concise and organized.

Your Turn

Do you have any questions for me?

Yes, you always need to ask at least one or two questions. Show that you've done your homework: ask about the company, its structure. Now is not the time to ask about the salary or whether you can have a company car!

Reflective Answering

If you deliver your answers straight, they may not sound completely natural. You don't want the interviewer to think that you've memorised them.

Before answering certain questions, pause for a moment to show that you're thinking, then start your answer with one of the following phrases:

I guess...

I guess the biggest achievement would be my employee of the year award; I'm very proud of that.

I feel...

I feel that I've learned a large amount in this job and I'm glad for the opportunity.

I suppose...

I suppose that when I think about it, the hardest part of my job is dealing with customers.

I would say...

I would say that trust is a very important part of a relationship with a co-worker.

Note: these phrases can also be used in combination:

I guess I would say that morale in Reception could be improved and that I feel our hours are too long.


Employment Interview Techniques

14 Oct 2018

In today's high-paced and competitive business environment, good jobs are hard to find. Sharpening your job hunting and, particularly, interviewing skills is a great way to keep yourself in the competition. One of the most important things to keep in mind when being interviewed is that you should try to relax. If you feel nervous and uncomfortable, your interviewer will also feel uncomfortable. So it's important to smile and try to be as natural and friendly as you can.

The good news is that while part of the interview is to test your actual answers, much of it is done to simply get a sense of you as a person. That means that while it is important to answer in a certain way, it's perhaps more important to be friendly, confident and natural.

Here are some tips:

  • Smile as much as you can. Smiling breaks down barriers and will make you and your interviewer feel more relaxed.
  • Be confident - this doesn't mean brag or show off, but an interview is not the time to be humble or downplay your experience or accomplishments. If there is only one time in your life when it's good to tell someone how great you are, the interview is that time!
  • Don't lie but don't sell yourself short: don't talk about what experience you don't have! Always turn these kinds of questions into positives. For example, if an interviewer asks if you have any experience in bookkeeping, you never want to simply say "No."  Instead, think about any connection that might relate: "Well, I don't have any direct bookkeeping experience, but I often helped the bookkeeper so I'm familiar with the terms and I feel I could learn it quite quickly." Or: "I never did any bookkeeping myself but I took two accounting courses in college and feel that I understand the basics of it."
  • Dress the part: there is an old saying that people should dress like the position they want to get. That means a professional appearance is very important. Much of this will depend, of course, on what country you are in, but don't ever worry about being too smart for an interview!
  • Be as detailed as possible: often interviewers will ask you "hypothetical" problem questions (for example, "What would you do if your boss asked you to do something that you didn't know how to do?"); it's important in questions like these to be as detailed as possible.

Enquiring about a Job by Telephone

30 Sep 2018

When you are Telephoning an Employer

Have with you:

  • Paper
  • Pen
  • Diary or Calendar
  • The advert and any reference number for the job
  • The name of the person you want to speak to, or the extension number you require

When the Phone is Answered

It is unlikely you will get through right away to the person you want to speak to. Often, calls are answered by a receptionist who will then transfer your call. So, when phoning you should ask for:

  • A person by name
  • Or a department
  • Or an extension number

Check you are speaking to the person you want. When the receptionist transfers your call, check you've got the right person:

Is that Peter Jenkinson?

Say why you are calling. This part really is worth preparing. Decide what you're going to say before you telephone.

Explain briefly:

  • The vacancy you are interested in
  • How you came to know of it

Be Prepared - with a 'personal telephone check card'. The other person may want to hear something about you. They may only want your name and address in order to send you information, such as an application form, but, be ready to talk about yourself.

In some cases you may have the chance to ask questions. You may want to store these on the back of your Personal Telephone Check Card.

Here are a few examples of questions you might want to ask:

What does the job involve?
When would I be required to start work?
What are the hours of work?
Is weekend work required?
Do you expect staff to work shifts?
What is the starting salary?
Is there any overtime?
What are the prospects of promotion?

Remember, it's most unlikely you would need to ask all of these questions or even get the chance to! What you ask will depend on what information is already in the advertisement and on the way the phone call develops.

Listen Carefully

  • Give the other person time to speak.
  • Listen carefully to what they say and take notes in case you forget e.g. time, place of interview.
  • Don't be afraid to ask the person to repeat something if you don't catch what has been said, or to spell out names which are unusual.

Telephone Problems

Think how you would cope with the following problems. There are some suggestions for you to consider.

  • A bad phone line: "I'm sorry, it's a very bad line. Could you please repeat that?"
  • Getting cut off: Don't be put off - phone back and explain you must have been cut off.
  • The person you want to leave a message with is not there or unavailable: "Could you tell Mr Jenkinson I phoned. My name is William Chiang. I'll phone again. Do you know when he will be free?"
  • Mishearing something: Always check what has been said. By repeating the key points back to the person you are speaking to, anything you've misheard can be clarified and confirmed.
  • Spelling a name: If the line is bad and you are trying to spell a name, use the international alphabet, e.g. A for Alfred; B for Benjamin, C for Charles, etc.

Confirm Details

At the end of the conversation, confirm anything you have agreed. (Read this back to the employer to make sure).

  • Correct address for attendance at interview.
  • Date and time of appointment and directions for location of interview.
  • If you don't already know it, get the name of the person you have spoken to.
  • Thank the person for his or her time.

Interviewing in English

16 Sep 2018

Interviewing is an important task that shows your ability to ask relevant questions and identify key skills in prospective employees. Conducting an interview efficiently is a critical task, since hiring the wrong person can cost your company a lot of time and money. Often, there are standard interview styles and formats which can be used to conduct interviews, but you should also remember that conversation is spontaneous and can lead in different directions. It is always better to think ahead and to prepare questions for different scenarios.

Some key points to remember are:

  • Keep each interviewee's details in mind and ask questions that are relevant to their backgrounds and qualifications, and that are built around the job description.
  • Remain friendly and alert at all times.
  • Keep your tone pleasant and interested, but impersonal.
  • Use key words and phrases from the interviewee's responses to lead the conversation forward.
  • Remember that body language and visual cues are often as important as what is said.
  • Examine the interviewee's resume carefully to ensure that you ask relevant questions.
  • Take brief notes on the candidate's responses so that you don't forget anything important that they have said.
  • Don't ask leading questions that give away the answers.

A successful interview is one that combines different types of questions to get comprehensive information from the person being interviewed, and that assesses the job applicant's capabilities effectively.


Taking Telephone Messages

02 Sep 2018

Taking telephone messages well is a skill that saves time for both the caller and the receiver.

If you need to take a message for someone, get as much information as possible. Always include:

  • The date and time of the call.
  • The full name of the person calling (ask for correct spelling).
  • The company the caller is from.
  • The phone number and time available for callback.
  • The purpose of the call.

Give enough information to the caller so they know what to expect, such as when the person they are trying to reach will return.

When taking a message, avoid saying, “I’ll have him call you back when he returns.” It would be better to say, “I’ll make sure he gets your message when he returns.”

Bear the following points in mind when leaving a telephone message

  • Don't speak too fast!
  • Pronounce and spell your name clearly.
  • Slow down when saying your telephone number and pause somewhere in the sequence of providing your number.
  • Give your company name, title and reason for calling.
  • Let them know when to call you back.



Welcoming Business Visitors - Offering Help

19 Aug 2018

When welcoming a visitor to your office, you should offer to take their coat or umbrella (if they have one), offer them a seat, and offer them something to drink. There are a number of ways of making offers in English. The common ones start with these phrases:

Would you like ...?
Would you like me to ...?
Can I get you ...?


Let's look at how each of these phrases is used in context:


Would you like something to drink?
Would you like any coffee or tea?
Would you like a cold drink?
Would you like to take a seat?
Would you like a magazine to read while you wait?

Would you like me to take your umbrella?
Would you like me to get you a magazine to read?
Would you like me to get you a drink?

Can I get you any tea or coffee?
Can I get you some water?
Can I get you a cold drink?


Choose the most appropriate phrase to suit the context in which the offer is made.



Welcoming Business Visitors - Open and Closed Questions

05 Aug 2018

In English (as in most languages), we can ask either open-ended questions or closed questions.

Closed questions are questions which generally only require a yes/no answer. When you are asked a closed question, try to add some extra information to your answer; otherwise, conversations can quickly come to an end:

Did you enjoy your last trip to China?
Yes, I did. I had a really good time.

Would you like a glass of water?
Yes, please. It's very kind of you to offer.

Are you going to see the band at the Peace Hotel tonight?
No. I've been told they're not very good. What do you think of them?

Are you staying at the Hilton?
No. I'm actually staying at the Carlton Towers.

Open questions are questions, often using a WH- word, in which the speaker is asking for MORE information than just yes or no. Open questions are very useful in helping to develop a conversation. In a way, you are forcing the person you are speaking with to provide you with longer answers:

What did you enjoy most about your meal last night?

Where would you like to go while you're here?

Why are you only staying three days in Shanghai this time?

When welcoming visitors it's best to use a combination of open and closed questions. Perhaps start off by asking a few closed questions about your visitor's flight, hotel, etc. Then ask a few open questions to get your visitor to open up and speak more expansively about things.


Telephone Skills - Questioning

22 Jul 2018

A business telephone call is a dialogue - a two-way exchange of information. When you are not listening, you will probably either be explaining something or asking questions to get information.

Questioning as a Telephone Skill

Questioning is a systematic process that enables you to find out information. In business telephone calls, ask questions to accomplish two aims:

  1. To get the information you need.
  2. To verify or confirm information you've received.

Of course, you'll ask these questions in a conversational way and not make it sound like an interrogation. There are two types of questions often used in business telephone conversations, namely direct and indirect.

Direct Questions

Sometimes your telephone call will be designed to find out very specific pieces of information. In such calls, you need to ask a series of direct questions.

"What date have you selected for the regional meeting?" "Will Mr. Jones be able to make his 2 pm appointment?" "Does that time suit you?"

Direct questions are straight forward. They focus the conversation on a limited topic, and they obtain specific information.

Direct questions (sometimes called closed questions) can be answered with a few words, such as "yes" or "no".

Indirect Questions

In some telephone conversations, you need to find out more general information, share ideas or discuss opinions.  For these situations, you would ask a series of indirect questions.

"Why have you chosen to stay with your present supplier?" "What are your goals this year?" "How is your company organized?" "When last did you have an appointment with us?"

Indirect questions encourage general, wider-ranging responses.  They open up avenues for further thought and discussion.

Indirect questions (sometimes called open questions) cannot be answered with a word or two.  They are designed to get the other person to talk freely, at some length, and in his or her own way.

Using Direct and Indirect Questions

When is each question type most appropriate?

  • Direct questions are used when trying to find out specific information, come to an agreement, or confirm information received.
  • Indirect questions are used when trying to determine needs, uncover problems or understand issues or concerns.

Guidelines for Effective Questioning

Learning how to use questions effectively on the phone takes practice. Here are a few basic guidelines.

1. Select the appropriate questions.

Plan a general line of questioning before you make the call. Ideally, you'll identify the information you need, then prepare questions to get the conversation moving along. You cannot anticipate every question, but you can make an educated guess.

2. Listen to the answers to your questions.

Remember, questioning is one of the broader skills you use in a professional business conversation.  Don't tie yourself too tightly to a strict line of questioning.  Don't start forming your next question until you've listened to the answer to the last one.  Be sure you don't answer the questions yourself.

3. Timing is important.

In a telephone conversation, timing is everything.  Avoid interrupting the conversational flow with a question out of context, but take advantage of conversational opportunities when they arise.

4. Continue questioning to confirm or verify information.

Verifying is a special aspect of questioning. To verify, summarize what has been said (what you heard the other person say), then ask for confirmation with a question.  Here are some examples: Summarize: "So the appointment will be on Thursday at 2.30...." Confirm: " that correct?"

5. Avoid conducting an inquisition.

There is a very small difference between an intense question and answer telephone call, and an inquisition. If you ask too many questions without adding your own comments, your listener will feel as though he/she is being interrogated.  It's best to acknowledge each answer briefly or comment in a relevant way before asking another question.

6. Don't think too much about the types of questions.

Although it's useful to know and use the direct and indirect questions, don't concern yourself too much about the types themselves. After all, it is the answer, not the question that is the most important. Remember that your telephone contact may not respond in the way you expect. Don't panic if he/she replies with a one-word answer to your best indirect question!  Take note of the information and change your questions accordingly.


Having an Awareness of Tone

24 Jun 2018

When speaking or writing in a business context, it is very important to be aware of tone. Tone has to do with not the meaning of words but how they are said or written. For example, if you invited three close friends over to watch a football game, the language you might use with them would be very different than the language you might use if you met the Queen of England or a very well-known politician. The difference in the way you'd say things to the Queen and your friends is called tone.

Think for a minute about your native language. How might you say these sentences (in your native language) differently, depending on who you were with:

Give me that pen.
Stop talking and listen.
Sit down right now.

We make things more formal, of course, by adding words like "please" and "kindly". We also make it more formal by adding phrases such as "Could you....", " Would you mind...," "I was wondering if you could..." etc.

Sometimes tone has to do, then, with being more polite. Sometimes, though, it's not a matter of politeness, but of formality. Some words are just more formal than others. Consider the following list of words, for example, which are rather informal. On the right are words that are similar in meaning but reflect a more formal tone.

informal formal
really very
better improved
go depart
at first initially
lucky fortunate
empty depleted
ask enquire
next following
help assistance
need require
in the end finally
whole entire
wrong incorrect
chance opportunity
cheap inexpensive
not as good inferior
over and over again repeatedly
get obtain

Keep in mind that this is certainly not a complete list. While it's incorrect to say that the words on the left are impolite, they are less formal. That means you would almost never use these words in a formal business letter, but you wouldn't use the formal words on the right if you were spending time with your friends at home. Also note that in North American and British/Australian/South African business circles, it is usually fine to be somewhat informal when speaking; this is not the case when it comes to writing, however.


Making Difficult Requests

10 Jun 2018

When making requests, it's necessary to be polite. In most situations, the standard request phrases "Would you...?" or "Could you .....?" are acceptable. For example:

Could you take these cheques to the bank?
Could you please handle my calls while I'm out?
Would you speak to Jane about this, please?
Would you make a copy of this report for me, please?

However, in certain situations, where the request will trouble or inconvenience someone, it is a good idea to use a stronger, more polite request phrase. The most common phrase is "I'd appreciate if you/we could...." Here are some examples:

I'd appreciate it if you could check this document for errors when you have time.
I'd appreciate it if you could show Jim how to use the new auditing software.
I'd appreciate it if you could extend the deadline by a week.

If the request is very difficult, use the phrase "I'd really appreciate if it you/we could..." Listen to these examples:

I'd really appreciate it if you could complete our order by 30 June.
I'd really appreciate it if you could extend our credit by a further 30 days.
I'd really appreciate it if we could postpone our meeting until next week.

Note: we don't say "I'd very appreciate it if you could." Use "really" instead of "very."

The other common phrase for making difficult requests is "I would be grateful if you could..." This phrase is used in the same way as "I'd appreciate it if you could..." Listen to these examples:

I'd be grateful if you could check this document for errors when you have time.
I'd be grateful if you could show Jim how to use the new auditing software.
I'd be grateful if you could extend the deadline by a week.

And if the request is very troublesome for someone, use the phrase "I'd be really/very grateful if you could...." This phrase is used in the same way as "I'd really appreciate if you could..." as in these examples:

I'd be very grateful if you could complete our order by 30 June.
I'd be really grateful if you could extend our credit a further 30 days.
I'd be very grateful if we could postpone our meeting until next week.

Why do we have to be so polite?

This is probably a cultural thing. In Western culture, people expect politeness. If your request sounds more like a command, then you're likely to cause offence, and there's a good chance they'll say "no." If you make a request and indicate your appreciation, your request is much more likely to be granted. Of course, much depends on the context of the conversation you have and the relationship you have with the person you're speaking to.