When it comes to business English conversations, teachers at academies tend to put a lot of effort into speaking and listening.
Most lessons put a lot of focus on improving your pronunciation to sound more American or British. Or confidence tips, audio exercises, and our most popular course: fluency training.
These are all valid and useful inputs. But what’s missing from a business perspective? Our teachers have prepared an article with some aspects that don’t get as much attention.
We’ll be talking about how to actively listen while having business English conversations with natives.
And while speaking English, to communicate with intent.
Don’t miss the video at the end!
English conversations from a business perspective
At Nativos we’re experts in teaching professionals to speak better corporate English.
So we’ll be focusing on business English conversations in the workplace.
How can you communicate better at work in another language? To begin, speed isn’t efficiency.
Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the content of what you’re saying, as you concentrate SO hard on pronunciation, grammar, etc.
It’s easy to freak out, but don’t worry!
Prepare your dialogue and daily English conversations with these guideline and tips.
1. Be present. Focus, focus, and focus
To help you focus on your conversation, remove any distractions from your physical environment.
What stops you from staying in the moment?
- Turn off your phone
- Leave your phone where you can’t see it (and where the other person can’t see it either)
- Remove all objects from around you that would be tempting to touch, or use, to help you focus.
- Avoid stuff that is written in your native language, so your brain doesn’t get side-tracked.
- Before your conversation or meeting, try to think in English to get in the right “mood”.
- Practice by saying a few words to yourself or listen to English audio.
Make the other person feel that you there for them. Only for them, they are your SOLE focus.
Just pay attention, right?
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a business situation at work, or at home with your kids. Don’t drift away to think about your next meeting, or interview. Stay grounded.
2. Observe. Then talk.
Take a little moment to observe the person you have in front of you, be it a colleague, supplier or customer.
Does he or she looks tense? Stressed? Worried? Don’t be afraid to bring your whole self to work.
Listening makes us more compassionate. Ask how things are going, or if everything is OK, be a human!
A well timed joke can also go a long way to smoothen the way and communicate better in English.
When we are nervous, we make more mistakes.
Perhaps it’s you that’s having a bad week. Perhaps you wouldn’t wish your job on your worst enemy… try to be professional enough for this not to show.
3. Use questions to boost interest
Try to use questions that will make the other person give more details as they share their answers.
During business English conversations, avoid questions where the reply is a simple ‘no’ or ‘yes’.
To help you, use words like how, what, when, where, who, why. Use phrases like:
- What did you do to..
- Why did you…
- How come you…
- When was the last time you…
- Would you have…
Try these phrases with new vocabulary. You’ll get better answers, and can keep the conversation going without akward silences.
Make sure you get the grammar right (would, should…). Find the best English grammar books here.
4. It can make you look different (personality... not mirror wise)
When we speak in a foreign language it’s harder to control how we come across.
How do people see us? How do they think our personality is?
It’s easier to come off as arrogant, or uninterested, depending on your tone of voice, defensive body language, etc.
Another key is frustration. It’s frustrating speaking English when your brain is twice as fast as your mouth and your words. The language just doesn’t sound as good as you would like it to.
5. Don’t act like you know everything during a Business English conversation
Arrogance and superiority are not helpful in a business conversation. Don’t assume or act like you know everything.
Make sure your phrases invite the other person to WANT to respond. It’s about how you phrase your sentences, don’t come off as an arrogant know-it-all.
It’s about having a conversation, right?
Not winning an argument or shooting down the other person. Avoid polarisation. Balance between listening, and talking with intent, which is a skill we can all learn.
Put your personal opinion in a locked box.
What can you learn from the person in front of you?
You won’t know unless you listen!
6. Don't stay too close on script when speaking
Some students practice situational business English conversations.
For example, “in the next sales meeting, I am going to use phrases A and B and use this or that grammar rule”.
What happens when you think too much about what you’re going to say next? Or ask next?
You miss the natural moment to respond to what the other person is actually saying.
You might have a good question or follow-up comment. But you missed the opportunity to NAIL it from a business relevancy perspective.
Because you stopped being present.
We simply don’t pay enough attention in business conversation settings. Try harder 🙂
Listening with intent to understand makes it easier to read the other person. This improves the English conversation.
Grammar and vocabulary are important, but it’s more important to keep it real and achieve your business goal.
7. Admit stuff
Let’s say you’re in a business meeting at your company. The conversation is in English but somewhere you stopped listening. Oops.
Perhaps you missed something that was decided. Don’t worry!
If a colleague asked you something and you have no idea what to say, just admit it.
Say something like “I’m so sorry, I seemed to miss the last part, could you repeat it please?”.
And hey, if you don’t know the answer, that’s totally OK. You won’t know the answer in English if you don’t know it in your own language.
“I’ll find out” is a totally valid answer (then run to YouTube and find the answer hehe).
8. Don't repeat when trying to influence
Every company has their internal agenda. There will always be colleagues fighting over power or trying to influence others.
A common mistake according to conversational experts is to repeat a message to convince someone in a conversation. Because you know what? It’s tiring.
Rephrasing doesn’t make it more interesting neither in English nor other languages.
Instead, look at what you have in common and use that as a basis for moving forward in your conversation.
Ask what would help to move things forward, practice listening with empathy. Think fresh. Experiment with something unexpected!
What is the business goal?
9. Active listening
Many students improve their English listening simply by attending business meeting conversations. Or speaking with native colleagues and customers.
There are different ways to listen though. Have you heard of active listening?
Even if you love talking – after all it’s great that you’re practising English, take a moment to reflect.
Here’s a little dialogue analysis.
How about the last 3 meetings at your company… What % of the time did you listen, vs speak?
Who perhaps didn’t make their voice heard as others spoke too much?
Sometimes it’s the least loud voices that we need to listen to more.
10. New accents and languages slows us down
Our brains are fast.
During a business English conversation our minds fill in the blanks as we listen to someone. Many take this moment to prepare their next reply, meaning we get distracted.
We also get distracted when we talk!
Particularly in a foreign language as it slows us down, deteriorating the conversation.
So talk less, but make sure that the words you use when speaking English have an impact. Level up.
11. It's not easy to pay attention in a conversation in a foreign language
Speaking English at work is about much more than grammar, vocabulary and levels.
The goal for any business English course is to prepare you to communicate better at work. Improving your speaking and listening is key.
But in today’s workplace, a lot of times we’re just throwing phrases to each other. It’s not a dialogue.
Is your reply really more important than actually hearing what the other person has to say?
This is particularly important when preparing for difficult conversations at work.
12. Daily English conversation practice: YouTube videos, chats...
If you could listen to a secret audio recording from your last meeting, what would it reveal?
What can you practice to improve your English listening skills?
Improving your listening skills is closely related to your interpersonal communication skills.
We recommend looking at some YouTube videos or Google some tips to improve this part.
Find your level. Topics are usually divided depending on if you’re a beginner or if you have a C1 for example, so use keywords like basic, easy lessons, advanced, etc.
Search for topics like English dialogue and business English conversation practice. Our teachers favourite tip? Find fun lessons related to your industry or topics you’re currently discussing at work.
Ideally, practice conversational English every day. It doesn’t matter if you speak with yourself, to your dog, a colleague at work, or find someone online to chat to.
Make it less about you!
13. Business English conversational classes
Are you interested in business English conversations with native speakers?
Our teachers are on stand-by to offer online or in-company classes.
We’ll do a level test for free to determine where to start your lessons:
- English conversation training
- Listening exercises
We take great pride in listening to our students and adapting our courses so we offer exactly the type of training that you need.
If you work in sales, we’ll practice sales vocabulary, talk about industry trends, etc.
We’ll also give tips for relevant “fun” things and best practices that you can do outside class.
We recommend activities like watching series, audio podcasts and online listening lessons.
To improve your reading, we always keep an eye out for interesting articles and books. Both business related and international novels.
If you have a favourite topic, we’ll make sure to plan a lesson around it.
Join hundreds of companies and professionals and let us improve your Business English level too.
Speaking English is fun!
How can I improve my business English communication skills?
Here’s a video with a recap of the most important tips!