Achieving C1 in your English exam will NOT make you a better business negotiator. Here’s why (and what you should focus on instead.)

by | Sep 20, 2018 | 0 comments

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Are you planning to take one of the Advanced English exams like Cambridge CAE anytime soon?


More importantly, why are you taking it?


★ Is it because you’ve been told that if you want to apply for your dream job, you need to prove your English Language skills and level with an exam (in other words, a qualification)?



★ Is it because you’ve been told by your company that the only way you stand a chance of getting that promotion is if you demonstrate you have the required English Language skills and level with an exam qualification (despite having worked for your company and in English for years)?


★ Is it because you feel that an extra English Language qualification would look good on your CV and/or LinkedIn profile?


★ Is it because you feel that an exam qualification (a piece of paper) will mean that you’re finally taken seriously in your company?


If you fall in the first two categories, I understand the dilemma you’re in.


There are many companies that insist on a ‘piece of paper’ to prove you have the English language skills required to do the job you’re applying for or hoping to be promoted to. It’s the competitive world we live in. There’s not a lot you can do about it, but prepare for and take the exam.


And I totally understand why you’d want to add that qualification to your CV and/or LinkedIn profile. After all, we add our other professional qualifications, so why not this?


Let’s imagine you’ve taken the exam not because you 
have to but because you want to.


And passed it. Yay! Congratulations. You’re now an Advanced level speaker in English.


What a relief! You’re now ready to nail those deals, contracts, sales package with ease and confidence.


You lead your first negotiation deal post-exam and the result? A complete disaster!


What happened?


● You missed all the non-verbal signals.


● The other side didn’t hear what you said in the way you wanted it heard.


● The other side accused you of misinterpreting their conditions. You didn’t hear what they wanted you to hear.


● It was the first time you were working with your Indian clients and you found it difficult to follow them (maybe their accent  was unfamiliar to you or their discourse style was different?)


In other words, you missed all the key communication signals.


How’s this possible? Didn’t you just achieve C1 level in English proving that you’re an advanced level speaker in English?


“Being an advanced speaker in English does not make you an effective communicator.”


Here’s what the Speaking part of the exam is all about and what you learn.


➤ Part 1 of the exam tests your ability to use language for social purposes, for example introducing yourself, answering questions and giving your opinion on a topic.


➤ Part 2 tests your ability to discuss and interpret data (pictures), to agree, to disagree, to agree to disagree, to negotiate and collaborate, to listen carefully and to clarify a comment. All this is achieved by looking at a selection of pictures and discussing them with the other person.


➤ Part 3 tests your ability to speak at length (2 minutes) on a topic you’re given by the examiner. You have to ‘think on your feet’. You need to use language to develop the topic, compare and contrast, hypothesise and comment. You then have 4 minutes to discuss the topic with the examiner.


There’s no doubt that in preparing for the exam, you develop key skills like exchanging ideas, expressing and justifying your opinions, evaluating, reaching a decision through negotiation and so on. But…


Here’s what you DON’T learn.


★ How to pick up the non-verbal signals critical in communication – body language, intonation, eye contact, facial gestures. For example, as a speaker, understanding your listener’s body language will allow you to adjust your message, make it more understandable, appealing or interesting.


★ How to be more aware of different discourse styles in different cultures and adapt to them. We don’t all communicate in the same way.


★ How to recognise individual differences in people and how to manage them effectively and appropriately. This is especially true when working in an international environment. The temptation is to stereotype a colleague or client based on cultural assumptions and this can jeopardise your relationship with them.


★ How to reflect on the way you communicate with your colleagues and clients.


★ How to ensure your message has been understood in the way you want by pausing and asking questions.


★ How to focus on the other person, and not only yourself. When you’re so intent on speaking you can forget the other person. If you want to be a good communicator, you need to step back and listen empathically. Empathic listening means understanding the emotions and feelings the speaker is expressing. It’s also listening to learn.


Unless you’re looking for a new job or promotion where proof of C1 level is mandatory, don’t take an English exam. It will not turn you into a better communicator.


Your time and effort would be much better spent focusing on this instead.


● Reflecting on how you communicate. Take time to study how you communicate at work. How do you respond to people? How do they respond to you?


● Identifying and analysing problem areas – What were the issues that caused misunderstandings? How could they be avoided next time?


● Using your experience as case studies – take an uncomfortable situation and scrutinise it carefully. What went right and what went wrong? Was it all because of you? Or were there extenuating circumstances (for example the other person was unclear or unstructured and difficult to follow.)



No exam is ever going to win you your next deal. Learning how to communicate is.


Here’s a strategy to help you win at negotiations without taking your C1 exam.


I’ve used it with a number of my clients, and I know that it has helped them feel more confident.


Try this for your next negotiation meeting.


★ Before the meeting, think carefully about what your desired outcome is. Write it down.



★ How do you plan to achieve that outcome? What’s your strategy? Again write it down.


★ Now think about your negotiating partners.>> Who are they?>> Where are they from? >>What is their level of English?>> Is it the same as yours, lower or higher? >> Have you dealt with them before? >>What is their desired outcome? >>What objections are they likely to have?


★ With the above information, go into your meeting prepared to listen first.

➣ Be present (don’t multitask).

➣  Listen intently to learn (make notes)

➣ Don’t be afraid of pauses and don’t be afraid of interrupting to check for understanding, but don’t interrupt to add your opinion.


★ After the meeting, take a few minutes to reflect on what you learned from the experience. Was your rapport better? Did you get what you wanted? How did the other side respond to your willingness to listen to them first?


#Join the EWAT community

Why don’t you join the EWAT community over at Facebook and support and get encouragement from your business peers as you navigate your way to becoming an effective and courageous communicator in English?

You’ll get to participate in polls, attend live videos and engage with an international group of truly inspiring EWATers.