Why your business clients don’t need your dream ‘perfect English’ persona.
You’ve been using English at work with clients and co-workers for a while.
And here’s how you think it’s supposed to be at this stage of your professional career.
➤ I’m supposed to have near perfect grammar in my senior position.
➤ I’m supposed to be able to use sophisticated vocabulary when pitching a proposal to our clients.
➤ The right words are supposed to flow effortlessly when I am in a Q&A session.
➤ I’m supposed to speak without pausing.
➤ I’m supposed to have a neutral accent when speaking English.
➤ I’m supposed to understand people immediately and not have to ask them to repeat.
That’s a lot of “I’m supposed to be’s” that you need to live up to.
Where do they come from?
And why this need to have mistake-free grammar, sophisticated language, accent-free English and effortless fluency in your business meeting?
Because that’s what you were told was important by your English teachers at school, college, university or in your company.
Remember all those classes where you followed a coursebook?
Each unit in the coursebook would have:
➤ A topic – for example, ‘Hobbies’ with vocabulary and keywords specific to the subject.
➤ An element of grammar eg present perfect tense.
➤ A listening exercise – with scripted dialogue and crystal clear ‘British’ accents
➤ A ‘controlled’ speaking exercise – where you’d be instructed to have a conversation with your partner and include the new vocabulary and grammar you’d learned in class. During this conversation, your teacher would listen out for any mistakes you made and correct them.
➤ If you were lucky, you’d have time at the end of the class for some ‘free’ speaking practice where you could talk about anything you wanted. But these were rare.
Years of controlled speaking practice, with a spotlight directed at every mistake you made, have created that persona you believe you’re supposed to be.
A grammar-perfect, accent-free, articulate speaker of English.
So now, you look at what you’re supposed to be and compare it with who you are.
➤ That person who never quite feels good enough when you’re participating in that meeting.
➤ That person who stresses every time you have to make a call in English to your Spanish supplier
➤ That person who can’t help comparing themselves to that colleague who seems to speak English effortlessly during conference calls.
➤ That person who thinks the promotion to vice- president is beyond your reach and a sense of hopelessness sits heavily on your heart.
You tell yourself you’ll never become who you’re supposed to be and reluctantly accept instead what you think is second best – who you are now.
What if I were to tell you that who you are now is exactly what your co-workers, clients, bosses need?
Intrigued? Read on.
In her book, Feel the fear and Do It Anyway, Susan Jeffers (*affiliate link) writes: “If you focus on ‘the way it’s supposed to be’, you might miss the opportunity to enjoy the way it is”.
Let’s apply what Susan Jeffers is saying to you.
By focusing on the way you’re supposed to be – a grammar-perfect, accent-free, articulate speaker of English – you’re missing out on enjoying and improving on what you do now – communicating in English with your co-workers and clients.
You shouldn’t be focusing on how well (or how badly) you speak, but on how well you communicate in English.
Here’s what I want you to do and how to do it.
3 Steps to ditch forever what you’re ‘supposed to be’ and focus instead on becoming an effective communicator in business.
Step #1: Start from where you are.
Pause and reflect on how and with whom you communicate in English now.
Here are some reflection questions to guide you.
Where do you communicate? >> conference calls? >> face to face meetings >> presentations >> networking events >> conferences >> workshops? >> across countries >> within your company?
Who are your co-workers and clients? >> international speakers of English like you? >> monolingual speakers of English? >> what’s their level of English? >> similar to yours? >> lower or higher? >> are your clients experts in their field or consider you the expert? >> are your co-workers senior to you or your direct reports?
What do they need from you? >> information? >> inspiration? >> a mentor? >> guidance? >> expertise? >> a negotiator? >> reliability? >> reassurances? >> to be a good listener? >> to ask questions? Business communication is situational which means you may be needed for all of these roles at some stage.
How do you communicate with them? >> do you have a clear outcome for each situation? >> Do you have a structure of how you’re going to achieve that outcome?>> do you think of your audience’s level of English and expertise? >> Do you adapt your language to them or are you more interested in impressing them with the latest buzzword you’ve learned? >> Do you spend more time listening or speaking? >> Do you welcome silences or do you fill any gap with chatter? >> do you notice non-verbal language? >> Do you give your audience time to share their ideas? >> do you listen to understand or to reply? >> Do you listen with curiosity?
Step #2: With reflection comes clarity and direction
Now that you’ve taken time to reflect, what have you discovered:
About yourself? >> are you better than you thought? Yay, time to celebrate it. >> are you worse? >> why do you think that?>> what changes can you make?
About your clients and co-workers? >> how do they react to you? >> are they accepting of your mistakes? >> do they even notice them? >> are they interested in what you say or how you say? >> do they appreciate the way you listen? >> do they need you to listen more?
About how you communicate >> do you achieve your outcome? >> if you don’t, do you know why? >> If you do, how have you done it? >> do you talk your audience’s language? >> How do you know you’re doing that? >> have you noticed their body language?
Step #3: Start and maintain a reflection habit
By reflecting, recording and analysing each situation, you develop a deeper understanding of yourself (of what you’re capable of) and of the people around you.
You also acquire much-needed clarity of what direction you need to take, what changes you need to make to become a better, more effective communicator in English.
But reflecting, recording and analysing occasionally won’t give you the important changes you’re seeking.
The only way you’re going to change the way you communicate in English is if you reflect, record and analyse consistently.
In other words, you develop and maintain a journaling habit of how you communicate.
Alone or with a coach?
Habits are easy to start but immensely difficult to maintain.
How many habits have you started and given up? I’ve stopped counting.
You can start your reflection habit on your own or you can work with a coach to:
➤ give you focus through a series of reflection questions;
➤ give you feedback, advice and clarity throughout your journey;
➤ offer you encouragement to keep going when things are tough or a push when you’re falling behind;
➤ hold you accountable to your goals;
➤ ensure you don’t give up when the going gets tough.
Your clients and co-workers don’t need you to talk at them. They need you to communicate with them.
You already know how to communicate, and like all skills, you can learn to master it by developing a reflection habit.
So, start from where you are now and focus on becoming the best communicator you can be in English, NOT the best speaker of English you think you’re supposed to be.
NB: *The link to Susan Jeffers’s book is an affiliate link. This means, at no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a cup of coffee ☕️ if you click through and buy the book.