1 winning strategy to describe your work clearly and confidently in YOUR English
Describing what you do to someone who’s not in your industry is hard. The immediate response to the question “what do you do” is to give your job title.
Some job titles are easy to explain and to understand but others are mind-boggling.
“Employer Branding Senior Specialist”, “Chief People & Culture Officer”, “Global Utilities Business Area Leader “.
(If any of you can explain these job titles to me in the comments, I’d be most grateful.)
And that’s the problem. Explaining your difficult-to-understand job title to someone outside your industry is super hard. Having to do that in English makes it worse.
You worry that your English isn’t good enough to explain it confidently and clearly. You don’t have the words, you’re afraid your mind will go blank, that you’ll spend too long looking for your words and will bore your interlocutor. You fear you will appear indecisive and less authoritative.
As a Business English and Communication coach, I help my clients discover for themselves that their English is more than good enough to describe their job confidently and clearly. I do this by asking them specific questions, inviting them to reflect and offering them 1 or 2 strategies they can apply.
To illustrate how I do this, I want to share a recent conversation a new client and I had during our first coaching session and 1 strategy I offered them.
This is how the conversation went and the strategy I offered.
Client: “I want to improve my vocabulary so that I can explain my role.”
Me: “What is your role?”
Client: “Operational Excellence”.
Me: “What is that?”
Client: “It’s difficult to explain.”
Me: “How do you explain it in your first language?”
Client: “It’s also difficult in my language.”
Client: “It’s quite abstract”.
We looked together at the definition of operational excellence on Wikipedia.
“Operational excellence is a mindset that embraces certain principles and tools to create a culture of excellence within an organization. Operational excellence means every employee can see, deliver and improve the flow of value to a customer.”
Me: “I see what you mean. I am struggling to understand this myself. How do you make it less abstract in your first language?”
Client: “I normally give a practical example to help my interlocutor visualise my role. I use non-industry specific language to help them understand.”
Me: “In other words, you adapt your language and way of communicating to help them understand.”
Me: “How do they respond?”
Client: “Positively. They always thank me for the easier explanation.”
Me: “What happens next?”
Client: “We have a good conversation.”
Me: “I’d like you to imagine you’re explaining what you do to someone in your first language using the strategies you’ve told me. I then want you to reflect on the words you use and write them down. Take a few minutes to do this.”
Me: “Are there any words you don’t know in English?”
Client: “Only a couple.”
Me: “Other than those, is there any reason you couldn’t explain your role in English using the same strategies?”
Me: “In that case, do you need to improve your vocabulary?”
Client: “I guess not.”
Me: “ What would be more helpful?”
Client: “Structuring my thoughts and practising to share them in English.”
Me: “Shall we work on that instead?”
When you start from a position of scarcity – I don’t have enough vocabulary, my grammar is bad, I am not eloquent enough, my spoken language isn’t polished enough – you automatically assume that to describe your work you need more words, preferably sophisticated.
You assume that that’s what your interlocutor wants to hear because it’s only through your words that they will be impressed. The trouble with this mindset is that it can be stressful and demotivating because what if despite all those words you’ve learned they still don’t understand? What then?
By contrast, when you start from a mindset of abundance – I have all the vocabulary I need to describe my role, it doesn’t matter if I forget that preposition, I have reflected a lot on how to describe my work and practised sharing it- you can take your English and focus on what’s most important which is helping the other person understand what you do and engage meaningfully with them.