To be successful in business, it is important to sound polite, helpful and professional with your colleagues and clients at the office. Brits and Americans use specific language and etiquette to achieve this. In this guide, we will show you how to make the right impression so that your English sounds polite at work. Let’s jump in!
When speaking with office colleagues in English, it is important to remember that Brits and Americans often use words like please, thank you, excuse me and sorry. In many languages, words like these are not as important, but in English, they are!
Here are some examples:
Body language is also important so remember to smile and make eye contact!
It is best to wait until somebody has finished speaking before you start to speak. But sometimes that just isn’t possible or helpful, and you need to interrupt in a polite way.
Interrupting someone at the office can be uncomfortable in any language, and most people don’t like being interrupted, so you should do this as politely as possible.
It may help you to make a small hand signal (e.g. a slightly raised hand) before trying one of the following phrases to give you the chance to speak:
Remember to say thank you and smile after you have made your point.
Learning to use modal verbs can be difficult, but they do soften your speech and make you sound more polite. Modal verbs are used all the time in speech and usually stop you from sounding rude or aggressive. Consider using the ‘would/should/can/may/could’ group of words in your speech more at work.
Have a look at the following examples, which you will notice are also used above (point 2.):
Note the use of ‘would you mind’ and ‘could I possibly’. Once again, these are ways to soften your speech and make it more polite. Again, saying ‘please’ and smiling remains important.
Using the ‘ing’ form with verbs such as hoping, thinking and wondering is a way to make your speech polite. With wondering, it’s good to use the past continuous tense.
Take a look at the following examples:
Once again you can see that there are modal verbs used in these examples.
Using more casual words and expressions softens speech in English and native speakers use it all the time, even at the office. The following words all have the effect of making a sentence sound more casual, friendly or ‘everyday’ – just, a bit, pop in, kind of, quite, around and -ish.
Have a look at the following examples:
Cannot or can’t are perfectly correct in grammar, but they can sometimes give a negative impression and may appear too direct, or even rude. Fortunately, there are some good alternatives below that you can use:
We can see here that struggling to, not able to and finding it difficult to are all excellent alternatives to can’t when trying to make your speech a little more polite and less direct.
Saying thank you and knowing how to react when being thanked is very important in English. There are a number of ways of doing this to make your English sound both polite and ‘native’.
Firstly, we’ll deal with saying thank you. Thank you and thank you very much are both perfectly acceptable, but here are some good alternatives:
Secondly, we’ll deal with being thanked. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to say when somebody thanks you for doing something. Saying nothing would be impolite! Here are some alternatives for responding politely:
Again, remember to make eye contact and smile so that your response appears sincere.
Short and simple statements with no explanations can sometimes sound aggressive and impolite in English. Therefore, it’s a good idea to add explanations to provide context and some softness. Using because or as are easy ways to do this. You can put the explanations either at the start or at end of the sentence.
Have a look at the following examples:
This is a very important because being in disagreement with somebody can often sound aggressive. Avoid using direct language like: You are wrong or That is incorrect. You can correct someone or disagree politely by using the following phrases:
These polite expressions are much less aggressive and you can see that each one acknowledges the viewpoint of the other person.
If the situation is very tense or formal and you need a stronger message, then one of these phrases might be appropriate:
Note that it is probably better NOT to smile when disagreeing with someone. This can appear rude. Try not to look angry, instead remain neutral in your body language. As we say, “calm and collected”.
A lot easier than disagreement! This time, it is good to smile a little to show you are on the same side. Let’s look at several ways of showing that you agree with someone:
There are two situations when you might need people to clarify or repeat themselves. These are as follows:
a) When you have heard the words but you don’t understand what somebody means.
b) When you can’t understand the words and you need somebody to repeat what has been said.
Let’s look at the first situation where you don’t understand the words. You can use phrases like:
Don’t say: I don’t understand. What do you mean?
Next, let’s look at the situation where you haven’t heard the words properly and you need the person to say it again. It’s good to use phrases like:
Don’t say: Pardon? What? What did you say?
Sometimes you have to say ‘no’ to somebody. Two situations where this might happen are as follows:
a) When somebody asks you to do something and you can’t or don’t want to do it.
b) When you are given the chance to do something (such as going out for drinks), but you don’t want to.
Let’s look at a) first where you have to say that you are not able to help somebody. You could use phrases like:
Don’t say: I can’t do that or That is not possible.
Now let’s look at situation b) where you don’t want to accept an invitation to do something. Try using phrases like:
Don’t say: I don’t want to or That doesn’t interest me.
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