Have you ever felt the pressure to speak English flawlessly in a business setting? You're not alone.
In fact, in my experience as an [international communication coach], I've encountered numerous myths about business English that can hold you back, create unnecessary stress, hinder effective communication and hurt your business relationships.
Today, I want to debunk three common myths about business English. Understand these myths, and you can communicate more confidently and effectively [with the level of English you already have]. Besides, you’ll likely progress faster in your English conversation skills once you stop putting this kind of pressure on yourself.
Let's dive into these myths and uncover the truth behind effective business English communication.
Myth #1: Pausing when you are speaking is unprofessional.
In my work with professionals who want to improve their business English, I have noticed that many people mistake speaking quickly - and without pausing - for sounding more confident, fluent, or competent. I have even had people ask me to help them avoid ever pausing to search for their words or think.
But can you really imagine collaborating with a business partner, client or colleague who never wanted to stop speaking long enough to breathe, speak - or let you get a comment in? In reality, this is not how people speak.
What’s worse, you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself in English by holding yourself to an impossible standard that will leave you feelings stressed and probably fumbling more than usual when you speak.
Pausing is no problem - in fact, it’s a natural and beneficial part of normal business communication.
It also gives you some time to think about your line of argument.
Here are just a few benefits of stopping to pause during business conversations in English:
- In an international setting, pauses can allow other non-native speakers of English the chance to catch up and understand you better. And if you have an accent a native speaker is struggling to understand, it can mean the difference between getting your point across or being asked to repeat yourself.
- Pausing allows your communication partner to come into the conversation and share his points of view.
- In fact, many speakers use pauses strategically to slow the pace of conversation, to bring calm to a situation, or even to add emphasis.
Here are some ways you can make pauses work for you:
- Don’t be afraid to pause, and remember that pausing is helpful and natural.
- Practice allowing yourself to pause and being mindful of pauses in conversations in your native language.
- When you do pause, don’t become nervous and start using filler words or sounds like “uh”, “um”, “er” or other words.
Myth #2: Using the same vocabulary as in German expresses your eloquence.
During my business coaching sessions, many of my smart German-speaking clients fall into a trap. They translate directly from German. It makes sense, after all, in Germany, we spend time learning to speak well. It shows our business communication skills and professionalism.
I myself used to think that incorporating German-style vocabulary into my English was a sign of eloquence, but now I realize that it is not true.
In fact, in English using your formal and eloquent business style in German can make you sound distant and aloof. It can even hurt your business rapport!
A few examples of German phrasing and expressions that don’t translate well into English are:
- German: "Es wäre mir eine große Freude, Ihre Bekanntschaft zu machen."
- Literal English Translation: "It would be my great pleasure to make your acquaintance."
- More Natural English Version: "I'm looking forward to meeting you."
- German: "Dürfte ich vielleicht eine kleine Anmerkung zu Ihrem Vorschlag machen?"
- Literal English Translation: "Might I perhaps make a small remark regarding your proposal?"
- More Natural English Version: "Can I give a quick thought on your idea?"
- German: "Ich möchte Ihnen meinen aufrichtigsten Dank für Ihre Unterstützung aussprechen."
- Literal English Translation: "I would like to express my most sincere thanks for your support."
- More Natural English Version: "Thanks a lot for your support."
Remember, you usually don‘t use the same vocabulary and tone in English in business as you do in German. English in business is far more relaxed, whereas German speaking is a little conservative and maybe even old-fashioned.
Keep translating directly from German to sound more sophisticated, and you risk alienating your clients and colleagues in English!
Besides, it is much more difficult to come up with those direct translations because they are rather complex.
Myth #3: Searching for words means bad English.
I’ve worked with clients from many different industries and one incredibly common and harmful misconception that comes up again and again:
The belief that if you stop and search for words, you are an incompetent English speaker.
This kind of perfectionism is likely to make you feel stressed out. And it’s actually a barrier to making progress.
Instead of setting yourself the impossible goal of never stopping to search for your words, why not accept this as a reality? Indeed, why not prepare a few diplomatic, relaxed and natural expressions you can have ready for when you can’t find your words right away?
Here are a few that native speakers use:
- You know the thing - What’s it called?
- I don’t know. Let me see.
- Let me think a bit about that.
Native speakers and international business communicators use expressions like this all the time. Try it, and you'll often find that the person you're speaking with will help you find the word. (And no, they won't judge you.)
We've explored and debunked three major myths about business English: the fear of pausing, using direct translations from German, and the misconception that searching for words is a sign of poor English.
Remember, effective communication in Business English isn't about perfection. It's about being clear, taking the time to reflect and paying attention to your conversation parter. Embrace the fact that you are a multilingual business person instead of trying to be a “native English speaker,” and I think you’ll see that you are less stressed and more confident.
If you have any personal experiences or additional myths to share, feel free to comment below.
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