Business English Vocabulary

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Key tips and English phrases for your next “lessons learned” meeting

Life is about continuously learning. We sometimes learn from our mistakes, and we can also learn from our successes. This was first brought to my attention early on in my career. After the successful completion of a tough project, we had a meeting with our team leader where we were questioned on both what had we done well and how could the project have gone smoother. Today, in the international automotive company where I work as an InCorporate Trainer training business English, Lessons Learned meetings are an integral part of any project.
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What happens in a “lessons learned” meeting?

Like my team leader a long time ago, the project managers I train are convinced that, after any project, it is important to reflect on what could be learned from the experience. Annette, a manager who regularly uses me for on-the-job training explained that “For us the lessons learned meeting is especially important if the project was deemed to be a success. In this way, best practices are identified and flow into subsequent projects. And feelings of complacency can be avoided. At the same time, it is important to understand what stood in the way of a project being even more successful. It doesn’t really matter how successful a project is, there is always room for improvement.”

She then went on to explain how her project team has time to consider their performance as well as that of the team as a whole, And that in new teams, or established teams with new members, this was typically tough the first few times “I do see pushback from new colleagues for various reasons, despite how obviously important these meetings may be. Some people feel there is no reason to speak about the past since we cannot go back and change things. Other times people may feel that it isn’t good to talk too much about the past but to focus on the future. My goal as the team’s leader is to show that being open about one’s mistakes allows others to learn from them! In German this is not easy but when we all do it in English we see that things are harder ”

Use we to be tough on the mistakes, but not on the individuals

Most of us don’t enjoy talking about our mistakes, and when discussing mistakes it is important to be both accurate and respectful. One way to do this is by asking questions using the collective “we” rather than assigning specific blame. After all, you are a team!

For example:

  • If we hadn’t worked overtime, we wouldn’t have finished within the deadline.
  • We should have received that information earlier.
  • If we had known that from the beginning, we would have done things much differently
  • We wouldn’t have had so many problems if we had communicated better.
  • We could have saved a lot of money if we had identified the problem earlier.

Ask the right questions to ensure future improvement

Another way of discussing mistakes is to use hypotheticals. These sentences help to make things less personal and more abstract. With this style of question, a hypothetical cause and effect in the past is identified and applied to future situations; a “What if…” style of identifying areas for potential improvement.

  • What if we made some adjustments in our future labor projections?
  • What if we ensured more timely delivery for our next project? How could we fulfill such a promise?
  • What if we were informed sooner? How would that have affected the delivery date?
  • What if we could improve our internal communication structure? How are some ways we could do this?
  • What would have been the outcome if we had identified the problem sooner?

Use success as a driver for learning

As mentioned above, we can also learn from our successes. So what questions could we and should we be asking ourselves to ensure our successes continue on to future projects? Here are some useful examples for your next “lessons learned” meeting…

  • Was our success unique to this project, or is it something we could replicate for future projects?
  • What surprises did our team handle well, and how could we build off of that to prepare for other unexpected outcomes in the future?
  • How could we re-formulate our achieved goals to really push the team to perform better?
  • What value did our individual team members bring to the project?
  • How can we increase our level of commitment and urgency?

To summarize

Implementing lessons learned meetings into your projects leads to team members growing in confidence, and an increase in performance and outcomes. Being aware of the impact language can have will help, as can facilitation skills , and building trust and a willingness to allow constructive conflicts in your team. Finally, there’s an excellent lessons learned template on Brad Egeland’s blog. Cornell University has a good overview of approaches and questions to use,  and the University of Pennsylvania offers a lessons-learned checklists to help lead discussions.

If you have any recommendations or would like to tell us about your experiences with lessons learned meetings, please feel free to do so below in the comments section.

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Surviving and understanding English corporate buzzwords and business lingo

Recently I was working with a software development manager from a major German multinational. He’d just got off a 2 hour webex meeting and was frustrated. “I thought my English was pretty good – but what exactly does We’ve worked through it soup to nuts mean?!”. I could empathize. It was the first time I’d heard this expression myself and I needed to understand the context before I guessed it meant from beginning to end. Corporate and business buzzwords, jargon and expressions can be a challenge for native speakers – and when English isn’t your first language things get so much harder.



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What do we mean by corporate buzzwords and business lingo?

The business world has always developed and used its own idiomatic phrases and vocabulary to describe all aspects of business and management. These expressions fall into 2 broad categories:

  • Some expressions are used across all business sectors, are very well known, widely used and understood. “We’re moving to an open plan office in the hope that it will improve cross-pollination” (cross-pollination is the generation of ideas by combining people from different backgrounds and with different skill sets).
  • Other expressions are specific to a certain business sector, for example marketing or auditing. This language (jargon) isn’t generally recognized outside the particular sector, e.g.  Shoptimization is the way forward (using apps to optimize in-store shopping experience).

Why do people talk like this?

This is a good question. A part of good communication is about making things easy to understand buzzwords don’t always do this.  Buzzwords are a type of jargon people use so they sound knowledgeable, up-to-date, important  … or just cool or funny. Is it effective? Decide for yourself. The video in this post is an excellent demonstration.  How many of the expressions do you recognize and understand?

Dealing with buzzwords and business lingo

I am a native speaker of English and have almost 40 years experience in the corporate world and I understood less than half of what was said in the video above. So what can non-native English speakers do when confronted by too much corporate speak?

Further online resources

Explanations for most of the expressions used in the video on available on these websites

9 common English jargon and buzzwords used in business

To close, here is is a selection of corporate jargon and buzzwords from the video … together with a simple explanation:

  • Let’s get our ducks in a row. = Let’s get organized
  • Can you put a deck together? = Can you prepare a visual presentation? (sales and marketing)
  • Loop me in on that! = Keep me informed of what’s happening.
  • He’s a disrupter. = He’s a person who changes the way things are done.
  • I’m going to have to marinade on that. = I need time to think about it.
  • Can you unpack that? = Can you give me more detail?
  • That’s not even in our wheelhouse. = That’s not in our minds.
  • That’s the silver bullet approach. = That’s the perfect solution.
  • Can we talk about that offline? = Can we talk about that away from the main group?

To summarize, don’t forget that even native English speakers struggle with business jargon and idiomatic expressions. If you follow the tips and make use of the links I’ve mentioned you will find it a little easier.

 

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Here’s a selection of posts if you want to read more:

 

 

10 common American sport idioms

Sports are an important part of many cultures, and that is especially true in the United States. Every year, billions of dollars are spent on tickets and merchandise and millions of fans attend events all over country. But, surprisingly, the most commonly seen evidence may be in the way people speak. American sports phrases have made their way into everyday English as sport idioms are often used in daily communication between friends as well as in the business world. As a non-native English speaker, you don’t have to have detailed knowledge of each American sport to use sport idioms. Proactively using them can be tricky at times, but passively understanding them is very important when doing business with Americans if you want to understand and speak their language.’


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ballpark

From baseball, meaning ‘an approximate number’ in business speak.  “Can you get us a ballpark figure on 4th quarter earnings?”

a curveball

Also from baseball, meaning ‘an unexpected action or event that is difficult to deal with’.  “They threw us a curveball during negotiations by doubling their asking price.”

to drop the ball

From American football, meaning ‘to make an error or miss an opportunity’.  “Bob dropped the ball by not preparing for the important meeting.”

a full-court press

From basketball, meaning ‘an all-out effort to apply pressure’.  “We need to do a full-court press on our supplier to ensure delivery by the end of the month.”

to hit a home run

From baseball, meaning ‘to be very successful’.  “Tom hit a home run when he closed the big deal with Microsoft.”

Monday morning quarterback

From American football, meaning ‘a person who criticizes something after it has finished with the benefit of hindsight’.  “I wish Mary would stop playing Monday morning quarterback and give us input before our projects are finished.” 

to play ball (with)

From baseball, meaning ‘to cooperate or act fairly with’.  “Let’s hope headquarters agree to play ball with our new ideas on decentralization.”

to be saved by the bell

From boxing, meaning ‘to be saved from something bad by a timely interruption’.  “We hadn’t finished the presentation in time, but were saved by the bell when the client pushed back our meeting at the last minute to next week.”

to throw in the towel

From boxing, meaning ‘to quit or admit defeat’.  “After spending three hours trying to recover my deleted file, I threw in the towel and started over from the beginning.”

(someone’s) wheelhouse

From baseball, meaning ‘(someone’s) area of expertise, where they are most comfortable’.  “Susan studied to be a lawyer before joining the company, so legal negotiations are in her wheelhouse.”

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Giving office tours in English

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You’ve got visitors coming over to your factory and you need to show them around. Maybe you’ve done that a thousand times, but never in English. Maybe you’ve never done it at all. When you’re planning the tour, think about what makes a tour really good. You’ll need to think about how you’re going to communicate with your visitors, what information you’ll need to give them, how to entertain them, and consider what questions they will have. But also, you’ll need to think about how you’re going to remember the facts, the history and any stories you choose. Here are some questions to consider and useful phrases to help you along the way.

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Key questions to answer

Your audience

  • Who is coming?
  • Why are they coming?
  • What do they already know about your company/factory?
  • How good is their English?

Housekeeping

  • Where does your tour fit in their schedule?
  • How long is the tour?
  • What security issues are there?
  • What health and safety measures do they have to be aware of?

The facts

  • What do you need to know about the company/plant/department?
  • How well do you know your way around?
  • What are the top three things you must show them?
  • What can you show them to bring what you do to life?

Questions

  • What questions will the audience probably ask?
  • What would you like them to ask?

Key language

Language wise there can be quite a lot to remember – so keep in mind that seeing things speaks 100 words! You can practice what you’re going to say, but a tour is not like a presentation. There should be interaction between you and the audience. The more you talk to them and ask them questions, the better the rapport will be. This puts everyone at ease and you’ll be able to remember what you need to tell them and answer their questions more easily.

Welcome

  • Hello and welcome to XXX.
  • I’m XXX and I’m going to be taking you on a tour of our plant/factory today.

Housekeeping

  • The tour is going to take about an hour.
  • Please understand that it is strictly forbidden to take photos on this plant /smoke / remove your safety helmet.
  • Please stay on the path.
  • Here’s a map so you can see where we are.
  • The group is quite big, so please stay together.
  • We’ll finish off the tour right by the canteen at 12:00 so we can go straight to lunch.

Questions

  • Please just ask questions whenever you have one.
  • There’s opportunity to ask questions at the end of the tour.

Outlining your plan

  • This morning I want to show you…
  • I’m going to take you on a tour of …
  • I’d like to show you how we manufacture XXX

Starting your tour

  • Our very first stop is the XXX. This is where….
  • How about we begin by walking over to XXX…?

Pointing things out

  • On the left / right you can see..
  • The ……… is directly in front of / behind us.
  • Over here is where we store the parts.
  • Just around the corner is the quality assurance department.

Giving some background information

  • The original building was knocked down in 1983. This building was constructed two years later.
  • When the plant opened, there were only three buildings. Today we have 14.
  • This building was added in 1999.

Moving people from one place to the next

  • Please follow me and we’ll head to the…
  • OK, let’s take the elevator up to the 10th floor.
  • Has everyone had a chance to see everything here? Let’s cross over to the painting area.
  • If we go over to the machine at the back, you can see how they measure the quantities.

Answering questions

  • That’s a great question. Thanks.
  • Thanks for bringing that up.
  • Is there anything else you’d like to know?

Closing the tour

  • Thanks for your time.
  • I hope you got to know more about the way we work here.
  • Here’s my card. If you have any more questions later, just get in touch.

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Understanding contracts and decoding legalese

It doesn’t matter what language or how well you know it, everything goes out the window when the lawyers start talking – especially when it comes to contracts. Legalese is the word we use to describe the special and complex language lawyers use in their profession.  Even for us native speakers, legalese can be a dense network of unknown terms and phrases that may mean one thing but often mean another.

Why do lawyers use such language?

Some think it’s to charge higher fees, but there is a more complicated answer. In the English legal system (and other legal systems, as well), stare decisis – or precedent – is used. This means that past cases are examined in order to interpret the law today. The goal is to maintain consistency throughout time so that the outcome of a case can be accurately predicted. One downside of this is that phrases from the distant past are still in use, which can be very confusing for the modern-day reader.

Another problem encountered by writers of contracts is just simple semantics. The lawyers disagree on the meaning of a word or phrase. In this case, more writing is necessary in order to clarify what exactly and precisely is meant. The lawyers are trying to make the contract as air tight as possible without any possibility of misinterpretation. I know you’re thinking, “If I can’t understand what was written in the first place, how can I misinterpret anything?” Well, that’s the goal of this blog post: to look at a few elements of contracts and put them in layman’s terms so that you can understand what’s written in the contract.

What is a contract?

Basically, it’s an agreement between two parties. In this agreement, something is done or not done in exchange for something of value. To make a contract binding, there must be an agreement between competent and assenting parties and supported by consideration along with mutuality of obligation. Is that clear enough?

Here it is in plain English: The parties wanting to enter into a contract must be of a sound mind, old enough and with the authority to do so. This is called capacity. The parties also have to agree to exchange something of value, and this is called consideration. Without it, a contract is not necessary. There also has to be an offer and an acceptance of the offer. This is what the phrase mutuality of obligation means. As long as the reasons behind the contract are legal, then a contract meeting the above criteria is also legal. The agreement is when an offer is both made and accepted. Without either, there is no contract.

There are a few types of contracts. If a contract is signed by all parties and is completely legal, it may be voidable if one of the parties, for example, lacked capacity to sign it. The contract may be void if the execution of the contract would be, in fact, illegal. However, if everything is done correctly, and the contract is carried out to completion, then it is an executed contract. If something remains to be done, then it is an executory contract. In an option contract, one party has the option to enter into another contract at a later date. If, for example, you are renting a flat with an option to buy within a certain time period, this is an option contract.

That’s a good start to such a dense topic. In a future post, I will discuss the everyday meaning of a few legal terms and phrases likely to be found in a contract. If you have any baffling legalese that you would like me to explain, just use the comments function and I’ll see what I can do 🙂

 

Improve your business English by yourself

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learning vocabHow can I improve my English when I’m not in the training room? I think that probably every one of my colleagues (including myself) has been asked that question more than once. The simple answer is: exposure. The more you expose yourself to the language you are learning (through films, conversations, books, apps, etc), the more you will learn. Following my post about popular business English apps, I have made a list of audio books that I hope you’ll find interesting.

Tips for improving your English with audio books

  1. Make sure you approach the audio book with the right attitude and expectations. The goal isn’t to understand everything – but rather to get the key points.
  2. Read the summary information before you start so you understand the general idea of the book.
  3. Listening to a book is not the same as reading one. Even native English speakers will drift in and out. If you don’t understand everything, just rewind!
  4. One play is not enough: repeat, repeat, repeat! Listen as many times as you want or need to.

If you don’t want to listen to something related to business, there are thousands of free audio books available online that you can choose instead. This is especially good for building your vocabulary!

Top audiobooks and themes

Audiobooks by Spencer Johnson

Biographies from top business people

Audiobooks by Bill Bryson – funny cultural insights

Top business books that are currently trending

Other resources

You might also want to check out companies like http://www.audiotech.com/business-summaries/ that offer audio summaries. And don’t forget to download a copy of our latest eBook “How to learn vocabulary”.

 

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Softening your phrases in business communication

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English is much less direct than German. If you say “Ich kann nicht am Treffen teilnehmen, da ich zur Zeit beschäftigt bin”, your German colleagues will have no problems with how you communicated that information. However, using that sentence (I’m too busy to come to the meeting) with your English partner/colleague may cause problems in your business relationship. Non-native speakers often use the shortest sentence possible to pass on information. Because you’re communicating in a different language, you want to be as clear as possible and avoid ambiguity. Here are a few things you can do to soften your phrases when you are communicating in English.

Ask, don’t tell

In English, expectations often come in the form of a question. Here are some examples:

  • Would you mind helping me with this? (I really hope that you will.)
  • Could you please send me the information by Monday at the latest? (I expect to have the information by Monday.)
  • Would it be possible for you to attend the meeting next week? (We would appreciate you being there.)

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Include please and/or thank you

This sounds very simple and easy to do. You’re right. But you would also be surprised how often this is forgotten about, neglected because of time or not considered important enough to include. However, these little words really make a big impact on the message that you give the recipient. Consider the differences in the following examples:

  • The teleconference starts at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. vs. Please remember that the teleconference starts at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow.
  • Leave the documents on my desk before you leave tonight. vs. Please leave the documents on my desk before you leave tonight. Thank you very much.
  • I got the report last week. vs. Thank you for sending the report last week.

Send the right message

Sometimes writing a little bit more helps the recipient understand your intent. Apart from what you would like them to do, emotions can also be communicated in a message like this. Take a look at these two examples:

Ms. Lansing,

The report you sent me last week has a few inconsistencies in it. Please check columns two and three and send me an updated version as soon as possible.

Many thanks in advance,

Gerhard

Ms. Lansing,

Thank you very much for the report that you sent last week. The information you provided will help us greatly during the next stage of the project.

We have, however, come across a few inconsistencies in the figures. Would you mind double checking columns two and three to make sure that they are correct? Please contact me as soon as possible with the results.

Best regards,

Gerhard

More communication tips and phrases

Here are a few posts from our blog that you might find interesting:

Do you use softening phrases when communicating in English? Let us know in the comments box below. We’d love to hear from you.

Business English Vocab: 5 Problem Words for HR

Business English Vocabulary

How accurate is your HR Business English vocabulary?

Last week, in a regular appointment I have with an HRD manager, I heard him say, “Our local managers are moaning because they have to do 15 trainings this year.”  Despite being impressed about his use of the word ‘moaning’ (a good synonym for ‘complaining’), I was forced to draw his attention to his mistake in using the word ‘trainings’.

What is wrong with ‘trainings‘?

‘Training’ is one of 5 key words associated with HRD which are ‘uncountable’. This means that it does not take an ‘s’,  an ‘a’, or a number.  There are a number of words which are countable in other languages, but uncountable in English. Five of these common uncountable HRD business English words are:

  • training
  • feedback
  • information
  • learning
  • research

So, how do I say ‘3 trainings’?
In short, there are two main rules to help you correctly use words such as ‘training’ or ‘feedback’.

Business English Vocab: 2 rules for uncountable nouns

 

Rule 1
Use these words as adjectives with other words which are countable. For example:
(number) training + sessions / events / methods
(number) information + packs/ brochures / desk(s)

 

Rule 2
Use some / any / a lot of and much in front of the uncountable noun. For example:
“Although we gave a lot of useful information during the training sessions in Berlin, some of the feedback was not very positive.”

 

 

If you learn these 5 uncountable words and these two rules, you will help fine tune your professional HRD Business English vocab. Every native English speaker will understand when you say, “ I had English trainings when I was at school”, but they will be more likely to believe that it’s true if there is no ‘s’ on the word ‘training’. Let us know if you have any other problem HR vocab words in the comments areas below.  Do you want to improve your Business English vocab at work?  Check out our list of solutions by clicking here.