Business English blog articles

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 :-)


Qualifying potential training providers

The key to assessing potential training providers is to find out how well they fit to what you want to achieve with the training. It’s important to get to the point quickly and here are a few questions that can help you decide if the people you’re talking to are ‘right’ for your company.


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Are they prepared?

Before you present your company and situation to them, let the training provider describe what he/she already knows about your organisation. At the very least, they should have done their homework by reading the homepage. The most impressive of providers will already have incorporated your internal company language into their (written or oral) presentation:

  • If you sent them information prior to the meeting, are they referring to its content correctly?
  • Have they picked up any company brochures while they were waiting for you in the lobby?
  • Do you have to repeat yourself or are they listening to you describe your organisation attentively? (taking notes, rephrasing what you said, using company language)
  • Does their presentation reflect what you are looking for?

What kind of business do they have?

You need to know whether you´re dealing with a one-man-show (flexible to your needs but limited in scope) or a training company (offers standard content but can provide wider services). Additionally, you need to know how their business model fits your company and whether their training approach is compatible with the leadership culture in your organisation:

  • How many people work there?
  • Can they provide you with trainer profiles?
  • Who would you work with on the actual design of training content and why is he/she the most qualified?
  • What kind of international work have they done in the past?
  • What is their policy should a trainer drop out at the last minute? (replacement, back-up)
  • Which institutions do they cooperate with? (business schools, leadership think tanks)

How do they approach designing training content for new clients?

You can buy standardised content from any reliable provider, or you can ask a provider to customise training content to your situation and needs. If you choose the customized training option, you can ask:

  • How do they normally go about creating a new design for a first-time client? (design phases, milestones, client approval, dry runs)
  • What do they suggest they need to get to know your organisation in order to be able to create a suitable design? (discovery interviews with stakeholders, plant visits)
  • What level of customisation are they willing to provide? (adoption of company-internal language/abbreviations, integration of company goals/competences/principles into training content, incorporation of internal specialists in training programmes)

What methods of quality management do they apply?

No training measure should be an individual, stand-alone event. Any professional training provider should have a variety of methods to ensure the applicability of training content to the business and the transfer of learning to the workplace. For longer-term or repetitive measures, they should suggest methods to maintain high-quality content and to review and update these contents to your changing business environment:

  • Other than the typical “happy sheets”, what kind of evaluation methods do they offer?
  • What methods have they used successfully in the past to ensure an effective learning transfer? (also ask about negative experiences and their underlying causes)
  • What is their approach towards blended learning? If you have an online learning platform, how could the training contents be linked back to it?
  • What certifications do they possess? (industry certificates like ISO or individual certification like personality diagnostics)

What are their expectations regarding contracting?

Most companies have internal standards about contracting external suppliers, whether it be about payment terms or travel regulations. Most training providers do not like to have to accommodate their contracting terms but, as the customer, you should ensure that the contract details suit your business:

  • What are their daily rates? (beware of different rates for design, preparation and delivery)
  • What kind of payment terms do they suggest? (timing of invoices, listing of travel expenses, payment of instalments)
  • If they create materials customised to your organisation, what are the intellectual property considerations? (ideally, you should be able to use this material internally for other purposes)

What references can they provide?

Ultimately, you need to check the references of any training provider before contracting them. Be aware, however, that some references given may be outdated or refer to projects not applicable to what you require for your business:

  • What other similar clients have they worked for in the recent past? (same industry, similar size, similar business model)
  • What other similar projects have they successfully run in the recent past? (focus of contents, hierarchy level of participants, scope of measures)
  • Can they give you the name/contact details of reference clients? (a good provider will want to check with that client first!)

By Fiona Higginson

Fiona’s corporate career in human resources started in 1997, and is characterized by her focus on the design and/or delivery of high-quality HRD measures and instruments.She’s worked in multinational corporations in both manufacturing and service industries, from DAX – 30 listed global players to medium-sized organizations. Fiona is a certified trainer and coach and
has degrees in Developmental Learning and International Affairsfrom Ireland, Germany and the UK. She speaks fluent English and German, as well as Spanish and French. She recently
established her own consultancy:

The FACTS and benefits to consider before you organize a meeting

meetings free ebookMost of us have been there at least once in our professional lives: You enter or leave the meeting wondering why you were invited and how you will make up for the precious time you’ve just lost by attending the meeting. And you wish the meeting organizer had stopped to ask “Do we really need this meeting?” before the meeting took place. 

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Consider the FACTS and the benefits before organizing your next meeting

To help you decide whether a meeting is worth holding, we ask you to consider the FACTS:


Is a meeting the right format?

For example, if the goal of your meeting is only to relay news to your team, maybe you can save everyone time and send an email instead? Can, for example, everyone on your team make it to the meeting? If you’re relaying important news, will they feel left out?  Thinking about alternative formats to meetings can reduce the total amount of meetings you need to have with your team. There are pros and cons of meetings, emails, community updates etc., and there is no right or wrong. You need to make the decision as to which is the right format for each situation.


Is there a clear, definable aim for this meeting?

A meeting without a specific aim is usually a waste of time. However, there are situations where the aim is vague. Perhaps, for example, you haven’t seen each other for a while. You may not have something specific to say, but explaining the situation helps everyone to understand why they are in the room. And meeting to catch up and network is a perfectly valid aim. There are also cultural considerations here – in some cultures meetings are to get work done, in other cultures they are to build relationships. There is no right or wrong, but a happy medium needs to be established in international environments.


Are there negative consequences if we cancel?

If you can’t think of any negative consequences of cancelling, then there’s no reason to have your meeting. If you do cancel with people you’ve already invited though, make sure you offer some explanation. And be honest. Don’t try to make up an excuse for cancelling it. Just explain what you are thinking. The chances are that most people will rate you very highly for doing this.


Is now the right time to meet?

Perhaps new developments in the near future will make your meeting unnecessary? Do you really need to have this meeting at the same time each week? Why are you calling the meeting in the middle of the holiday period? Giving a bit of thought about the situation now can save time later.


Does it make sense?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions above, then holding the meeting clearly does not make sense. Cancelling this meeting is definitely the best option.

Three benefits of cancelling an unnecessary meeting

You may be reluctant to cancel a meeting, especially if everyone else around you seems to be in meetings regularly. Here’s why you need to lead the way by taking this step:

  1.  You save everyone valuable time – when you cancel a meeting, you and your colleagues can use that time to focus on tasks that add value to your organization.
  2.  You save money – when you calculate the resources needed to hold a meeting, the price can be extremely high.
  3.  You lead your regular meetings more effectively – knowing when to meet is just as important as knowing how to run a meeting. If you do this right, the participants in your meeting will know that their valuable time is always being used in the most effective way possible.

For more tips and language for managing meetings in English, why not look at our ebooks and related blog posts.

Writing escalation emails: 8 tips to help you strike the right tone

As an InCorporate Trainer embedded in the purchasing department at a major player in the automotive industry, my job is to help participants deal with communication challenges. One of the biggest challenges my German purchasers struggle with is striking the right tone when communicating serious messages. We take concrete steps in training to move away from being too direct by familiarizing participants with the softer phrases we tend to use in English. But how soft do you really want to be when you are not happy and the situation demands stronger language? How do you successfully strike this balance without being perceived as rude or arrogant? Let’s try to answer this by looking at a concrete example:

The situation

A participant recently had to tell a company that they had raised their prices too much for the current economic climate. After years of the prices being raised significantly, they decided enough was enough. They demanded an official statement explaining why this had happened once again, before a formal review of the business relationship would take place.

Writing emails that people read: Free eBook download8 tips to help you strike the right tone

At a time when you may be pretty angry, it’s important to stick to the facts and to avoid emotions showing obviously in a situation that escalates to this level. Having said that, it needs to be clear that you are angry about what has happened. Finding such a balance is really difficult – for native and non-native speakers alike.

Here are 8 tips you can use to help you find this balance in your next escalation email.

  1. Leave out the ‘hope you are well’ style pleasantries.
  2. Use the first paragraph to talk about your history with the company to remind them that you are an important business partner.
  3. Outline why the situation has escalated.
  4. Explain why you think what has happened is not acceptable. Keep it from getting too personal and leave softer phrasing out.
  5. Remind the company again of what they may lose by ruining the business relationship with you.
  6. Make your demand for future action clear. Using phrases like ‘we expect’ or ‘we require’ are clear and direct.
  7. State the impact of the future action.
  8. Use a formal sign off such as ‘yours sincerely’ or ‘yours faithfully’ to make it clear that the situation is serious. The use of formal language is a very good indicator in English that a matter is serious. Usually when we know people in business, the language we use tends to be informal. The shift back to formal in a long-standing relationship is a sign that the relationship is in danger.

The 8 tips in action

Here is an email which shows the 8 tips above in action.

Dear Mr Smith,

(1) Our company XXX has been dealing with YYY for a number of years now and in this time we have established a strong business relationship (2), with expenditure reaching $1.5 million per annum on your products. 

(3)Each year the price of the product has steadily risen, first from $9 per unit to $12 in 2012 and then again in 2013 to $14 per unit. You have insisted that higher costs in producing and materials have led to these significant rises and that they are out of your control.

However, upon finding out that the price of the product is now $16 per unit, we believe that this is the result of increased profits on YYY’s part, particularly because the purchasing manager at your company confirmed as much in our last negotiation meeting.

We at XXX believe in keeping business relationships for the long term, and feel it is important to treat your counterparts with the utmost respect (4). At this point in time I don’t feel that YYY is respecting our business, which has amounted to a total of $10 million over the last 7 years and involved us making YYY our preferred supplier of this particular product in that time (5). We expect a statement from you by November 11th, 2015 outlining your reasons for the last increase in price and why you believe this is fair (6).

Once we have received this statement we will decide on our future course of action and review our relationship with YYY accordingly (7).

Yours sincerely,

Ms Muller

Do you have any other tips? We’d love to hear the steps you take towards striking the right tone between outlining the seriousness of the situation, yet not coming across as rude.


If you’re looking for phrases, tips and tricks and useful downloads related to this topic, start here. In a range of topics, here are some more links for you:

How to convince participants that gamification is a good thing

The first time I used a game in the Business English training room it failed – miserably. Actually, from a training point of view it worked pretty well as participants were talking a lot and interacting in an authentic, interested manner with each other. That was the aim of the session. In fact, being a business fluency class, it was really the aim of the whole course. But participants didn’t see it that way. They went straight to my director, complaining that the class had been a waste of time as they had to play a game.

What went wrong? This experience happened twenty years ago and the participants were heading towards retirement. I don’t think that it is time or age that explains it though. It has more to do with participant expectations, their perceptions of an activity’s usefulness, and the training department and trainer’s need to “sell” the training tools we are using to get participant buy-in. Looking back, I definitely didn’t sell it well enough.

Three ways to sell gamification to training participants

Gamification is all the rage in training at the moment and is one of the top training trends for 2016. And there are lots of tools out there to help the trainer convert the training room into a fun, interactive, engaging place to learn. Most of us working in training know that this is a good thing. Let’s look at some ways training managers and trainers can convince participants that games are not a silly, waste of time in training. We need to show them that games are a very valid way to learn, retain and use what has been taught, as well as being a great diagnostic tool to find out more about what they still need to know.

We’ve found that taking these three steps really helps to make participants feel ready to take on any kind of activity you want to give them. They’ve just got to know why.

Ensure you and your training provider share the training methodology before the training begins

Participants in any form of training have to know what to expect. Take language training for example. People have learnt languages in many different ways, but most commonly at school where the focus tends to be on grammar and accuracy. Traditionally they expect the teacher to stand at the front of the room and ask individuals questions. In language training, intercultural training and leadership training today, trainers are encouraged to act as facilitators and resources rather than to stand at the front of the class and talk at the class. The shift from this kind of traditional school teaching to a trainer who facilitates learning and makes participants play games and talk about their own experiences is a big leap. And it needs explaining before the training is even purchased.

To consider: Does your corporate training catalogue describe the training styles and tools that will be used in the training room?

Ensure your training provider shares the aims at the start of the training session and again at the start of the activity

You can generally get adults to do anything in the training room – as long as they know why. General course aims are often explained and shared right at the start of the course in the first session. They really need to be shared right at the start of the session and when setting up each activity too. Here’s a couple of simple ways trainers can be using to get participant buy-in:

  1. At the start of the session, write up your main aims in the corner of the board of flipchart. You can then tick them off as you move through the session and draw the participants’ attention to the fact that you’re doing this and that they’re making great progress.
  2. Start each activity by explain “why”. All you need to do is add a “so that”, “in order to” or “because”, and it helps to link your rationale back to the aims you outlined at the start of the session:
    • I’d like you to work together and play this game so that…
    • In order to …… we’re going into divide into two teams and…….
  3. Finally, check that everyone is OK with that. A simple Is everyone OK with that? or Does everyone feel comfortable with that? goes one step further towards making participants feel that they have been included in the decision-making process as well as giving them an opportunity to say that they don’t want to do whatever the trainer has just asked them to do.

To consider: Do your trainers and training providers share their aims at regular intervals? At the start of the program? At the start of each session? Before activities?

Ensure your training provider is debriefing effectively

Training providers need to be getting the participants involved in the rationale and evaluating the usefulness of an activity. They need to give them the opportunity to decide if they think they would benefit from doing that kind of activity again. Creating a dialogue helps to build rapport, increase buy-in, and build a positive learning environment. And a positive learning environment will help move participants along their learning journey. Here are some ways of starting that debriefing dialogue:

  • Why did we do that activity?
  • What did you get out of that activity?
  • How could that activity be improved?
  • Would you want to do that kind of activity again?

Trainers should go back to their list of aims on the board. Review this list and mark what has been covered, and what hasn’t. If some aims haven’t been met, this should be discussed with the participants.

To consider: How well does your training provider debrief training sessions?

Your search for the right training provider

For more ideas regarding what to expect from a training organization, why not take a look at our eBook The Definitive Checklist for Qualifying Training Providers:

eBook: The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers


How can you react to increasingly specific requests for training?

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training providerslargeHere’s an extract from a recent initial needs analysis I carried out with a client who had booked English training for a global change management project. This is just one example of how we’ve seen that training requests for communication and soft skills are becoming more and more specific. If you work in an L&D department, you’ve probably noticed this too.

Me: “Why are you interested in developing your team’s English skills?”

Client: “I need my team to be able to improve the way they use language to communicate the changes we need to make across the company. My team will need to spread the message globally using our intranet, internal social media platform, and through presentations and workshops. The way they communicate will need to be adapted according to the cultures e.g. Japan, Brazil, and the US. We need help establishing a style and communication campaign that will make everyone want to get behind the changes and drive them forward”.

This statement alone says there is a need for intercultural skills training with reference to over 40 countries where the changes will be made, creative ideas for marketing campaigns, how to write effectively for social media, how to achieve a global corporate writing style, presentations skills, workshop facilitation skills, and the list goes on. And no-one has even mentioned English yet. Basically, the client needs all of this, but in English – so she booked an English course straight out of a catalogue,  because couldn’t really find anything that fitted her needs exactly.

If you’re a participant in a standard Business English course, you may have noticed how the book you’re moving through, doesn’t always fit your needs. You’ve got really specific situations you need to use English for and there is no way they will be dealt with in an off-the-shelf course. If you’re a manager, you’ve probably spotted specific situations where you think your employees could benefit from some training support. You look at what the training department has on offer, but nothing seems to quite fit.

The starting point of effective training design should be the needs of the participants

This is precisely why we shy away from offering a catalogue. (Don’t get me wrong, we have a catalogue, because that’s what potential clients often request). But a training catalogue simply offers “standard” courses. Those courses are written in advance without detailed knowledge of the participant or their needs. They can of course be adapted to a certain extent. But shouldn’t the starting point of effective training design be the learners themselves? How can pre-designed courses really meet the training needs of the department or individual? Surely the ideal way is to listen to the client, dig deeper into their challenges, and look for solutions that will solve their problems?

The pros and cons of taking the individualized approach to training solutions

The pros

  • The training is completely tailored to your needs.
  • The results are immediately transferable to the workplace.
  • Improvement in performance on the job is evident.
  • The relevance ensures a happy learner.

The cons

  • You really need to be able to and want to listen.
  • You need training partners who are highly skilled in analysing needs based on limited information – everyone says they can do it, but it really is a skill, and it’s hard to find people who can do it well.
  • You need time. And time, when it comes to training design and materials development, can translate into money.
  • You need to evaluate the cost, often with the purchasing department. It can be hard to justify the cost of individualized learning to people who may not see the benefits of the immediate transfer to the workplace.
  • You need to move away from the simplicity of offering what is in the catalogue as a “take it, or leave it” solution.
  • You need to work with trainers who are adaptable, reactive, creative, and enjoy thinking on their feet.
  • It might be more difficult to sell to clients.
  • It might be difficult to measure concrete results e.g. with a test

OK, I admit, the cons list is longer, but how many of them are real problems? Solutions are easy to find to all of them. It might take a bit of effort and extra time before the training is organised. But, ultimately, an individualized training program will save you time and money in the workplace.

If you are interested to learn more about our needs analysis or individualized training design, please get in touch with me, or one of my colleagues. We’d be delighted to tell you more.


Identify your training goals for 2016 with these 4 questions

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keytrainingqualityissuesIf you are a line manager, you probably need to think about training for the people who work for you. But, how do you decide what training is necessary? How do you set the training goals? And how do you know what will actually provide real, tangible results?

Start with the end in mind

The best way to think about training goals is to start with the end in mind. Don’t ask, “What training do I want?” Instead, ask yourself, “Why do I want training?”

When you start with the end in mind, you define what you want to achieve with the training. In other words, why have you decided to invest money in your people?

4 questions to ask when identifying your teams training goals

The first question really needs to be answered before you can start thinking about actual training. Once you have answered the first question, you can sit down with a training provider and let them help you to answer the other 3 questions.

  1. What result(s) do I want to see?
  2. What behaviour needs to change so that this result can be achieved?
  3. What skills, knowledge or attitudes do my people need to learn to change this behaviour?
  4. What sort of training is most appropriate for learning these skills, knowledge or attitudes?

A good training provider should be able to help you to define the behaviours which support the results you are looking for. They should be able to help you to decide what skills, knowledge and attitudes affect these behaviours. And, finally, they can suggest alternative ways for delivering training which will ensure that your people learn and put these behaviours into practice in the best possible way.

Don’t ask ‘what’, ask ‘why’

So remember, first you need to think why you want training. From here, you can decide what training will help you to reach your goals. For more tips on training goals and budgets, make sure to download our eBook “Making the most of your training investment” to help you get your money’s worth once you have identified your training goals.

Tips and tricks for delivering bad news from a famous baseball coach

Is it ever possible to give bad news in a good way?

Some would argue not. Having started my working life around three months before the Global Economic Crisis hit, and watching colleague after colleague being made redundant throughout the media industry, I certainly would never have wanted to swap places with the people who had to give the bad news to their employees over and over during that time.

But while over time, some colleagues remembered the action of being made redundant, for others the way they were told stuck in their minds longer than the pain of having to pack up their things and reconsider their lives at a moments’ notice. If you have to deliver bad news, it will always be tough, but the aim is to do it in a way which leaves the bad memory without you in it.

Some of my participants are controllers. Delivering bad news is one of the challenges they find extremely difficult to overcome in English. While one popular theory is that giving negative feedback to English speakers might follow a hamburger approach – i.e., give some positive feedback (the top bun), followed by the negative (the meat), and finished with a positive plan for the future (the bottom bun), in my experience most employees value honesty far more than any trick designed to make them feel better. There is a need to be respectful, but a positive bun full of too much sugar won’t cut it when the negative meat needs to be delivered hard and fast.


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33 ways of saying Merry Christmas to colleagues, customers, suppliers and close contacts

“Would you rather get a bullet in the head or five to the chest and bleed to death?”

Billy Beane summed it up well in the movie Moneyball, when he taught his intern Peter Brand how to cut players from their team. “Would you rather get a bullet in the head or five to the chest and bleed to death?”, he asks when discussing the prospect of firing someone. There are a number of things to be learned from the tactic Billy uses throughout the movie, who in real life was lauded for his business sense within the sport of baseball. They would include the following:

1. Understand who you’re talking to

When giving negative news to a baseball player, you might need to sweeten it less than when giving it to a secretary renowned for being slightly sensitive to change. What are the main personality traits of the person you are talking to from your experience? Are they culturally inclined to handle the truth quickly? Do your research first on who they are are you will get a better idea how to handle the situation.

2. Sugar coating the truth doesn’t make it better

Saying nice things around the bad news won’t make the person feel better. Some cultures don’t use imperatives nearly as often as others (i.e. I hear German clients saying ‘do this please” while British clients might say “could you do this please?’), but all cultures value honesty. Keep your wording polite but also keep the sentences short and to the point.

3. Don’t mislead in the hopes of saving someone from bad news

At all times, the aim should be to give all the information you have and in the simplest way to understand. Like ripping off a bandaid, it will hurt less in the long run. People always find out the truth one way or another if you try to embellish the reasons behind the bad news. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so!

4. Keep it short

People don’t appreciate receiving emails with three paragraphs giving them the important news right in the last paragraph. They don’t appreciate the meetings that go for what feels like an eternity before having bad news dropped right at the end like a bomb. Give the bad news quickly and succinctly and then allow time afterwards for explanations and questions. In my first job, when we found out 30% of our department had been made redundant – explaining why they weren’t in the meeting – I certainly appreciated getting the news first up without a long winded explanation first.

5. Be confident

Billy oozes confidence throughout Moneyball and it’s one of the reasons he was so successful at his craft; and he shows in this clip that the second you are on the back foot after giving negative information, you will fall into a hole that is difficult to get out of. Be confident in what you are delivering and why you have to say it, even if you are faking it. Practice beforehand if you find it difficult.

How do you deliver bad news?

An exercise I often do with my clients is to watch the video and discuss whether they think it’s a good way to deliver bad news to their English speaking co-workers and how they think this method is effective or ineffective. While it is certainly an extreme way to deliver such news; direct, honest and without any flowery language around the sides as Peter quickly learns and applies; it is a good example of showing that cultural stereotypes don’t always apply when you need to tell someone something they don’t want to hear.

What tactics have you found to be helpful when delivering bad news? Would you give it like Billy does in Moneyball? Comment below with your feedback.

Common contract language decoded

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effective introductions target trainingI remember the first time I had to deal with a contract in German. I felt like I didn’t know what I was agreeing to and it made me really nervous. It seemed like the message was hidden behind complicated words which I didn’t truly understand. So when several of my participants who work in the purchasing department asked me to help them understand the language of legal contracts in English, I could really identify with their apprehension. If you are responsible for deciphering the meaning of a work-related contract or in your personal life, it is very challenging- even if you are confident about your language skills.

Understanding contract language doesn’t have to be quite as difficult as you might think, if you know some of the basic vocabulary which is commonly used. Below we are going to look at some commonly used phrases which you might encounter in contracts and what they mean in plain language. We’ve arranged them in categories to help you. (These phrases are intended to help you understand what is meant; they do not replace your legal department.)

At the beginning

  • This contract agreement sets forth the terms and conditions during the term hereof. = In this contract you will find the basic requirements related to the agreed time frame.
  • These are the obligations pursuant to this document. = These are the requirements which are relevant for this document.
  • Article 1, hereinafter referred to as 1.0, stipulates the mandatory conditions. = Article 1, which is shown as 1.0 later in the document, states which conditions are required.

What are the conditions?

  • The user is obligated to adhere to the conditions expressly set forth in this agreement. = The user needs to follow the conditions listed in the agreement.
  • Conditions are subject to change in accordance with the standards set forth in this agreement. = The rules can be changed in the way shown in the agreement.
  • A breach of contract leads to the immediate termination of this agreement.= The contract ends if the contract conditions are broken.

What are my rights?

  • The company retains all intellectual property rights and modifications thereof. = The intellectual property rights and changes belong to the company.
  • The aforementioned conditions do not affect the companies’ rights. = The previous terms do not change the companies’ rights.
  • The stipulations set forth in this agreement are binding.= The agreements in this document are obligatory (not optional).

What is it going to cost?

  • Unless otherwise agreed to in writing, charges will be invoiced upfront. = Costs are collected in advance, unless other arrangements are written into the contract.
  • The user is not entitled to any refunds, credits, or early termination for any reason. = The user has no right to ask for money back, credits or to end the contract earlier than planned.
  • Premature termination of the contract shall not release the user of their obligation to pay any fees that have accrued. = The user still needs to pay fees which they created even if the contract ends early.

More on contract language


Without boundaries – Why I believe the digital learning experience represents the future of L&D

I work for a leading global engineering company (one of the largest) extending its profitable global business over the past 150 years with offices across America, Asia, and Europe. It is recognized for its innovative, digital working environment, passion for its brand and customers and as a place where talented people are inspired and challenged to release their full potential.

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A transformation towards the power of the individual

Originally coming from Silicon Valley to Germany in the late nineties, I have been able to grow professionally by overseeing a variety of HR initiatives in attracting, developing, engaging and enabling talent all along the HR landscape. For the past fifteen years, my focus was heavily on building talent management strategies which helped enable and retain people.

Today, I am experiencing for the first time a major transformation in the marketplace towards savvy social employees whose choices and opinions can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line. This shift to the power of the individual is transforming the relationship between workers and employers. Corporate training is undergoing a total transformation, and the concepts of “evaluation and assessment” are being replaced by better engagement, interaction, empowerment and quality learning.

Building a learning experience to meet the challenge

With Industrial 4.0 and the digitalization of our workforce, we are seeing a fast-growing new marketplace for tools and providers which should help us meet this challenge. In a highly competitive climate, I believe it is imperative that L&D professionals develop strategies to continue to close the skill gap while ensuring an even greater employee experience. To tackle this challenge, many L&D leaders are moving towards building a long standing learning experience.

This shift requires a transformation in how we handle future L&D initiatives. As the economy picks up and companies are competing for people again, businesses want

  • HR technology that directly drive employee engagement, help improve employment brand, and platforms that harness and reach out into the internet.
  • learning software that builds a compelling self-directed digital learning environment,
  • goal management tools that are agile, easy to use, and help people develop.

3 goals for harnessing technology to boost inspiration, collaboration and learning

Technology has the ability to boost inspiration, collaboration and learning and I believe technology will have a key role in helping empower L&D professionals to do a vital job. Employees today are already using an array of digital devices outside of work, so it makes sense to make the most of them in every learning environment.

  1. Our focus should be on turning learning environments into connected centers where training is delivered in collaborative, interactive and creative ways.
  2. Everything from mobile devices, online learning solutions and interactive platforms should give employees the chance to access what they need, discover something new, and then share it instantly with their peers.
  3. Employees can work with each other on projects, get advice, discover new sources of information, and generate and discuss ideas.

This approach will make the learning experience richer, more productive and enjoyable without boundaries.

Related posts (from secret L&D managers)

Who is the secret L&D manager?

The “secret L&D manager” is actually a group of L&D managers. They are real people who would prefer not to mention their name or company – but do want to write anonymously so they can openly and directly share their ideas and experience with peers.


The basics of reader-oriented writing

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cult guidelines VT poster A3Good writing is more than perfect grammar or a large vocabulary

Writing is a skill that requires practice regardless of what language you write in. This holds true not only for fiction, but also for writing reports and other business correspondence. How many times have you received a poorly written email or read a report from a colleague that left you scratching your head? The problem often lies in who the writer is focused on. Too often, that focus is either on the writer or the content and not where it should be: the reader. By focusing on the needs of the reader, the writer can deliver the message more effectively and ensure the attention of the reader will be maintained.

The goal is to put the reader in the spotlight

You want to keep the reader’s interest stimulated so they keep reading. Once you are able to answer the questions below and have analyzed what you want to achieve, then you are ready to choose a format or text structure and start writing. You will find that your writing is more directed, and you will gain confidence in your writing ability because you will know why you are writing.

Who are my readers?

Such a simple question, but if you don’t know who your audience is, you are basically writing for yourself, and then it becomes just an ego piece.

Where are my readers from?

This could be relevant. Knowing where your readers are from will help you understand them from a cultural perspective.

What excites them?

This should be the question, not “How do I not bore them?” Once you discover what excites your readers, you will have them hooked, and they will keep coming back for more.

What are they afraid of?

The knowledge of what your readers’ fears are will help you keep the reader engaged by avoiding topics that would cause them to stop reading your piece.

What do I want to share with them and why?

This takes the first question and goes a bit deeper. It is important to understand the reasons behind writing in the first place. It is assumed you have a message or information you want to convey, but knowing why the audience would be interested makes it easier to write more effectively.

How is my content relevant to my intended audience?

It is important to try and see things from the reader’s perspective. If you don’t know the relevancy of your message, the intended audience won’t know it, either. They also won’t waste their time reading what you have written.

What is my and my organization’s history with them?

If you have previous experience with your audience, you can draw on this and learn from it in order to produce more interesting content. Take a previously produced piece and ask yourself how it could have been better. From this introspection, your subsequent pieces will be increasingly valuable to your readers.

How do they like to receive information?

The structure and layout of your content is just as important as the message. Maybe your readers don’t like dense passages full of explanations and prefer lighter writing with graphical explanations. Maybe it’s the opposite. Either way, you owe it to them to find out.

What questions do they have?

Once you understand your readers well enough, you can predict what questions they would ask. By including the answers in your writing, the readers feel you know them well, and they trust you more.

We’re always delighted to hear from you

You know what to do…

(If you are interested in learning more about reader-oriented writing, please consider Target Training’s seminar on this topic)

3 questions to ask your existing training providers

I work in an organization where there’s really little rotation in our training suppliers. I’ve inherited most of them, and this means I have some specific issues. Actually I had something yesterday with a supplier.My first recommendation for questions to existing training providers would be a very open one. Just say:

eBook: The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers hbspt.cta.load(455190, ‘0377217d-6395-4d26-a5fc-d32a69e484a5’, {});


From your point of view what do you think we could do to allow your trainers and your training to have more impact within our organization?

Existing suppliers should be in a good position to share ideas. “Groups should be smaller… we should make it longer … team leaders should follow up after the training” or whatever. Basically you just take it from there and see what makes sense.

Now, obviously beware that they don’t try to just push the answers towards more training days. On the other hand I would be very wary of any training providers who have been working with us for a while and then tell me everything is fine and there’s nothing to be improved. This means that they’re not paying attention. Typically the trainer will have some ideas about constraints which if removed would make the training offered more effective. Or, if not constraints, then extras that could easily be added.

The second question to ask from existing training providers is:

What have you learned from our participants during their training?

This is useful for you as an L&D manager or coordinator because actually training isn’t a one directional interaction. Information should go both ways and very often you’ll find that people tell the trainer things that they wouldn’t tell their manager, or wouldn’t tell their HR manager! I want to be clear here. I’m not saying we’re interested in who said what, we don’t need names. But we’re very interested in what is being said. So for example my interpersonal skills trainer comes back and says that people in the training get the concepts and everything, but there are scared of speaking out because there’s too much pressure from above. Now that’s very useful for you to be aware of, right? So use the existing trainers as a means for taking the temperature. Learn from them.

And then the third question is a bit more of a challenging question, and a very practical one. I don’t really think it makes sense to ask existing trainers provocative questions like “Why are you better than the competition out there?” because you should know that! You or your predecessor selected them. The third thing to consistently ask is

How can we make this more efficient?

Is there any way we can make this cheaper? How can we train more people with the same effort? Or how do we train the same number of people with less effort ? And by effort I’m speaking about budget, administration, time away from work and so on. One example is why does the trainer necessarily have to travel around so much? Aren’t there parts that we can deliver online or in a blended approach? Can we do other things to just upgrade our format of delivering training?

Basically the question is, do we need to continue to deliver this in the same way we would have delivered it 50 years ago – you know – one trainer, one flipchart, 12 people in the room etc. OR is there a more fun, a more modern way of doing this? And what you’ll find very often is that these changes are appreciated by the participants, it’s interesting for the trainer and it’s cost-effective for your company!

Those are the questions I use.

Who is this month’s Secret L&D manager?

The Secret L&D manager is actually many L&D managers. They are real people who would prefer not to mention their name or company – but do want to write anonymously so they can openly and directly share their ideas and experience with peers.

 This month’s Secret L&D manager is German, aged 45-55, and works for a global engineering company. He has worked in training and development for over 17 years working as an L&D manager, a training provider and as a trainer. He speaks 4 languages and has an MBA. If money allowed, he’d work for a charity, contributing to their success by organizing and delivering great training. He agreed to write anonymously so he can openly and directly share his ideas and experience.

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 that offer audio summaries. And don’t forget to download a copy of our latest eBook “How to learn vocabulary”.


Authentic communication demystified

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Free ebook presentationsWhatever your job, where ever you’re based, whenever you interact with others – authentic communication counts. It could be in a meeting, teleconference, interview, presentation, conflict situation … Your ability to communicate authentically will have an impact on your success. And your company’s success. But what do we mean by authentic communication? And what does it look like?

Authentic communication – the bare essentials

The term “authentic” communication is frequently used but too rarely defined or explained. To break it down to its basic component I’d say that authentic communication is fundamentally about intention. You genuinely intend to create a real connection with the person you’re speaking to. And you genuinely intend to allow them to make a connection with you. This intention means you

  • share who you are, where you are coming from and how you see something
  • do this in your own words
  • are honest and clear about what you see, feel and believe (saying what you mean and meaning what you say)
  • seek to understand and identify with the other person

Sounds simple, right? Let’s go deeper…

10 key behaviours authentic communicators display

Be yourself

Authentic communication isn’t about tips, tricks and impressive sounding communication tools and acronyms. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin, and with who you are. As Bruce Lee said…

“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

And who would want to argue with him?

Open up

The key to is to really allow yourself to see the person you are speaking with and allow yourself to be seen. You let them see you as you really are at that moment and let them into your world. This can be frightening and involves a degree of vulnerability – but to be authentic you need to be real – and that means showing them something, and something that is true right now.


Make sure that when you are listening you are fully focussed one the speaker and not rehearsing your response, judging etc. Listening skills are the key to making a genuine connection with somebody. (How good are your listening skills?)

Work to create mutual understanding

Imagine yourself in the others’ shoes and be curious. Avoid second guessing and making assumptions about what others are feeling, thinking or mean. Check your understanding on a regular basis.

Take responsibility for your communication

Use I/me rather than we/our.  You need to accept ownership for what you say and be fully responsible for any unexpected consequences. You need to be descriptive.

Speak clearly

Use natural, conversational language. Short sentences are great, and look for common vocabulary. Avoid using ambiguous language and jargon. And if in doubt check you both understand what was said in the same way.

Watch the sweeping statements

Exaggerating to make a point is never helpful and creates divisions and resentment. Language such as “always” and “never” is rarely accurate.

Separate the objective and subjective

Try to be clear about what you see as an objective fact and a subjective opinion. If in doubt, ask for clarification.

Say what you do and do what you say

Match your words to your actions.

Be self-aware

Work to become aware of your own prejudices, tendencies, triggers and judgements. The sooner you can become aware of your reactions to specific triggers, the sooner you can focus on controlling them.


Fine-tune your communication skills.Take a look at our interpersonal seminars.


How do your training skills compare to Fred Flintstone and his car?

Wouldn’t it be easier just to walk, than to walk and carry a car made of boulders?

As a training organization we train our clients as you would expect, but we also develop our trainers. Our trainers are observed regularly in the training room for two reasons. Reason one is quality management: Does the training meet client expectations? Reason two is professional (trainer) development: How can the trainer improve their training skills? From time to time, I get puzzled by how hard some trainers make their own lives. I was discussing this recently with a colleague, and she compared the situation to Fred Flintstone and his car. Do you remember that car? The one which he gets into, lifts up, and walks with? The car is a tool that is supposed to make his life easier. But the way he uses it can surely only make life harder.

What, you might be asking, has this analogy got to do with training? It’s a bit of a stretch but just like Fred, some trainers stop thinking logically about which way of doing something would be the most effective. They end up making some basic training errors as a result. Let’s look at five common training mistakes and some ideas for what you can do about them so you can a) make your training more effective for your participants, and b) easier for you.

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1. Confusing training with presenting

As a trainer I’ve often worked with participants who had to train people in something specific. In preparation they wanted to check their powerpoint slides with me. We reviewed the English on the slides, and that was it. This was a shame. Training is not running through a bunch of slides. Don’t you tend to switch off after 5-10 minutes of slides filled with text while the presenter talks you through them? I certainly do.

Effective training is interactive and experiential. Get the participants to talk about their experiences and come to conclusions themselves or with the help of colleagues. This means standing back, setting up tasks which make them talk, facilitating these activities, and giving feedback. Allow participants to learn from each other.

2. Talking too much

This is closely related to the first point. Successful training does not involve a trainer standing at the front of the room lecturing the participants. In a one hour training session, what percentage of time do you think the trainer should be talking for? As a general rule: the less the trainer talks and the more the participants are doing something, the better. That makes life easier for the trainer too.

Some trainers feel that if they are not talking, they are not in control, and that the participants will feel they can’t manage the training room. This is absolutely not the case. Aim to talk less – a lot less. If you’re not sure how much you talk, then film yourself, and watch it later. This can be a really valuable, eye-opening exercise.

3. Giving unclear instructions (and failing to check they’ve been understood)

I’ve been teaching and training for around 20 years, mostly with adults. A while ago in Spain I had to teach 6 year olds. Before this I hadn’t thought too much about how I gave instructions. I did some training before taking these kids on. One of the things that was stressed to me there was the importance of carefully planned out instructions. I started planning what I was going to say, and more importantly how I was going to check that everyone had understood what I needed them to do. This was a bit of work at first, but it was worth it in the end. Have you ever tried to get thirty kids into four groups by giving them the letters A, B, C, D?

Think your instructions out very carefully and make sure you are concise. Find a way of checking that people have understood what they have to do – this can be as simple as asking one person to repeat it back. This may sound silly, but it will save a lot of time and help clear up any problems in your instructions. After all, what is clear to you, may really not be clear to others, especially in an international audience.

4. Keeping things predictable

Variety is the name of the game. If everything is predictable and routine, it is boring. If it’s boring, no learning is going to be taking place.

How can you shake things up? Make sure you vary what you do. Look for variety in pace, activity types, groups, materials, and feedback methods. People learn in different ways, so try to cater to different learning styles.

5. Failing to explain aims and transferability

Sometimes when I am observing a class – fortunately not too often -, I have little idea what the trainer is trying to do and why he or she is trying to do it. If I don’t know why, then I doubt very much that the participants do. If you were taking time out of your day for training, wouldn’t you want to know why you were there and what you were going to get out of it? Luckily this problem is easily remedied.

  1. Share your aims – write them up at the start of the session and cross them off as they are achieved.
  2. Explain why you want people to do things. Generally most of us are prepared to do things if we understand the rationale behind them. All you need to do is say for example “We’re now going to ….. so that…..”

So, think about it. Can you make yourself a little less like Fred Flintstone and his car? What mistakes have you made when training? What have you learnt from these mistakes? Why not share your experience with us?

The role of games in training sessions – serious business or seriously overrated?

The multinational company where I give English training has introduced several games over the last few years to help employees learn skills intended to help them do their jobs better. While utilizing games isn’t mandatory, it is strongly encouraged. Some people love this way of learning, others find it a waste of time. So why the hype about using games in the training room? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method of learning? In the last few years there has actually been a fair amount of research put into studying the effectiveness of using games for learning purposes so we don’t need to search for long before we find proof of how popular games can be. This is demonstrated by the sales figures of various game consoles or by the number of subscriptions to online games. This means that there are many people who obviously are interested in playing games and excited to spend their time doing so. Why not combine this enthusiasm with learning goals and create a win-win situation?

VT poster


Not convinced?

Here are some figures* which support the movement:

  • In the US, nearly 170 million people played computer and videogames in 2008, spending a record $11.7 billion.
  • Because of good game design, more than 11 million subscribers spend an average of 23 hours per week immersed in World of Warcraft.
  • In the four years between 2006 and 2010, nearly one in five US workers were expected to retire, to be replaced primarily by 18-40 year-olds who grew up with videogames.

The last figure is probably the most important reason to bring games into the training room- it has become normal to spend time playing games. In the past, those games might have been bingo or bridge, but now they are often computer games. We have access to games in many of our daily life situations- on television, on the radio, on our mobile devices and online. Why not also in the training room?

Using games in the training room

The reason for using games in the training room isn’t to kill time**. It’s to learn and practice valuable skills. There are many skills which lend themselves well to games- improving fluency and speed, creative thinking and problem solving, revision of previously discussed topics and vocabulary. When the games are combined with soft skills like meeting, presentation or negotiating skills, the value (and the level of difficulty) become even higher.

Many of my participants inform me that they appreciate the chance to do interactive exercises (the most basic expression of a game) because they learn easier this way. They also really appreciate the chance to “kill two birds with one stone” or to accomplish two goals at the same time- learn more about a topic and practice their language skills. This idea is supported by evidence from Professor Seymour Epstein at the University of Massachusetts. His theory, the Cognitive Experiential Self Theory (CEST), states that our brains retain and process information in two different ways. One part, our experiential mind, helps us to learn by focusing on what we are doing. This method of learning can happen very quickly and is forgotten very slowly. Our rational mind, on the other hand, focuses on processes. This information is often not retained for a long time however. In order to learn best, we need both parts of our brains to work together. When combined with a discussion after the game, both parts of the brain are activated for learning.

Are you interested in finding out more about how games can be effectively incorporated into the training room? In a few weeks, I’ll review a few popular apps and games. If you want more information in the meantime, contact us below with your comments.

  1. *From–what-it-is-why-it-works-and-where-its-going.html
  2. ** See

The importance of writing in plain English

Writing in plain English is important when communicating with others in a business setting. Everybody knows this (or should), but why should plain English be used? The most obvious reason why is to ensure your message is being understood exactly as you meant it. By stating your message plainly and simply the first time, you will not have to waste valuable time and energy clarifying your intent in subsequent emails or contacting people again through other means such as a phone call. Another reason to simplify your business writing is money.

Consider this*:

  • UK businesses lose £6 billion a year because of badly written letters.
  • General Electric saved $275,000 by redrafting manuals into plain English.
  • The US Navy estimated plain English could save it between $250–$300 million every year.

writing emails free ebook

Time is money

Time wasted equates to money lost. Think about what plain English could mean for your business. In a typical office, the average employee receives about 100 messages a day. How much time is spent writing the original document? How many people end up reading the document? How much time is spent reading, processing and clarifying it?

Many people need to be re-trained to write in a simpler way. This is because they are not used to writing in a business environment or for non-native speakers. People also want to show off their large vocabulary or knowledge of grammar.

8 tips for writing in plain English

  1. Remember your audience. They may also be non-native English speakers with a lower level than yours.
  2. Organize your message.  Make sure your message follows a logical path.
  3. Write as if you were talking to the reader. An easy, conversational style will keep you from overcomplicating your sentences.
  4. Keep sentences short. Longer sentences are taxing on the reader. You’re not writing a novel, so don’t write like Jack Kerouac!
  5. Be specific rather than general. The reader doesn’t want to play the guessing game!
  6. Don’t repeat yourself. There is no reason to say the same thing three different ways.
  7. Use simpler words. There is no reason to show off your large vocabulary. This goes back to point 1.
  8. Don’t use jargon. This also goes back to point 1. Not everybody uses the same jargon, even within the same company.

If you have experience with having to write plain English, then you might have your own tips to share. I’d love to hear them and pass them on to my participants. For more tips on writing plain English, here are two interesting links I found.

*Source: Joe Kimble Writing for Dollars

Key English language tips for before, during, and after your business lunch or dinner

I was recently coaching a department head in the automotive industry here in Germany. Before long, the topic of business lunches and dinners came up. We spent some time going through the following topics and quick tips.

Before the meal

When you are hosting a business lunch/dinner, it is your responsibility to invite the person and check their preferences. Some people may have food allergies or religious beliefs that limit what they can eat, where they can eat, etc. When setting up your lunch or dinner, try some of these phrases in your emails, phone calls, or when speaking face to face:

emails target training



  • Since you will be in town Tuesday night, I was hoping you would join me for dinner.
  • I would be delighted if you joined me for lunch on Wednesday.
  • Would you like to have lunch on Friday?
  • What are your plans Tuesday evening? How about dinner?
  • What do you say to grabbing dinner on Monday? My treat. (by using ‘my treat’ it means that you are telling your colleague that you will pay for their meal. An alternative is “it’s on me”)
  • How about we get some dinner after our meeting on Thursday?
  • I know a great sushi place in the center. Do you want to join me for lunch tomorrow?

Checking your colleague’s preferences

  • Which do you prefer: local German food, Indian, or pub food?
  • Do you have any preference on the type of restaurant? There’s a good German restaurant close. A Lebanese one. An American diner. What do you think?
  • Anything specific you would to like try while you are here?
  • I know a great little Italian restaurant close to the office. How does that sound?
  • I’d be happy to pick a place for us to eat. I know that sometimes we have certain types of food we prefer/or have to avoid. Is there anything specific you would like me to take into consideration when choosing a restaurant?
  • Just so I pick a place we both can enjoy, are there any types of food that you don’t eat?
  • What are you in the mood for? Korean? Steaks? Pasta?

During the meal

One of the keys of being a good host during a meal is making sure the conversation flows. It is a good idea to get the other person talking as this takes the pressure off you and people love talking about themselves. A great way to get people talking is to ask open questions, or a series of open and closed questions that build on each other. If you are asking a series of questions, the follow up questions shouldn’t sound forced and unnatural, and should build on the previous answer. You can then show that you are paying attention to what your colleague is saying by using confirmation statements and questions. Here are some suggestions that may help:

Conversation starters

  • So, what do you think about Germany so far?
  • Looking forward to the weekend? What do you have planned?
  • What are your holiday plans for this year?
  • I’ve never been to Boston. What would you suggest I do if I visit?
  • I have always been fascinated with Indian culture. What would you say the biggest challenge is for visitors to India?
  • I know you have only been in Germany for a week, but how does it compare with Brazil?
  • Do you follow football? What sports or hobbies interest you?
  • I’m sorry the weather has been so bad here in Germany. How is the climate in Shanghai?

Follow up statements/questions

  • What exactly do you mean by different customs?
  • And where else have you visited in Europe? Nice. What did you think about Madrid?
  • Tell me more about your school system in Sweden. That sounds really interesting.
  • That’s cool. How did you become interested in playing the guitar?
  • Really? Why is American football so popular?

Active listening/confirmation statements

  • I had no idea that skydiving was so common there. That is really fascinating.
  • So, you are saying that teenagers can drive a car when they are 15 years old? Wow!
  • Really? I didn’t know Americans don’t need a visa when they visit Europe.
  • Ok, I understand why you might think that is difficult.
  • How did you feel when that happened?
  • What did you say to him after that?

A lot of keeping good meal conversation going is focused on small talk. For more information on small talk with native English speakers, check out our socializing with Americans eBook.

After the meal

Quite often, good ideas come up when you are discussing business out of the office. Also, promises are made to send someone something, contact someone, etc. It is usually a good idea to send a follow up email after your business lunch or dinner. This can be done the next day, or a few days after depending on what was discussed. It’s also polite, can help build rapport, and is a good way to remind both parties on what next steps need to be taken. Want some help with structuring and what to say in your follow up email? Download our one pager on business lunch and dinner follow up emails.

So, the next time you have to host a colleague or client for dinner, don’t worry. It helps to do a little preparation by thinking about what you can do before, during, and after the meal to make sure you get the most out of your business meal. Guten Appetit!

Writing numbers

Writing in English is confusing enough, but what do you do when you want to talk about numbers in a report, press release or even on the English version of your company’s website? Do you write the actual number or write the number in words? There are a couple of rules, but the main thing is to remain stylistically consistent throughout. Here are some tips along with examples:


Write out numbers smaller than ten

  • I’m taking three days of holiday next week.
  • The report I’m reading is 311 pages long.

Hyphenate the numbers twenty-one to ninety-nine

  • We hired fifty-three people in the last fiscal year.

Use the numeral if discussing measurement, time or proportion

  • Our next meeting starts in 15 minutes.
  • His plane should land around 7:30 tomorrow morning.
  • Our factory is 12 km from the main office.

When discussing precise numbers, do not spell them out

  • The average score on the Azubi’s exams was 88.2.

Use a hyphen if the number and unit of measurement describe a noun

  • A three-meter section of piping needed to be replaced.

You might have to use both numbers and words when the numbers are consecutive

  • Our incoming class of Azubis includes 14 twenty-year-old men.

Use numerals for years and dates

  • Our company was founded in 1883.
  • Our next convention is on 5 May 2016.

Try to avoid starting sentences with numbers, but if you do, spell them out, unless it’s a year

  • Seven hundred and fifty-liters of paint were delivered to the wrong address.

Numerals are also best when talking about sums of money

  • We had over €3.4 million in sales last quarter.
  • The cost was €1.20 per unit.

Some other stylistic points are writing noon instead of 12 pm in order to avoid confusion and to use numerals for fractions (unless they start a sentence). What difficulties have you run into when writing numbers? Let us know in the comments section below.


Essential English phrases for purchasers

“I need to do my job in English more and more” said one of my participants in a purchasing department. She was a lead buyer at a manufacturing company who had seen her company go through a rapid internationalization process when they merged. Global purchasing means that many purchasers now need to work comfortably and confidently in English to do their jobs effectively. Here are some essential phrases to support you.

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alfExpressing gratitude for submitting an offer

  • Thank you for your offer.
  • Thanks for responding so quickly.
  • Thanks for being willing to rework your original offer.

Dealing with long term partners

  • As you know, we have worked together successfully for many years now.
  • I can offer you these conditions because of our long standing working relationship.
  • We would certainly like to work with you on the project in the future, but the price conditions are currently too high / not low enough / don´t meet our requirements.

Next steps

  • The next step will be discussed at our weekly internal meeting.
  • I need to go to this meeting to get the approval for this project.
  • We will make our final decision during the meeting.
  • We will decide who our preferred supplier is at that time.
  • After we have evaluated all offers and decided which supplier(s) we will work with, we will start the legal contract negotiations.

Asking for deadline commitments

  • Could you give us an answer by next week?
  • How long do you think you need to create a new offer with better conditions?
  • Would it be possible for you to send me the new offer by (date) at the latest?
  • I would be grateful if you sent me the new offer next week.

The final steps

  • Thank you for the insightful conversation.
  • I´m still waiting for your new offer. / I’ll wait for your new offer.

Comparing competitors’ products

  • Both suppliers´ product features are comparable.
  • Both of you meet the product document specifications with your product.
  • The product document specifications can be attained / completed / fulfilled by both suppliers´ products.
  • So we have comparable offers to consider.

Explaining cost-related issues

  • Supply and demand determines the market price.
  • The market price is based on supply and demand.
  • We have contacted other suppliers on the market to see if your price is competitive.
  • Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that your prices are too high compared to the competition.

Identifying cost expectations

  • Now I have one question, which conditions can you offer us?
  • Which price range are we looking at?
  • Our target price is xx euros, which means a reduction in your original price offer of about x per cent.
  • In order to meet our target price, you would need to reduce your price by …Euros or … per cent.

Explaining reasons for an altered offer

  • I know that the amount of the reduction sounds very high, but do you see any way to reduce the price?
  • I´m afraid that you will have to reduce the price in order to be considered.
  • This is the last round of negotiations. We won´t do another one.
  • I would be grateful if you gave me your best price.

Requesting suppliers to rework their offer

  • I would be grateful if you checked your offer again. Could you possibly send me a new offer?
  • Perhaps you can´t answer this question at the moment. You can think it over, check with others in your company and get back to us with your answer.
  • Could you also check the license model? Could the price be reduced if we changed the license model?
  • Which options can you think of? Which possibilities can you think of?

Dealing with contract conditions

  • Could you possibly check the contract conditions which I sent with the inquiry?
  • Due to time constraints, it would be best if you accepted the standard or suggested contract with as few changes as possible.
  • I recommend accepting the standard suggested contract with as few changes as possible.
  • I would be grateful if you could give me a statement about the contract.