I was having lunch in a not too bad restaurant on Tuesday and on a table next to me, there was a group of 8 men in suits and ties having a business lunch/meetings. Half of them were German and the other half were from the UK. They were speaking English, of course because the English are usually rubbish at learning foreign languages! From eavesdropping on their conversation, I could tell that they all worked for the same company. They were discussing the ins and outs of a new project and who would do what. As I teach a lot of business English, I was interested to hear how both sides of the table would handle the discussion. I was listening for good phrases and mistakes from the Germans and also to see if the Brits were using idioms or phrasal verbs that might be difficult for non-native speakers to understand. The German contingent all spoke good English, so I was quite surprised that when they were trying to delegate tasks and responsibility, they weren’t using appropriate phrases. They were saying things like….
- I want that you…. (Possibly impolite and is really a direct translation from German)
- Please you make the…. (Same problem of German interference again)
Obviously, the meaning was communicated and understood, so there wasn’t a huge problem, but this function of ‘asking someone to do something’ was not at the same level as the rest of their English. Also, in my teaching experience, business people have always told me that they think it’s very important to be perfect with their English in situations such as these. So here are some nice phrases that you could use (or might hear) in a business meeting.
- John, could you (infinitive)….?
- Who’d like to (infinitive) the….? (Asking for someone to volunteer to do a task)
- John, would you mind ( ______ing) the….?
- Do you have any objections to ( ______ing) the….?
In German (and maybe some other languages), it’s completely normal to just answer with yes (Ja), but that would be a little bit impolite in English. So, it’s better to use one of these phrases…..
- Yes, of course.
- Yes, I’ll do it.
- Yes, no problem.
- No, not at all. (This is the positive answer to a no# 3 or 4 type question).
In an English speaking culture, if you refuse a request, it is normal for you to give a reason or an excuse, i.e. if you say no, you should say why….
- No, I’m sorry. I’m at a conference that week
- I’m afraid I can’t. That’s when I’ve got my holiday booked.
- Not really. My department is completely snowed under at the moment.
- I’d like to help but we just haven’t got the spare manpower to do that.
- I don’t really think that it comes under my jurisdiction/is my responsibility.
These polite business request phrases and responses will at best make you sound like a native and at the very worst, they will give you the aura of a brilliant businessman.