What the English Say vs What They Really Mean

Being an effective listener is not just about understanding the literal meaning of the words of the person in front of you:

It is also important to learn how to read between the lines and identify what is really meant. 

Features such as intonation, tone of voice, facial expressions and body language can provide useful clues as to the attitude and intention of the speaker.  In this tongue-in-cheek blog post, we identify some common workplace scenarios and distinguish between what is said and what is really meant.

Content warning:  This post contains strong language

What the english say vs what they really mean

What is said

What is meant

The boss appears…

A:     “Can I have a word?”

B:     “Sure.”


You have messed up big time

In a meeting…

A:     “I think we should lower the prices.”

B:     “I get what you’re saying but…”


I don’t get what you’re saying at all because your ill-informed idea is just dumb.

One colleague to another…

A:     “I’m sorry, I forgot to send you the update.”    

B:     “That’s okay, don’t worry.”


It’s NOT OKAY!!!

At lunchtime…

A:      “Do you want one?”  (offering B a crisp)


I’m only offering to be polite – if you take one you are evil.

A new colleague arrives…

A:     “Which desk do you prefer?”

B:     “I don’t mind.”


I have a clear preference but I am afraid you’ll judge me.

An invitation to a colleague’s party…

A:     “Should I bring something?” 

B:     “Oh no, that’s okay – just bring yourself!”


If you come empty-handed I will judge you.  Forever.

Friday afternoon…

A:     “Wanna come for drinks after work?” 

B:     “Sure.”


I’d rather have colonic irrigation but I don’t want you to think I’m anti-social.

Monday morning…

A:     “How are you?” 

B:     “Fine thanks.”


I feel like I’m in Dante’s seventh circle of hell but I don’t want to appear needy.

A concerned colleague…

A:     “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?”

B:     “Oh, I’ll be fine.”


I feel like shit warmed up but I am going to prove that I’m above the rest of you pathetic mortals.

Making friends in the office…

A:     “I’ll add you to Whatsapp”

B:     “Great!”


I can’t think of anything worse.  Will they know if I’ve blocked them?  I need to google that as soon as they’ve gone.

Super-efficient worker tries to impress the boss…

A:     “I’ve finished the report.” 

B:     “Do you want to start on the presentation?”


Start working on the presentation.  Now.

S.L.L. (with ideas from Georgia S.M.)

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