Speaking English can seriously impact your business

In the last 2 years, I trained over 400 international managers and executives from organisations as diverse as NGOs, engineering manufacturers and global entertainment businesses. What did these people have in common? English is not their first language.

The main challenge international managers face is confidence. Senior managers and executives usually have a confidence based on a total understanding of their local culture, a confidence in their business knowledge & skills and a confidence in being able to communicate perfectly. But when they start working in English that confidence can quickly disappear. They can become hesitant and uncertain. They start becoming concerned about understanding the situation correctly, concerned about whether they can say what they want and concerned about how they appear to their international business colleagues. And while they are worrying about all these communication challenges, they are getting distracted from actually doing business.

I would go further and say that their ability to do business is seriously undermined.

This is a strong statement but let me justify it with a little help from the field of neuroscience. In Nobel Prize winning author Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” he talks about two styles of thinking – intuitive, fast and seemingly effortless thinking (system 1) and conscious reasoned thinking that requires effort (system 2). What does this mean in reality? Well look at the following image.

Angry woman - Thinking Fast and Slow

What emotion is this woman showing and is she going to say something nice or unpleasant? As soon as you looked at this picture you knew she was angry and when she speaks it is likely to be something nasty and unpleasant. How did you reach this conclusion? You probably just ‘felt’ it rather than consciously worked through the options and coming to a logical solution. Now look at the following problem:

17 x 24 = ?

What is the answer? Well unless you are an extraordinary person, you probably won’t be able to answer instantly. You could work it out with a pen and paper (or a calculator) but it will take some conscious effort.

The picture is an example of thinking fast and the maths problem is an example of thinking slow.

Do you speak ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ English?

What type of thinking do you use when speaking your native language? Your intuitive, unconscious fast thinking (system 1) of course. Speaking your native language seems effortless. What about speaking English? What type of thinking do you use? A lot of people have to use ‘slow’ thinking (system 2), carefully considering the vocabulary and sentences before speaking. The problem is not just that you think or talk slower. ‘Slow’ thinking requires more effort and this has an impact on your overall ability to think clearly as you become mentally tired. Tired people make poor decisions. So speaking ‘slow’ English impacts your ability to do business.

How can you improve this situation?

The best way to speak ‘fast’ intuitive natural English is to practice using your business English in a real life situation. This is the best way to develop the language skills needed to succeed in business. So instead of going to a language school where you will be drilled in vocabulary and sentence structures, take a business course instead.

The business courses I have developed are the perfect solution to this challenge. Whether you want to develop your leadership skills, improve your negotiation or take a business masterclass covering key strategic business tools, we have courses tailored specifically to help you. Get in touch today to find out more.

Following in the footsteps of genius

Piazza Unità d'Italia
Piazza Unità d’Italia, Trieste Italy

PS-and-JoyceOn 20th October 1904, the famous Irish author James Joyce arrived in Trieste in north eastern Italy. Almost exactly 110 years later yours truly, a fellow Irishman, and his partner arrived in the very same city. While there I discovered that I shared a surprising number of similarities to Joyce. Both of us helped our clients to develop their communication skills, both taught Italians and both were authors. I also seem to have a very similar build to Joyce or at least his statue on the Via Roma as it passes over the Canal Grande. There the similarities end.

James Joyce Statue, Trieste
James Joyce Statue, Trieste

Joyce was a genius and is recognised as one of the most influential writers of the early 20th Century. His novel, Ulysses, is considered one of the most important books of modernist literature although its publication was troubled – it was banned in the US under obscenity laws and copies of his books were burnt by the US Postal Service. In his own country Ulysses while never formally banned, wasn’t published until the 1960’s. Self publishing on Amazon Kindle is tame by comparison!

Ital Svevo Statue, Trieste
Ital Svevo Statue, Trieste

In Trieste Joyce worked as an English language  teacher at the Berlitz Language School  and during the early part of his time in the city he met Ettore Schmidz, better known as Italo Svevo, author of the classic novel La Coscienza di Zeno (The Confessions of Zeno). Joyce considered Svevo to be a very talented, but underrated, novelist and encouraged him to continue writing. He eventually helped Svevo to translate Confessions into French where it was published in 1923 to great acclaim. Joyce not only helped Svevo to write and learn English but they became great friends and the main protagonist of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, was partially based on Svevo.

There is also another very important difference between Joyce and me. When he arrived in Trieste, he left his mistress Nora Barnacle on a park bench outside the train station while he looked for somewhere to stay. While looking, he dropped into a bar for a quick drink and somehow ended up getting arrested along with some drunken English sailors. He was rescued by the Irish consul, before going back to the park to pick up his mistress who had waited all night. I expect she wasn’t very pleased and I am sure that my wife would have had something to say if I behaved this way.

With my visit over, I hope that some of Joyce’s genius has rubbed off and I can inspire my clients to achieve great things in the same way Joyce inspired and helped Italo Svevo.