Be Professional! Never say this at work! ❌
Speaking face-to-face with customers, your boss or any of the other people that you work with can be a little tricky, especially when you’re dealing with problems or difficult situations. Your choice of words and the phrases that you use can affect what customers and your colleagues think of you.
So if you speak English as a second or a third language, using the right words in the right way is really important.
I’m Emma from mmmEnglish and today I’m going to walk you through five situations that are super common in just about any workplace to help you to avoid the things that you should never say and give you some really simple expressions that will help people to see you for the helpful professional that you truly are. So are you ready to get to work?
Situation #1 Someone asks you a question but you don’t know the answer.
Shah: Excuse me, do you know if the Bluetooth adapter will work on that Sony A6400?
Emma: I don’t know.
When someone asks you a question and you simply don’t know the answer, well, never say: “I don’t know” even though this is the truth, even though those are the correct English words to say, you’re not being helpful at all.
So saying “I don’t know” in the workplace, especially to a customer, sounds really unprofessional in English, even a little bit rude. It’s like saying you don’t care.
So to sound more professional and to show that you do care, try saying: “I’m not sure, but I can find out.” So say it with me. I’m not sure, but I can find out.
Or you could say: I’ll find out for you.
Awesome! Here’s another one: Let me come back to you on that.
So you can use this to say that you need a little more time to find the answer but you’re assuring the person that you will try to help them. Let me come back to you on that.
Excellent! You’re sounding really helpful and much more professional already.
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Situation #2 Someone asks you if you can do something by a specific time.
So this happens all the time at work, right? Especially if you work at a place that has deadlines.
Shah: Emma, our clients need this done by two o’clock tomorrow. Do you think you can manage that?
Emma: I’ll try to finish it.
Shah: So… yes? Can I tell them that we’ll have it done by two?
Emma: I’ll try my best.
When someone asks you if something can be done by a certain time don’t use the phrase: I’ll try.
I mean, of course, you’ll try and trying is great but in English, if you use the verb ‘try’, you’re not really committing to anything. You’re not saying that you will or you won’t or you can or you can’t do something, right? You’re not committing to a deadline at all so you’re not being very helpful and this is not very professional at all.
The person asking you has asked a specific yes/no question: Can you get it done by this time?
So you need to give a really clear-cut answer, okay? You can sound much more professional simply by saying: I can get it done by 2pm.
So say it with me. I can get it done by 2pm.
Sure! I can have it done by 2pm.
Great! But what if you can’t get it done by 2pm? Or by the end of the day? What if you can’t get it done? Well you definitely shouldn’t say that you’ll try. Seriously, saying that you’ll try might make them go away in the short term but you’re going to let them down in the long run and that is really unprofessional. You need to be honest with them but you also need to make a commitment to reassure them when you can get it done by.
So in this situation, try an alternative like: I don’t think I can manage it by 2, but I can have it done by 4!
Actually, I don’t think I can manage it by 2, but I can definitely have it done by 4.
I don’t think I can manage it by Thursday, but I can definitely have it done by Friday. Would that be okay?
Nice work! Let’s keep going!
Situation #3 Your boss or a customer is angry or disappointed about something.
Now it could be something that you did personally like maybe you were late or perhaps it’s not actually your fault but you still need to deal with this situation.
Shah: This is ridiculous! I drove the whole way down here to pick the thing up. I even rang you this morning and now you’re telling me it’s not ready?
Shah: Okay? That’s all you’ve got? Okay?
Alright so nobody really wants to deal with angry or frustrated customers, do they? And if something like that’s ever happened to you, you might even freeze up and get really awkward. It’s not really a good look, right? But of course, there’s always going to be someone who’s unhappy or frustrated about something, at some point. It’s just part of working life, isn’t it? So it’s a good idea to have a plan. So in those situations, you’ve got something to say to make the situation better and not worse. Lucky for you, there are two really important words that will make everything a little better.
Simple, huh? So before you freeze up and just say “Okay” or “Yes…” just remember, all you need to say is “I understand”
With these really simple words, for just a moment you can make the situation better. You’ll help the other person to see that you’re listening and show them that you care about helping them. And of course, then you need to offer something to help the situation, right? A solution. So try these with me.
I understand. Let’s see what we can do.
I’m sorry, I understand. Let’s see what we can do about this.
Notice that I used the word ‘let’s’ and ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ This is a really great way to involve the other person in the solution.
I understand you’ve come all this way and it’s not ready. Let’s see what we can do.
Awesome! So you’re ready for the next one, right?
Situation #4 You’re keeping somebody waiting.
Well when you’re keeping somebody waiting, what should you do? Maybe you’re busy with another customer, maybe you’re on a phone call or maybe you really need to go to the toilet and you’ve got to leave quickly.
Whatever the case, the worst thing that you could possibly say is:
Things are just a little busy today so it’s taking bit longer than unusual.
Yeah, yeah we’ve just had loads of new clients come in. Hang on a sec!
No no no no no no. This is not good. Okay? You know this situation, right? It’s just rude but fortunately there are a couple of phrases that you can memorise that will have you sounding really professional and keep the person who’s waiting happy.
So the first one is: I’ll be with you in a moment.
And this expression just lets them know that you know that they’re there and that you won’t be long until you give them your full attention. So say it with me. I’ll be with you in a moment.
Brilliant! Alright and the second one is: Sorry to keep you waiting, I’ll be right there.
You try it.
Sorry to keep you waiting, I’ll be right there with you in just a minute.
Can you think of any other ways to respond in this type of situation? If you can, add them to the comments below.
Situation #5 When somebody asks you a question but you didn’t hear them.
Or maybe you didn’t understand them, what should you do?
Shah: Hey Emma, do you reckon you can let the guys go early this afternoon? I’m gonna nick off too.
Never say “What?” ever. Right? This is one that the parents and teachers of English speaking children are always trying to teach them. And it’s a really big no-no in the workplace. You can sound much more professional by saying: I’m sorry, I missed that.
You try it. I’m sorry, I missed that. Could you say it again, please?
Awesome! So now try: Sorry, would you mind just repeating that?
Sorry, would you mind just repeating that for me? I missed it.
Now there are lots of different ways to let someone know that you didn’t understand them, right? And politely ask them to repeat themselves a little more clearly. Can you think of any other ways that you could say the same thing? If you can, add them into the comments.
So I hope this lesson has given you some options to help you sound a little more professional at work. If you want to keep working on your professional English, I’ve got a couple of other lessons right here that are perfect for you. And I make new videos here every week on the mmmEnglish Channel so make sure you hit the subscribe button just down there so that you don’t miss out on any of them. And thank you very much for joining me and I look forward to seeing you in the next lesson!
Links mentioned in the video
Business English | Imitation Lesson | Idioms & Vocabulary
ONLINE English Class | How To Prepare For Your Lessons!
Small Talk Practice | English Conversation & Chit Chat at Work