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.

How can men promote gender equality in the workplace

International Women’s Day 2015 is probably a good time to sit back and reflect on what men should be doing to help promote workplace gender equality. We can’t simply leave this to women or see it as a women’s issue. It impacts us all.

So here are my five ideas on what men need to do more.

1. Listen to women

When women are speaking listen to what they are saying. Sounds simple, but some of us are guilty of not really listening and taking on board what is being said by women. I heard a female MP (UK Member of Parliament) recently talking about how her fellow male MP’s would ignore women’s suggestions only to propose exactly the same thing later to wide acceptance and congratulations with their brilliant idea.

Recently while facilitating a session on gender equality two men completely ignored a young woman who was speaking and started up their own (loud) conversation. And this was from the men who cared about equality. (And yes I did interrupt them, pointing out the biased behavior which they accepted with a little embarrassment and apologized with good grace.)

2. Accept that women are as capable as men in challenging roles after having children

Once women have children their loyalties are split and they are not as committed to the company and its objectives as they were before, right? Wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There was a very interesting study on MBA graduates from Harvard Business School and far from scaling back or forgoing opportunities women valued their careers just as much after having children. Women want more meaningful work, more challenging assignments and more opportunities for growth. In the study one of the reasons women left their companies was because they were being passed over for these opportunities.

3. Make more money, have a gender balanced team

So you run your own business or are a manager of a team, office, department or division. You are constantly under pressure to improve the bottom line from everyone – shareholders, your company board, senior management or your peers. A simple management strategy to improve the bottom line is to have a gender balanced team.

MIT recently published a study analyzing the offices of a white collar company that has over 60 offices (both inside and outside the US). Their findings are very revealing – offices which were predominantly male or female performed roughly the same in terms of revenue generation (that’s gender equality for you). Offices where men and women were broadly equally balanced had significantly higher revenues. How much higher – 41% higher. That statistic is hard to ignore.

4. Gender equality in the workplace starts at home

As men we need to acknowledge and accept our share of family responsibilities if we want equality for our partners (and our daughters). This is not about housework or DIY rather it is about the family responsibilities that chip away at a woman’s career.

Consider these questions. Who in the relationship is called by the school when there is a problem? Who takes your child to the doctors or goes home (on time!) to spend time with your children? Who decides not to socialize or go on “optional” week-end events to spend more time with their family?

Each of these decisions, while important for the family, can have an impact on a career. Missing out on the optional opportunities to build stronger relationships with your colleagues or being considered committed to your company or a project you are working on, could have a long term effect on a woman’s career. (I wrote a blog entry on this topic which you can read here).

As men we need to accept our fair share of these responsibilities and yes at times put our family ahead of our careers.

5. Don’t be afraid to speak up

Sometimes it seems as if everything we say has to be passed through a filter of political correctness. This can make men feel that they cannot be part of the conversation or can’t be themselves for fear of saying something politically incorrect or accidentally offensive. Don’t be afraid to get involved and talk about your perspective. If you make a mistake and offend someone then just apologize and move on. Don’t beat yourself up. We all make mistakes and it is better to speak up than not to speak at all.

Small decisions can have a big impact on gender equality

HOW SMALL DECISIONS CAN HAVE A BIG IMPACT ON HIGH ACHIEVING WOMEN.

I was listening to a very interesting podcast by Pamela Stone, a US sociology professor, who has studied the gender differences of 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates (mostly MBA’s). The conclusions debunk some myths (at least within this group), such as women opting out or scaling back work when they have children. In fact women leaving the MBA programme wanted similar levels of success as men, however it was in the outcomes where the differences occur.

In passing, Pamela mentioned that small decisions can reduce women’s financial bargaining power with their partners and can have long term consequences that favour men’s careers over women’s. We’ve heard of the chaos theory concept that a butterfly wing flap can cause a hurricane thousands of miles away, so I was wondering if indeed small decisions can have big impacts on careers.

When playing in poker tournaments I see the cumulative result of small decisions. Each player starts equal with the same number of chips but some simply play too many hands or just play badly. Over time this reduces their relative power and ultimately they get knocked out early by people with more chips (power).

DO MEN AND WOMEN MAKE DIFFERENT SMALL DECISIONS THAT HAVE A LONG TERM IMPACT?

I think perhaps they do. Take childcare for example, who in the relationship is called by the school when there is a problem? Who takes your child to the doctors or goes home (on time!) to spend time with your children? Who decides not to socialise or go on “optional” week-end events to spend more time with their family?

Each of these decisions, while important for the family, can have an impact on a career. Missing out on the optional opportunities to build stronger relationships with your colleagues or being considered committed to your company or a project you are working on, could have a long term effect.

“If you want promotion, do every extracurricular task that you can. Don’t worry about the quality of the work, as it is irrelevant.” (Sunday Times, 15/2/15).

I saw this quote recently from an employee at UK banking group Lloyds Bank which would seem to confirm this effect. The sad thing is that you don’t even have to be good; you just need to be there.

And once the small differences begin to create a difference in perception at work and then remuneration between a woman and her partner, the financial imperative begins to prioritize the partner’s career over the woman’s.

SO IF FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES ARE NOT SHARED EQUALLY THEN UNEQUAL CONSEQUENCES WILL RESULT.

What is the conclusion from this? It isn’t very romantic but if a relationship was a poker game then the optimal approach is to make sure that before you have children you establish the rules of childcare with your partner.

To succeed you have to accept failure

YOU CAN ONLY WIN IF YOU LEARN TO ACCEPT FAILURE.

I have just finished watching the Australian Tennis Open final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. One thing that occurred to me during the match was the similarity between failure in sports competition, failure in business and losing in poker.

Winning is easy to cope with (although as I saw at the poker tables last night this can lead to a fatal over-confidence), but what about failure? We all hate it right? It makes us angry and sometimes affects us long after the event.

IT’S ALL ABOUT PERCENTAGES

In most sporting fields, including golf, tennis and Formula 1, we often hear commentators and players speaking of playing a percentage game. So assuming a good tennis shot percentage is around 85% it follows that 15% of the time we will not be successful. In Formula 1 they talk about driving at 95% and in poker a 60% chance of winning a hand is almost always the right percentage play. However in poker that means we lose 40% of the time and fate being capricious and cruel, sometimes that 40% comes all at once and we lose consecutive hands where we had a statistical advantage.

Business decisions are equally at risk of failure. No business decision has a 100% guarantee. Apple’s move into mobile technology looks brilliant now, but at the time there was no promise of success. Tesco supermarket’s move into the US market might have been a very well thought out strategy but it failed. So businesses equally make percentage plays.

WE NEVER FORGET A FAILURE

What happens when we fail? We remember it well and usually vividly because they upset and disrupt our equilibrium. We cannot get out of our minds the ‘what-if’s’and the ‘if-only’s’. When we win we celebrate how smart and talented we are and then promptly forget the success.

In poker when a player gets angry and upset losing a hand where they were a statistical favorite, we say they go on tilt. Tilt can last a few minutes, days or even weeks and it can adversely impact good decision making. Tilt also happens to executives and managers as well as businesses in general.

WHAT DOES THIS TELLS US?

We are surrounded by failure. Operating in any situation where the result is not guaranteed means we must be prepared to handle failure when, and not if, it arrives. What has this got to do with Andy Murray losing? Well I am not sure why he collapsed when he was 2-love up in the 3rd set. Perhaps one of his percentage shots missed and he just was unable to let it go. One thing is certain, Andy will need to let this relative (he got to the final after all) failure go, if he is to win another grand slam.

If you are interested in learning more about handling failure and as a by-product become happier and healthier in your work, then get in touch today.

Fresh perspectives @ StartUp 2015

It is only 2 weeks into 2015 and this year will see some great new businesses launched if StartUp 2015 at Somerset House in London is anything to go by. As an experienced entrepreneur myself and a government accredited SME business coach, I was invited to be one of the resident ‘meet an advisor’ on the day.

Entrepreneurs queuing for StartUp 2015 @ Somerset House, London
Entrepreneurs queuing for StartUp 2015 @ Somerset House, London

I can only say I was amazed by the huge crowds, the incredible enthusiasm and some of the great ideas I heard about. Confidentiality means I can’t share these ideas but I am really pleased that people are not only developing digital services, but also planning to manufacture and retail products.

Here are the three pieces of key advice I gave to new entrepreneurs during the day.

Who are your clients? Make sure you know who is going to be a paying client. This is a vital first step in understanding the type of people who will pay for your product or service. Before setting up your company it is really important to invest time in researching this.

How will you make money? Having paying clients is great, but you must also make sure that you can trade profitably, if not immediately then at some time in the future.

How much money do you need to get started? Often people think they need £100K or even £500k to get their business started but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most businesses can get up and running with little or no investment. This is a good thing as you want to prove your idea is viable before making any major investments of your time, your money or someone else’s money.

…and finally I advised them to get help from the government’s Growth Voucher scheme, where they will cover 50% of the costs (up to £2,000) for strategic advice. You can use these vouchers for getting strategic business advice from me.

Contact me today to get a fresh perspective on your business.

Even World Champions need coaching!

I was talking to one of my clients (an ex-international sportsperson) recently and at one stage during our session she said “even world champions need coaches“. I was struck by how simple and yet profound this statement is. If you look at the field of sports I can’t think of a world champion or professional sportsperson or team that doesn’t have a coach – Usain Bolt, Rory McIlroy and Novac Djokavic all have coaches despite being superb world class professionals.

Why do elite sports people have coaches? Because they understand that their careers have been built on continuous learning and development. They never stop trying to find that extra fraction of a second or making that great decision in the moment. That is what makes them world class in the first place. When starting out young sports men and women are coached on the basics of their sport – focusing on the how to play. That coaching becomes increasingly more sophisticated as they improve moving from skill and techniques to strategy, mental preparation, coping with failure and dealing with success.

Most business owners are similar to elite sportspersons – they are totally committed to their business, they strive to be the best they can and they make sacrifices in their personal lives. I know for sure that when I was running my own business for 11 years, I was all these things and more. Yet I know I wasn’t a world class business owner and regret not having a coach during those years.

When is the right time for you to get your coach and become your own world champion?

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.

Follow your dreams

800px-British_Museum_Dome

I went to a business growth event recently at the British Museum. I wasn’t sure what to expect – sometimes these events can be very dull, focusing on how to set up a company, taxes and legal advice. Luckily I was wrong, very wrong, and this turned out to be one of the most inspirational events I have attended for a long time.

Two of the guest speakers told stories that were simply incredible – Michele Mone of Ultimo Lingerie and Richard Reed of Innocent.

No moaning from Michele*

Michelemone

In 1971 Michele Mone was born in Glasgow to very poor parents. A dyslexic, she left school at 15 with no qualifications to support her family after her father lost his job when he was paralysed by illness. After working in low paid jobs, she joined the Canadian brewing company Labatts as a typist. Two years later, at the age of 22 she was the Director of Sales & Marketing for Scotland. An incredible rise for someone with no qualifications.

However her success didn’t last as Labatts sold their business in Scotland and Michele was unemployed once again. One thing that always annoyed Michelle was how uncomfortable cleavage enhancing bras (brassieres) were. So she decided to design the world’s most comfortable bra. Three years later she had produced a bra that she was happy with. The next challenge was to find a buyer. Instead of starting at the bottom she decided to go straight to one of the most famous stores in London, Selfridges. She was 8 months pregnant with her 3rd child, she had only £500 left in her bank account and debts of £480,000. She refused to leave until the lingerie buyer agreed to meet her. They agreed to stock her bra.

This was Michele’s first success, quickly followed by Julia Roberts wearing her bra in the movie Erin Brockavich to create her characters large cleavage. Since then Michele has grown her business and has a personal wealth of over £40m, not bad for someone who left school with no qualifications.

What are Michele’s top tips for Entrepreneurs?

Network as much as you can because you never know when you will need someone. She almost lost her business when a supplier stole £1.2m in cash and 10 months of stock. Using her contacts she managed to raise money to cover the losses.

Think big. Michele always targets the biggest markets and the best retailers/celebrities to market her goods. She believes everyone should think big when building a business.

You can visit Ultimo’s website at www.ultimo.co.uk

* The title of this section is a play on words. Mone and moan (the verb to complain) are both pronounced exactly the same way (/məʊn/).

The innocence of youth

innocent-hats

Richard Reed was one of three friends who met at University and they always wanted to set up a business together. Many ideas were created and discarded, until one day they decided to invest £500 in fruit, make smoothies (100% pure fruit drinks) and sell them at a music festival. People were asked to put their empty bottles into one of two bins – ‘Yes give up your regular jobs’ and ‘No keep you regular jobs’. The yes bin was full at the end of the festival (Richard thinks his parents put a lot of empty bottles in the no bin!). So on the following Monday the three friends resigned from their jobs.

With investment from a business investor they developed their production facility and started to sell. Their big break came when a high-end supermarket, Waitrose, decided to test the market in 10 stores. Richard and his friends were delighted but also very nervous. How could they make sure the test was a success? One night in a bar over many drinks they realised there was a very simple solution. Go to each of these 10 stores and buy their own smoothies! So the next day, they went to each of the 10 stores buying their own smoothies. The test was a success (obviously) and Waitrose agreed to stock their smoothies across their entire network.

In 2008 they almost lost the business when three things happened – retail sales fell 30% following the economic slowdown, they tried to launch their products in 5 other countries and finally one supplier, who provided all their fruit , called on a Friday afternoon to say they weren’t opening on Monday. They recovered but they almost lost the business.

Coca-Cola bought a small part of the business in 2009 and in 2010 increased this to 58%, finally buying out Richard and his friends in 2013 for over US$500m. Richard and his friends now run their own venture capital fund, JamJar Investments to invest in start-ups.

What is Richard’s top advice for new entrepreneurs?

Be aware of risk in your business as you grow. Their major mistake was buying all their fruit from one supplier. When they went bust he almost lost his business.

Focus on one thing. Many new entrepreneurs they meet are working on too many different projects. Richard believes that you should do one thing and do it brilliantly.

You can visit Innocent’s website at www.innocentdrinks.co.uk and JamJar Investments can be found at www.jamjarinvestments.com


 

Warming up for an interview

When athletes prepare for a race they always do a set of warm up exercises, warming up their muscles and doing lots of stretches. Why? Two reasons. To make sure they don’t injure themselves when racing and most importantly to make sure their body is totally ready to perform at its very best.

Does this apply to language as well?

I think so. Many of my overseas clients can take 10-15 minutes before their English is at its best. Why is this?

It is very simple. You are speaking in your native language all day and then suddenly you have to change into a new language for an interview. It takes time for your brain to make this switch. Just like an athlete, it takes time to warm up. So you need to give yourself time to turn off your native language and turn on your English!

There is some debate within the scientific community about this process. However what is clear from my experience is that when switching into English you need to allow anything from a couple of minutes to 15 minutes or more.

Indeed the standard Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) methodology as taught by Cambridge University is that English language lessons need warm-ups to get the students engaged in the topic and the language. TEFL teachers are very strict when students use their native language in lessons, as this ‘turns off’ their English.

Is this relevant to interviews?

ABSOLUTELY! If you are going to do an interview in English you need to switch into English at least 30 minutes before doing the interview. This is particularly important if you are doing a skype/phone interview from outside the UK. How can you do this? Well here are my tips :-

  1. Talk to someone in English. Ideally this should be someone who is a native or advanced English speaker.
  1. Rehearse your answers in English. Practice answers to interview questions out loud. Yes it may seem strange to your friends & family that you are talking to yourself in English but by engaging the vocal part of your brain (the Temporal lobe) you are warming up your English. If you feel really embarrassed put on your phone’s headset and pretend you are making a phone call.
  1. Listen to something in English. If you can’t talk to someone then listening is a good alternative. At the end of this entry I have listed some places where you can listen to English.

So in summary, turn off your native language, turn on your English and get your dream job!

Peter Sheridan

If you have any questions on this or indeed any other question, then please don’t hesitate in emailing me at peter@englishinterviewtraining.co.uk I look forward to hearing from you.


Resources

tunein online radio stations
tunein – online radio stations

Listen to over 100,000 radio stations live and for free. tunein is available on PC, IOS,  iPhone/iPad and android devices. This is one of my favourite apps (yes even more than Angry Birds and Candy Crush).


Here are 3 stations I recommend to help you turn on your English. All of these are available via tunein and also have their own websites :-

BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4

UK talk radio covering current affairs, economics, arts, culture and comedy. Usually very clear pronunciation although the language can be complex at times.

WNYC
WNYC New York Public Radio

Local talk radio for the Big Apple. Perfect if you have an interview with an American or American company.

BBC Radio London

BBC Radio London

Local talk radio for London. Listeners ring in with opinions and so this is a very good station to hear natural English as spoken by Londoners.