Develop your managerial key communication skills in English


Let’s imagine that you have been accepted into a new leadership role in your organisation, and one of your new challenges is that it involves you managing people much more in English. Perhaps you are already managing teams in English and seeking to refine your business language to elevate your professionalism in your managerial role. This effort will not only ensure the successful execution of your managerial responsibilities but also garner greater recognition and acceptance within your position. This article is designed to help you develop your managerial key communication skills in a variety of ways.

1. General aspects good to be known

Cultural features and assumptions

It is remarkable how much of what we think, say and do is cultural. Many of our cultural assumptions, which we might have thought are universal, are actually not shared by much of the rest of the world.
The use of managerial English does not mean forgetting what you know works in your first language, but it does require the ability to change gear in order to operate successfully in another language.

Some underlying concepts

  • Most of the time, an English-speaking manager does not command anyone. People are generally asked to do things, or it is made apparent to them that a job needs doing or prioritising.
  • One of the reasons that English is so useful as a language of communication is because of its flexibility and its large and constantly growing vocabulary.
  • Smiling is like bringing some added sunshine into the room in the English-speaking world. Please don’t be the unsmiling manager.
  • Humour is also an intrinsic part of the English language and doesn’t stay at home on working days. Some of the best English humour is very spontaneous.

2. Some specific features to be conscious of from the outset

Small talk

For many people in the world, it will not be possible to relate to them or do business with them unless we are interested enough to relate to them first as people, beginning with this so-called small talk. It might be better to think of small talk as people talk.
Hello, I think we haven’t had time to talk so far. I’m…
[on a Friday]How has your week been?
Do you have any special plans for the weekend?
[on a Monday]Did you have a good weekend? [more than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ is expected in reply]

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In order to be successful in business, it is important to know about communication styles and how they are influenced by culture and language. In this seminar you will learn how to navigate skillfully through difficult communication situations to achieve the desired result. You will be enabled to create a constructive, appreciative atmosphere and to optimise your communication by means of targeted reflection.

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Your manner and other aspects of non-verbal language

Your manner is an important form of communication. People in an English-speaking context can be fairly observant about the body language and the other non-verbal messages given by others. The non-verbal language conveyed by the face and tone of voice can outweigh the words used.

Language softeners

A range of ways are available to soften what is said and avoid being too direct. This includes the use of modals (such as would and could), added phrases (such as actually, in fact, to be honest), and qualifying words (such as bit, slight, rather). Softeners are used extensively in this article.

3. Getting the managerial job done

Briefing people

There is a risk that you may want to give more detail about what you want done than the English speaker is ready to receive. Brevity needs to be seen as a distinct virtue in English, both in business speech and writing.


Requests often but not always begin with a modal like ‘would’ or ‘could’. You need to be careful with the use of “Can you…?” as it means “Are you able to…?”. Therefore, it slightly questions that person’s ability to perform the task. The same problem does not occur with questions beginning with “Can I… (e.g. ask you to…)?”
Would you mind sending me the relevant documents?
Would you please reply to them saying that…?
Could you let me know what dates you are available?
Can you let me know by Friday? [The listener is expected to respond quickly to this if they can’t.]

A command with a ‘please’ in front

It could be a surprise to some English-speaking managers to realise that they basically do command their staff some of the time, with a ‘please’ placed put in front.
Please remind me about that… (e.g. on Monday.)
Please let me know if… (e.g. you have any more thoughts about this.)


Many English-speaking people talk repeatedly about their priorities. Talking about priorities, however indirectly, can therefore be a powerful way of motivating staff to focus on one task rather than another.
There’s a need for speed here. Could you make this a priority today?
Would you be able to get this done in the next day or two?
We are going to have to move rather fast on this. Would you please… ?


Much of good management activity is about getting colleagues you admire (that should be how you see those you manage) to do things. All of the following sentences can be said in a quiet, authoritative voice. A possible affirmative reply follows.
I wonder if you would…? I’m sure I can deal with that.
Would you be ready to… ? (e.g. manage this project?). Yes, I would be ready to do that, thank you.
This is something in your area, I think. Yes, that’s right.
Could I leave this to you? You certainly can.


A sincere form of involvement and consultation with individual staff is another approach used by English-speaking managers to motivate their staff. Actual involvement means listening to a colleague very well before making any carefully worded request or suggestion sometime later.
What do you think about this?
What’s the best way to deal with this, do you think?
In the light of what we were talking about last week, do you think you could…?
Given what you were suggesting the other day as a way forward, would you be ready to…?
I much appreciate you sharing with me the last time we met regarding your concerns about the PQR project, and I suggest…

Referring to the situation

In this form of motivation, the manager is encouraging a colleague to observe the current situation and the obligations – desirable or otherwise – that come with it.
We need to get this done by the end of the week.
This needs to be done by the end of the week.

Advice based on past experience

Another perspective that you can bring to those you manage is your experience of work and life. This is about giving advice rather than instructions.
If I were you I would…
I suggest you…
I think the best way for you to do this is…

Will anything ever get done in response to this style of management?

You might begin to wonder, when trying to use these rather gentle ways of motivating and encouraging people to do things, whether your English-speaking colleagues do realise that you are expecting a particular job to be done and in a timely manner.
Do you reckon you can get that done in the next couple of days?
As I have mentioned already, there is a deadline attached to this, which is the end of this week. Will you be able to get this completed comfortably by Friday?

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4. Other aspects of managerial English

Better ways than saying “No” or “I don’t agree”

The English language has many ways to convey thoughts like this without what might be seen as abruptness by the speaker.
No, thank you.
No, she didn’t actually.
That wasn’t the case, in fact. [followed by an explanation] That’s not my cup of tea, actually. [my personal preference] That’s very kind of you, but I can’t.
I wouldn’t agree about that, actually.
This does not mean that all other speakers of English will be heard to refuse things or disagree politely. Such expressions that you may hear are worth noting, but generally they do not sound good when copied.

Helping others to improve: Encouragement and criticism

While it should be a natural feature of any responsible manager to want to help other people to improve and then to find ways to communicate it, this needs to be recognised as a notable feature of German business culture that is not so widely practised elsewhere. In an English-speaking environment, significantly more praise and encouragement should be given than help about ways to improve. Here are some expressions that nonetheless could be used in criticism:
It seems to me that…
This came across as…
There are some weaknesses in this line of argument. [then some are explained] I think some people might have difficulty with… [sensing some possible negative reactions from others]
Some options for giving gentle criticism involve the use of questions that are designed to cause the colleague to reflect or self-critique.
How did you feel it went yesterday?
Did you notice…?
What is your take on this most recent round of sales figures?
Receiving well people’s criticism or negative feedback might be viewed as one of your managerial challenges. There is a need to be receptive here rather than defensive.
Thank you very much for bringing that to my/our attention.
That’s most informative, thank you.

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As you transition into a new managerial position, you will be confronted by a number of new challenges and tasks. In order to be effective in the new job, you will need to develop a series of key leadership skills. You will also have to manage the shift in your new relationship with your colleagues. This means rebalancing staff and the professional aspects without damaging the relationships you have built. It is also vitally important to motivate people and demonstrate that you are interested in their success and will take care of them.

Training: From Co-Worker to Boss

Thanking and showing appreciation

For example, actually thanking colleagues (especially for a job well done) is something to be saved up until after their task is completed. It then needs to be done well and not too briefly, especially if the task was considerable.
I would like to thank the whole team for your part in this recent project. It all looks very encouraging at this moment, not least because of the valuable contributions that everyone has made to it.
Thank you for what you have done. I have much appreciated your part in this.
The need for giving generous thanks afterwards should not stop you showing some appreciation while the task is still in progress.
I’ve been getting some good feedback from…
You will be pleased to hear that we have had some very encouraging responses from…
You and your team seem to be doing a great job on the…
Thank you for all the work you have been putting into…

Coded language

It is worth noting that managerial language in English, especially British English, may contain some coded language. The purpose of this language is to avoid upset, unnecessary conflict or embarrassment, and you do need to be able to recognise and understand it.
English ways to disagree include responses like “That’s an interesting idea.” This is because the word ‘interesting’ can in fact mean anything from bizarre or crazy at one end of the spectrum all the way through to great at the other.
In speech, the meaning of the coded language needs to be deducted from the context (such as, were people looking rather surprised a moment ago?), the speaker’s facial expression, tone of voice and the following words (if there are any). When the coded speech is unclear to a listener, a checking question can be used, either then or later on:
So, you did approve of it, then?
So, you are not keen on it, then?
So, you liked the idea about X, then?
You weren’t exactly keen on it, then?
Other coded language expressions to look out for include ones such as the following. What is given in square brackets here are some explanatory thoughts, so please don’t say them.
We could think about that. [for about ten seconds] That might be worth pursuing. [but not now, and possibly not at all] It’s not bad. [it’s excellent]
I would need to consult about that. [I am sounding rather vague]
Successful managerial communication
Good application of the principles and examples given here should help you to communicate more effectively, confidently and clearly in a managerial context. The overview of managerial language given here should also help you to ask about, and observe better, the linguistic preferences of competent English speakers around you who are from outside your own language background. Also specific „Training in English“ for management skills and on technical topics will enhance your proficiency, vocabulary and employability.


Lewis, R. D. (2018). When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures (4th ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey Publications.
Lewis, R. D. (2008). Cross-cultural Communication: A Visual Approach (2nd ed.). Warnford, UK: Transcreen Publications.
Longman Business English Dictionary (2018). Chennai: Pearson India.
Manser, M. (2014). 1001 Words to Know and Use. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Dr. Nigel Paterson

Trainer for intercultural business and business English. Additional qualifications: train the trainer and business cultural trainer. Area of expertise: English communication, conversation and cross-cultural awareness.

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