Suggestions & options in successful international cooperations


Your ability to communicate and respond to suggestions and options is an important part of successful business communication, so this article is specifically designed to help you develop your speaking skills in this area. Wherever possible, you will want to have some knockout expressions available in order to exercise effective persuasion, management and influence. This can make all the difference between being a talented and creative colleague or consultant who helps make things happen and the person with comparable skills but who somehow seems to remain on the edges of the main action.

As German is generally a more direct language than English, there is the risk that your suggestions or presentation of options expressed in direct translation could sound more like a requirement or an order than you intend them to be. There is also a need to be correspondingly more aware of the non-verbal language taking place in such interactions.

Asking for suggestions

The actual words ‘suggest’ and ‘suggestion’ are well worth using when you want to suggest something, even though related phrases exist that do not use either of those words. ‘A suggestion’ from you can somehow seem more weighty than ‘an idea’, especially if it is the result of your considered thinking. Embedded in the idea of asking others for suggestions is that you genuinely welcome them and are not making a formalised request. Employees can become quickly discerning at noticing the difference between a colleague who really does want to listen to them and someone who does not.

What do you suggest?
What do you suggest we do?
Do you have any suggestions?
Have you got any ideas for this?
Do you have any ideas for/about this?
Can you think of anything for this? <informal>

Making suggestions

English can make extensive use of the pronoun ‘we’, even though the people covered by the pronoun at any given moment can sound unclear at times. This use of ‘we’ sounds inclusive and relational (implying “we’re in this together”), whereas ‘you’ can sound somewhat colder and more remote. However, ‘we’ should not be used when the speaker is clearly not identified with the suggested action, as that could sound insincere.

I suggest (that we)…
I’d like to suggest…
I think we should…
Perhaps you/we could…
You/We could…
If I might make a suggestion, you/we could…
We haven’t tried… (e.g. doing a survey of our recent customers.)

Another notable feature of English is its use of questions to cover functions other than the usual one of seeking information.

Have you considered…?
Have you thought of…? (e.g. doing some market research into that?)
Would it be possible for X to…?
How about…? <informal>
Why don’t we…? <informal>

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Showing indecision when asked for a suggestion

A fairly short negative answer is enough if you are undecided when you are asked for a suggestion. While the expression ‘I’m afraid’ may translate badly into other languages, it is a very useful expression in English meaning fairly unapologetically that “I realise this is not the answer you’re hoping for”. The use of “I’m sorry” is, in contrast, the best way of apologising.

I wouldn’t know what to suggest.
I don’t know.
I don’t have any suggestions (I’m afraid).
I’m sorry I can’t think of any.

It is important to remain aware of the coding that exists within the English language. A speaker might sound more positive in response to a suggestion than they actually are. The intention of the coding is well-meant, as it is used to avoid giving too blunt a response that could possibly give offence. Coding can be a valuable way to handle difficult questions and objections.

Some ambiguous responses are given here. You may need to check your own understanding at some later point about what the speaker meant more precisely. At the time of use, though, you need to be observant about the context, the tone of voice and the facial expression of the speaker as well as any words, non-verbal reactions or silence that follow immediately afterwards.

That’s certainly a possibility.
I/We’d need time to think about that.
We could think about that.
Perhaps. [a short reply that implies probably not]

Agreeing to an idea or suggestion

I think that is a good suggestion.
Thank you for that.
I think that would work very well.
Thank you for your suggestion.

Disagreeing with a suggestion or expressing hesitation

If this is done well, listeners can rapidly sense the disagreement in the tone of voice used.

We could do, but…
I don’t think that would work.
I have some doubts about… (e.g. the Turin project.)
That’s a good idea, but…
I’m not sure about…
I don’t think that’s possible.
I’m not sure how to respond to that.

Making an alternative suggestion

An alternative suggestion means another one. A positive way to respond to a suggestion you don’t approve of is to make a counter-suggestion of your own.

Couldn’t we do Y instead?
Wouldn’t it be better if we…?
Might I suggest that you do Z instead? (e.g. use a modified model for your projections?)
I would rather we… (e.g. postponed this decision until the next meeting.)
I would prefer that we…

Asking about options

When you are talking about options, it can seem tidier to use the word ‘alternatives’ when there are only two choices and ‘options’ when there are three or more. However, please note that some users of English may use the word ‘alternatives’ to refer to any number of possibilities.

What do you see as our options?
What are our options?
Do you have some options for us?
What kind of choice do we have? [that is, I don’t think we have much choice] Do we have any choice? [I don’t think we do, but I am ready for you to persuade me otherwise]

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Offering options

We could…
I think we have two main choices.
There are basically two alternatives.
It seems to me that we have three main options.
As I see it, we have three possible options.
One (option) would be to…
There are all kinds of options we could consider. [this will need some elaborating in order not to sound vague]


You may want to tell or ask others about how the decisions or choices were made, or the process of getting there.

We went for the first option.
We chose the first option.
There didn’t seem to be any choice.
We thought there was no choice.
It wasn’t very difficult deciding what to do.
The choice seemed obvious.
We had a brainstorming session to consider our options.
Which, if any, of those interesting ideas was the preferred option?
We were caught between a rock and a hard place. [a difficult situation where there are two equally unpleasant courses of action that those in charge are doing their best to steer professionally in between]

Operating successfully and comprehensibly in international settings

Altogether, it becomes apparent that the range and successful use of this kind of language is dependent on a considerable focus on listening and observing carefully as well as on one’s own choice of words, tone of voice and body language. Try to be flexible and interactive when speaking and responding in these situations.

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Über den:die Autor:in

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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