Workplace Communication Skills for ESL Learners

Overview of Correct Register Use

Smiling businessmen having informal meeting
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In workplace communications, with friends, strangers, etc. there are unwritten rules that are followed when speaking English. These unwritten rules are often referred to as "register use" or workplace communication skills when referring to employment. Good workplace communication skills use can help you communicate effectively. Incorrect workplace communication can cause problems at work, cause people to ignore you, or, at best, send the wrong message.

Of course, correct workplace communication is very difficult for many learners of English. To begin with, let's look at some example conversations to help understand the correct type of register use in various situations.

Examples of Correct Register Use

(Wife to Husband)

  • Hi honey, how was your day?
  • Great. We got a lot done. And yours?
  • Fine, but stressful. Pass me that magazine, please.
  • Here you go.

(Friend to Friend)

  • Hi Charlie, can you give me a hand?
  • Sure Peter. What's up?
  • I can't get this to work.
  • Why don't you try to use a screwdriver?

(Subordinate to Superior - for workplace communications)

(Superior to Subordinate - for workplace communications)

  • Excuse me Peter, we seem to be having a problem with the Smith account. We'd better get together to discuss the situation.
  • That's a good idea Ms Amons, would 4 o'clock suit you?

    (Man Speaking to Stranger)

    • Pardon me. Do you think you could give me the time?
    • Certainly, it's twelve thirty.
    • Thank you.
    • Not at all.

    Notice how the language used becomes more formal as the relationship becomes less personal. In the first relationship, a married couple, the wife uses the imperative form which would be inappropriate with a superior in for workplace communications.

    In the last conversation, the man asks using an indirect question as a means of making his question more polite.

    Examples of Incorrect Register Use

    (Wife to Husband)

    • Hello, how are you today?
    • I'm fine. Would you mind passing me the bread?
    • Certainly. Would you like some butter with your bread?
    • Yes, please. Thank you very much.

    (Friend to Friend)

    • Hello Mr. Jones. May I ask you a question?
    • Certainly. How many I help you?
    • Do you think you could help me with this?
    • I'd be happy to help you.

    (Subordinate to Superior - for workplace communications)

    • Good Morning, Frank. I need a raise.
    • Do you really? Well, forget about it!

    (Superior to Subordinate - for workplace communications)

    • Hey Jack, what are you doing?! Get to work!
    • Hey, I'll take as much time as I need.

    (Man Speaking to Stranger)

    • You! Tell me where the supermarket is.
    • There.

    In these examples, the formal language used for the married couple and friends is much too exaggerated for daily discourse. The examples of for workplace communications, and of the man speaking to a stranger, show that the direct language often used with friends or family is too impolite for these types of for workplace communication.

    Of course, correct for workplace communication and register use also depends on the situation and the tone of voice you use.

    However, in order to communicate well in English, it is important to master the basics of correct for workplace communications and register use. Improve and practice your recognition of workplace communications and register use in various situations with the following quiz.

    Workplace Communication Quiz

    Test yourself to see how well you understand correct register usage in these following workplace situations. Choose the appropriate relationship for these phrases from the choices listed below. Once you have finished, continue down the page for the answers and comments on the correct choices for each question.

    • Colleagues
    • Staff to Management
    • Management to Staff
    • Inappropriate for the Workplace

     

    1. I'm afraid we're having some problems with your performance. I would like to see you in my office this afternoon.
    1. What did you do last weekend?
    2. Hey, get over here now!
    3. Excuse me, do you think it would be possible for me to go home early this afternoon? I have a doctor's appointment.
    4. Well, we went to this wonderful restaurant in Yelm. The food was excellent and the prices were reasonable.
    5. Listen, I'm going home early, so I can't finish the project until tomorrow.
    6. Excuse me Bob, would you mind lending me $10 for lunch. I'm short today.
    7. Give me five bucks for lunch. I forgot to go to the bank.
    8. You are an extremely handsome young man, I'm sure you'll do well at our company.
    9. Excuse me Ms Brown, could you help me with this report for a moment?

    Quiz Answers

    1. I'm afraid we're having some problems with your performance. I would like to see you in my office this afternoon. ANSWER: Management to Staff
    2. What did you do last weekend? ANSWER: Colleagues
    3. Hey, get over here now! ANSWER: Inappropriate for the Workplace
    4. Excuse me, do you think it would be possible for me to go home early this afternoon? I have a doctor's appointment. ANSWER: Staff to Management
    5. Well, we went to this wonderful restaurant in Yelm. The food was excellent and the prices were reasonable. ANSWER: Colleagues
    6. Listen, I'm going home early, so I can't finish the project until tomorrow. ANSWER: Inappropriate for the Workplace
    7. Excuse me Bob, would you mind lending me $10 for lunch. I'm short today. ANSWER: Colleagues
    8. Give me five bucks for lunch. I forgot to go to the bank. ANSWER: Inappropriate for the Workplace
    9. You are an extremely handsome young man, I'm sure you'll do well at our company. ANSWER: Inappropriate for the Workplace
    1. Excuse me Ms Brown, could you help me with this report for a moment? ANSWER: Management to Staff

    Comments on Quiz Answers

    If you were confused by some of the answers, here are some short comments that should help you understand:

    1. Management to Staff - In this sentence management, although unhappy, is still polite when asking an employee to come in for a critique.
    2. Colleagues - This simple question is informal and conversational and therefore appropriate among colleagues.
    3. Inappropriate - This is the imperative form and is therefore inappropriate for the workplace. Remember that the imperative form is often considered rude.
    4. Staff to Management - Notice the polite form used when speaking to a superior at work. The indirect question form is used to make the question extremely polite.
    5. Colleagues - This is a statement from a discussion about a non-work related topic among colleagues. The tone is informal and informative.
    6. Inappropriate - Here an employee is announcing his / her plan to management without asking. Not a very good idea in the workplace!
    7. Colleagues - In this statement a colleague politely asks another colleague for a loan.
    8. Inappropriate - When asking for a loan never use the imperative form!
    9. Inappropriate - The person making this statement would be considered guilty of sexual harassment in the United States.
    10. Management to Staff - This is a polite request.