Workplace Communication Skills for ESL Learners

Overview

Introduction

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. This feature focuses on different situations and the correct type of register use in various situations. To begin with, let's look at some example conversations.

Some 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)

- Good Morning, Mr. Jones, may I ask you a question?
- Certainly, how can I help you?

(Superior to Subordinate - afor 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.

Some 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 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. The following pages will give you a chance to improve and practice your recognition of for workplace communications and register use in various situations.

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

- I'm afraid we're having some problems with your performance.

I would like to see you in my office this afternoon.

- What did you do last weekend?

- Hey, get over here now!

- Excuse me, do you think it would be possible for me to go home early this afternoon? I have a doctor's appointment.

- Well, we went to this wonderful restaurant in Yelm. The food was excellent and the prices were reasonable.

- Listen, I'm going home early, so I can't finish the project until tomorrow.

- Excuse me Bob, would you mind lending me $10 for lunch. I'm short today.

- Give me five bucks for lunch. I forgot to go to the bank.

- You are an extremely handsome young man, I'm sure you'll do well at our company.

- Excuse me Ms Brown, could you help me with this report for a moment?

ANSWERS

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

What did you do last weekend?

ANSWER: Colleagues

Hey, get over here now!

ANSWER: Inappropriate for the Workplace

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

Well, we went to this wonderful restaurant in Yelm. The food was excellent and the prices were reasonable.

ANSWER: Colleagues

Listen, I'm going home early, so I can't finish the project until tomorrow.

ANSWER: Inappropriate for the Workplace

Excuse me Bob, would you mind lending me $10 for lunch. I'm short today.

ANSWER: Colleagues

Give me five bucks for lunch. I forgot to go to the bank.

ANSWER: Inappropriate for the Workplace

You are an extremely handsome young man, I'm sure you'll do well at our company.

ANSWER: Inappropriate for the Workplace

Excuse me Ms Brown, could you help me with this report for a moment?

ANSWER: Management to Staff

Comments

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

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

Choose the best statement based on the situation. Once you have chosen your answers, continue down the page to see the correct answers.

Company director to employee

  • Hey, get over here.
  • Ms. Brown, could you come here for a moment?
  • Jane, I need to talk to you.

One colleague to another

  • Excuse me, do you think you could possibly give me a hand?
  • Excuse me, could you give me a hand?
  • Give me a hand.

Stranger to a man in the street

  • Could you tell me the time, please?
  • The time, please.
  • Hello there, how are you?

Waiter to customer

  • What do you want?
  • What would you like today?
  • Do you think you could possibly tell me what you would like to eat today?

Employee to department manager

  • Mr. Brown, could I have a word with you this afternoon?
  • Frank, I need to talk to you.
  • Mr. Brown, do you think it would be possible for me to speak with you this afternoon?

Husband to wife

  • How do you do?
  • What's up?
  • Excuse me dear, I was wondering how you were feeling.

Teacher to student

  • Do exercise 1, now!
  • Please do exercise 1.
  • Would you mind doing exercise 1?

Brother to sister

  • Hurry up!
  • Pardon me, can you please get ready?
  • Shall we go my dear?

Company director to employee

  • Ms Smith, you look fantastic today!
  • Jane, you are a knock out!
  • How are you today Ms Smith?

Customer to receptionist

  • Give me my bill.
  • The bill, please
  • I was wondering if I could trouble you for the bill.

    ANSWERS

    Company director to employee

    • Hey, get over here.
    • Ms. Brown, could you come here for a moment?
    • Jane, I need to talk to you.

    ANSWER: Ms. Brown, could you come here for a moment?

    One colleague to another

    • Excuse me, do you think you could possibly give me a hand?
    • Excuse me, could you give me a hand?
    • Give me a hand.

    ANSWER: Excuse me, could you give me a hand?

    Stranger to a man in the street

    • Could you tell me the time, please?
    • The time, please.
    • Hello there, how are you?

    ANSWER: Could you tell me the time, please?

    Waiter to customer

    • What do you want?
    • What would you like today?
    • Do you think you could possibly tell me what you would like to eat today?

    ANSWER: What would you like today?

    Employee to department manager

    • Mr. Brown, could I have a word with you this afternoon?
    • Frank, I need to talk to you.
    • Mr. Brown, do you think it would be possible for me to speak with you this afternoon?

    ANSWER: Mr. Brown, could I have a word with you this afternoon?

    Husband to wife

    • How do you do?
    • What's up?
    • Excuse me dear, I was wondering how you were feeling.

    ANSWER: What's up?

    Teacher to student

    • Do exercise 1, now!
    • Please do exercise 1.
    • Would you mind doing exercise 1?
    ANSWER: Please do exercise 1.
  • Brother to sister
    • Hurry up!
    • Pardon me, can you please get ready?
    • Shall we go my dear?

    ANSWER: Hurry up!

    Company director to employee

    • Ms Smith, you look fantastic today!
    • Jane, you are a knock out!
    • How are you today Ms Smith?

    ANSWER: How are you today Ms Smith?

    Customer to receptionist

    • Give me my bill.
    • The bill, please
    • I was wondering if I could trouble you for the bill.

    ANSWER: The bill, please