As a native English speaker who has been doing business in Asia for many years, I understand that it can be difficult for my Chinese and Taiwanese colleagues to express disagreement in another language. It can be stressful and frustrating when you aren't sure how to disagree professionally. What if you use language that isn't polite? What if you are too direct and you anger or embarrass an international colleague or even your foreign manager or boss?
Unfortunately, many of my colleagues just choose to stay silent and not express themselves rather than risk angering one or all of your international colleagues.
This is a mistake because in any business conversation or discussion, your colleagues will expect you to participate. Staying quiet and not contributing might give your colleagues a negative impression of you. They might wonder why you aren't saying something.
However, it is important not to be too direct because you might give a negative impression. If you use language that is too direct, your colleagues might think you are rude or too aggressive!
Let me give you an example:
During a business discussion, I say, "I think we need to focus more improving the quality of our training materials."
One of my colleagues says, "No. Our training materials are fine. We need to focus more on sales."
Actually, my colleague has used language that is too direct and quite rude.
By saying, "No. Our training materials are fine." She is saying that I'm wrong and she is right. She said that I don't know what I'm talking about. She didn't seem to consider my opinion at all! To be honest, even though I know my colleague didn't mean to be rude, it still gives me a negative impression of her and this will affect our relationship at work.
So how could she have communicated more politely and professionally? Let's look at an example of disagreeing using good communication skills.
Brian: "I think we need to focus more improving the quality of our training materials."
Colleague: "I understand your point, but to be honest I don't quite agree. In my opinion, we
should focus more on sales."
In this example, my colleague has done a few things.
She has showed that she has listened to my opinion ["I understand your point"], which shows me that she respects me.
She uses polite and 'soft' language to say that she doesn't agree. Instead of saying "No", she says that she doesn't 'quite' agree. Using 'quite' makes the language more polite.
She also says, "to be honest". Native English speakers use this phrase when they want to say something that the other person might not like. It's very polite.
Finally, she says, "we should focus ...." This is less direct and more polite than saying, "we need to focus ....." We need to is more like an instruction or an order. "We should" is more like a suggestion.
So to summarize, during a business discussion, it's important that you express yourself. However, you should be careful not to use language that is too direct. You should:
- show that you listened to the other person
- use 'soft' or polite language
- use language to 'make suggestions' which is better than giving instructions.
You'll learn these kind of communication skills in our, 'Essential English for Business Communication' course.
I hope this was helpful.