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The intention behind the words

July 13, 2008

Hello again,

I said in my last post that at the base of my English for business courses is the concept of how we communicate. We use words not simply in their literal senses but as signs of how we really feel about the subject in hand. We need to help...

... students recognise what lies behind the words. Some key points to help recognise what people really mean are listed below. We can grasp the intention behind the words by understanding that certain attitudes are characterised by certain language actions:
• Aggressive language styles: excessive use of 'I' statements; stating opinion as fact; threatening; blaming; using 'ought', 'should.'
• Agreeing: summarising, questioning, volunteering to help, eye contact, leaning forward, willingness to commit to writing, reformulating.
• Appraising: encouraging the seeking of feedback; looking for real evidence; suggesting and agreeing areas for improvement.
• Asking and answering questions.
• Asserting: brief statements that are to the point; statements of personal opinion; open-ended questions; distinguishing opinion from fact; seeking opinions of others; looking for solutions.
• Brainstorming: statement of problems; seeking 'how to' suggestions, suspension of judgement during the gathering of ideas.
• Controlling: exaggerating; interrupting; denigrating; repeating.
• Counselling: offering reassurance; asking open-ended questions; reformulating and playing back; encouraging disclosure; supporting solutions; agreeing action plans.
• Criticising: describing a situation; analysing causes and effects; offering constructive suggestions; reaching agreed solutions.
• Difficulty stating: avoiding direct disagreement by pointing out the problems in a course of action.
• Disagreement: merely saying yes; leaving others to question; avoiding eye contact, leaning back with arms folded, resisting written agreement, prefacing with: actually, with great respect.
• Empathising: using non-threatening small talk; using other person's name; using humour; matching interest with appropriate non-verbal behaviour (eye contact, leaning towards other speaker); showing willingness to take the other person's perspective.
• Helpful behaviour: making listening noises; using the other person's name; asking open-ended questions; summarising what other person has said; building on the other person's ideas; giving reasons when disagreeing; matching body language towards.
• Persuading: stating benefits; providing evidence; diffusing objections; summarising.
• Praising: being specific; not mixing praise with criticism; confining the scope of the praise to the present and not linking it to targets for the future.
• Reviewing: listing what went well and what needs improving; selecting issues to focus on; generating ideas for future strategy;
• Selecting ideas: planning action.
• Seeking ideas: genuinely inviting suggestions from others instead of proffering one's own; brainstorming.
• Submissive language styles: using long rambling sentences; using qualifying statements and fillers; putting oneself down; understating the importance of the situation.
• Suggesting: using modal verbs and indirect language (we could, we might, it might be a good idea to, why couldn't we?).

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  1. Bob Toomey Says:


    Once again, nice writing. Thank you. I do have one pet peave because I attended a workshop on criticism several years ago while teaching in California. Criticism, in itself, is negative. Criticism hurts and does little good. Feedback is postive and is more correct, but most people haven't figured this out yet. The point is criticism is negative while feedback is positive. If I criticize you, you won't like it at all, but if I get you feedback, it will probably be more constructive.

    The rest of what you wrote should be helpful to a lot of people are are pretending to teach but really don't understand teaching.

    Robert H. Toomey
    Director of Education @ REC in Beijing

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