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E’ con piacere che ILS presenta Shanthi Streat, ILS English Language coach, come guest blogger del mese. Shanthi è un’esperta di lingua inglese e comunicazione.
“I am terrified of not being able to handle questions.”
Giovanni feared going blank at that crucial moment. He feared his expertise would be questioned because of his ‘inability’ to understand and answer the question in English. He thought that if he added more English words to his already extensive vocabulary bank, his fear would subside and that he would be able to handle questions. English vocabulary wasn’t Giovanni’s problem.
Giovanni a student of mine was overseeing a significant and key project for his company. The company had decided to change its business model and Giovanni was tasked with communicating and demonstrating to the overseas subsidiaries the benefits of the new business model and getting them to accept and adopt it. He had prepared a general presentation to give to each country’s General Manager (GM). He talked me through the presentation. All good. Effortless English. I then asked him: “What questions/objections could the GMs have?” I invited him to consider the following before answering.
No one likes change. In fact, most of us fight it. We invent all sorts of reasons and objections as to why the change will not benefit us. Giovanni was asking the GMs to implement significant changes to how they worked. It’s more than likely they would object by asking difficult questions. The key to reassuring them was to anticipate their questions and objections.
I asked Giovanni to put himself in the GMs’ shoes and reflect on:
- What their concerns could be and were they valid
- Why did they have these concerns?
Next, I asked him to formulate the questions and objections in English. That way it’d be easier to identify the words.
He came up with 3 examples.
- Why do we need to change?
- This is going to involve a lot of work. We’re already under immense pressure. How are we supposed to implement your ideas? It’s unreasonable.
- As far as I can see, your proposal isn’t going to increase our revenue. It’s pointless.
His next task was to reflect on how he’d handle questions in Italian first. I gave him 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, he hadn’t finished. He was still trying to formulate his answers in Italian. He realised he hadn’t given these questions /objections enough thought in Italian, let alone in English. So, the problem wasn’t with his lack of English vocabulary. He simply hadn’t allocated time to reflect to get clarity.
Giovanni discovered that to feel confident in handling questions/objections, he needed to do 2 things.
- Anticipate the questions he might be asked based on his knowledge of his audience’s concerns.
- Give himself time to reflect on the answers before formulating them.
Sometimes, people don’t ask clear questions because they haven’t thought through what they want to ask. Don’t automatically assume your difficulty in understanding them is because of your ‘bad’ English. Instead of apologising for your English, “Sorry, my English isn’t so good, can you repeat…”, say: “I’m afraid/Sorry, I don’t understand what you mean/ what is your question. Can you elaborate?” He implemented this reflection strategy to his first presentation to the GM for Germany. The response was extremely positive. He felt at ease answering the questions because he had carefully researched Germany’s business and identified the questions the GM might ask and prepared his answers.
By adopting a reflection strategy, he developed a framework which he can use over and over again to handle questions. The big revelation for him was that his English wasn’t and isn’t the problem. He has more than enough English to manage the questions/objections with confidence. All he needs is to give himself the time to pause and reflect.
Over to you: Prepare to answer difficult questions. You’re presenting a proposal which you hope your audience will accept. You’re asking your audience to make a change, for example, to how they work, to adopt a new set of rules, to make cuts.
Use these prompts first before formulating the questions they may have.
- What’s their current situation? How much do you know?
- What aspects of your proposed changes might negatively impact them? In what way? Why? Sketch them out.
Using your notes, think about the questions they are likely to ask you. Write them down. Now formulate your answers first in Italian, then in the English you speak.
With your carefully-crafted framework, go and apply it. Observe what happens.
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