I have been teaching business English for a number of years now, and while it doesn´t surprise me that students have many different levels and motivations for improving , what does amaze me is how different students are in terms of confidence and how much this can affect their business English.
Are you a confident person in general? Are you confident when speaking English or are you shy? Are you embarrassed in any way when speaking English in business situations?
If you would like to discover just how much of an impact confidence, or lack of confidence, could be having on your Business English, read on…
First of all, I find that many people have different levels of confidence in different situations. For example, if you have been working as an accountant for the last 15 years or so, you are likely to be confident in many different situations that arise during the course of your work. Similarly, if you are a medical doctor, you are likely to be confident carrying out a simple consultation in your particular area of medical expertise.
I also find that people have a more general level of confidence, that can be applied to things or areas in which they are not experts. For example, if you have never attempted something before, how confident are you going to be about carrying out that task? As an example, if you have been asked to give a speech for the first time, or ride a motorbike, or do a parachute jump, how confident do you feel about those particular challenges?
It is this second type of confidence that I believe affects students of English significantly in business situations. Many students are experts in their particular field, have a great job title, excellent salary and are recognized by their peers. They have many years´ experience to back this up, and as a result feel good about many different questions or tasks that might arise as part of them carrying out that function.
But when it comes to business English, something in which they have not yet achieved expert status, and something in which they do not have many years´ experience at the top level, they can feel consumed by fear and a lack of confidence which is going to affect their performance.
Does that sound like you? How confident are you in business English situations? How confident are you in business English compared to your career or other area of expertise. And if you do lack confidence, what can you do about it?
Before I attempt to answer that last question, I want to take a minute to discuss some of the effects a lack of confidence can have in business English situations.
First of all, the correct level of confidence is what enables us to demonstrate a certain level of ability – to show our skills if you like – and a person might be very talented or able or technically good at business English, but without the correct level of confidence, they might come across as simply not very good. Let´s put that another way: a talented or able person is unlikely to demonstrate their abilities if they do not have the appropriate level of confidence to go along with that talent.
That strikes me as serious, but unfortunately it is what I see every day in business English situations. Students who are more worried about their boss´s perception of them than what they can do, students who are afraid to say anything in English in a meeting for fear for making an embarrassment of themselves, students who are experts in a particular field but feel terrified about giving a presentation in English, and so on…
In business English situations this fear can have a catastrophic effect on someone’s career, holding them back and preventing them from taking the opportunities as and when they come up.
So, if someone is not showing their best because of confidence issues (and I would suggest this affects most people, in some form or other), then what can be done about it?
Well, first of all, there is no quick fix solution, no 5-minute solution that I can give you in order to increase your performance in Business English situations. It will take time and some effort on your part.
However, I believe there are a number of methods that can be used to increase confidence. What should be clear is that doing nothing and maintaining the status quo of not doing anything is not going to get you to where you need to be.
The easiest way to increase confidence is to force yourself to participate in uncomfortable situations that you are not comfortable with. Possible business English situations could include:
• Giving a presentation in English
• Talking at a conference call in English in front of your boss
• Trying for a new job and having part of the interview in English
• Booking a hotel room in English
• Writing a report in English
Of course there are many other potential situations. Now, you might not feel confident about any of these scenarios, but what is for certain, is that by participating in one of these situations you are highly likely to increase your confidence in that particular area of business English. What would you prefer: sit back and do nothing and retain your lack of confidence, or put yourself in a slightly uncomfortable situation that will almost certainly improve your confidence of tackling a particular task?
I know I would prefer to give it a go, try my best, and take the challenge. The worst possible scenario is that I fail and then I am in the same situation as I was before I attempted the task. And it is extremely likely that I will succeed, even if succeeding means only a partial success at first – I know that I am not going to get things 100% right first time.
The other factor to take into account is that in many of these business English situations, it is possible to prepare beforehand. Take a look at the bullet-point list above, what preparation could you do for each of them? Preparation can help to reduce the fear or anxiety associated with attempting a new task.
But, how can you prepare? For example, when giving a presenting in English for the first time, you could read about it, listen to podcasts on the subject, prepare your presentation carefully and practice it in front of a live audience, or work with a coach. If you are serious about improving your confidence and serious about improving your business English, then this preparation phase is a must.
After the preparation of course, comes the moment itself, when you have to step up onto the stage or deal with the difficult client in a language that is not your native tongue, negotiate an important deal or go for an interview for that new job. And that is when it´s up to you! Use the preparation, focus on the positive and go for it!
Most of the time you will be pleasantly surprised. Attempting a new Business English task will give you a great feeling and more and more confidence to try it again. In a strange way, it can then even become addictive to try more and more things. And not only that. Remember the “Specific Confidence” and “General Confidence” from the beginning. I firmly believe that by tackling your specific issues and increasing your confidence with them you will not only increase your ability in that area, but it will also have a positive effect on your overall “General Confidence”. Sounds like a Win-Win Situation to me!
I hope this helps improve your confidence in business English situations. Business English is so important to your career, don´t let a lack of confidence hold you back, but rather build up your confidence step-by-step and contribute to your own success!
All the best,