5 constructive ways to say you think something is a bad idea

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in a meeting and someone comes out with the craziest idea, but for some reason they think it’s great. They think it will fix all your problems, whereas all you can see are the things they’ve overlooked, or the reasons why the idea won’t work.

Whether you’re in a meeting or discussing something by email, “that’s ridiculous” usually isn’t the best response.

Some English speakers try to get round the problem with vague language, hoping that people will read between the lines and understand that “that’s interesting,” “I’ll think about it,” or “I suppose we could try that” can all mean “no way, that will never work!” The problem is, especially when you’re working in a multi-national team, or when some people don’t express themselves clearly for fear of being impolite, you can end up with people thinking others love their ideas, when in reality the other colleagues have already dismissed them and moved on. I talked in more detail about this in my What English people say and what they really mean post.

So, what can you do instead? Here are five ideas.

1. Acknowledge something good before you go on to the problem

“That would definitely make things quicker, but what would we do about …/I think there might be a problem with/have you thought about?”

This shows that you’re not dismissing the idea straight away. You’ve acknowledged that the other person wants to save time/’make things easier/help in some way, but if you have a concern about practicalities, start by finding something positive to say and then raise your question. Maybe the other person had already thought about that particular detail. If they hadn’t, it gives them a direct question to consider.

Maybe the other person doesn’t have the same skill set as you. Maybe you know something sounds good in theory, but your company systems as they are at the moment wouldn’t be able to accommodate it.

Maybe someone in another department wants to do something, but they don’t understand how you work and how this new idea could create new problems for you.

That would definitely make things easier, but I’m concerned about … because …

If you give reasons why you think it wouldn’t work, maybe the idea could be adapted, or something good could be taken from it.

Maybe the idea could be trialled on a smaller scale or for a limited period. Sometimes it is good to take a risk, as long as it’s a measured one and you are clear about the consequences and what you’d do about them.

2. Ask for more detail

People are different. Some share their greatest new idea as soon as they have it. Others take a more reflective approach, consider the implications, possible problems and how they can be solved.

If you’re working with someone who shares straight away, chances are that they won’t have given as much time to thinking it through. If you ask them to provide more detail/put something together for the next team meeting/work out the costs etc, they have to spend a bit more time thinking about it. Who knows, they may even work out for themselves that the idea is a non-starter.

3. Ask for other opinions

It really depends on the relationships and level of authority. Sometimes it pays to open up the discussion to a wider group so that it’s not just you saying that the idea won’t work. However this may not be possible if you’re the one who makes the decision about how money is spent or how a business should be run. Having said that, there’s nothing more demotivating than working in an organisation where people feel that their views and ideas aren’t given due consideration.

With more contributors or a wider discussion, maybe the idea can be changed a bit so that it has potential to work.

4. Make it about the idea, not the person

It can be frustrating working with people whose ideas generally create more work than tangible benefits, but there’s that old saying that people may forget what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel. Try not to make it personal. Keep the focus on the idea, not the person making it, even if it is the 3rd impractical idea from them that week! Don’t make them feel that they can never come to you with another idea. If you can do this privately and not make someone feel embarrassed in front of a room of colleagues, even better.

5. Give a reason that the other person can understand

There are reasons why things can’t or won’t be done. It’s illegal! It’s morally questionable. It doesn’t make good business sense. It would cost too much. It’s not in line with the company goals or values. It’s not a priority right now.

Sometimes the answer just has to be “no”, but if you can explain it in a way that’s easy to understand, giving reasons, you may have closed the door to that idea, but it shows you’re still open to new ones.

Sometimes people will suggest that you do things that would result in working at a loss, or that would be really inconvenient. It isn’t up for negotiation because you can’t, or more specifically are not prepared to do these things. However, if you can, still try to give a reason.

Of course, the other person still might not like it, but at least you gave an objective reason as to why you’re not going to try out the idea or put it into practice.

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The silent L

The silent L

In some languages, when you read a new word, you can guess how it’s pronounced, even if you’ve never heard it before.

However, this isn’t true of English. Some groups of letters are pronounced in several different ways, and some letters aren’t pronounced at all.

Today we’re going to look at the letter L, and some examples of when you don’t pronounce it in words.

Sometimes we pronounce it when it comes before the letter D in words like “told” or “cold.

But when it’s OULD as in could, would or should, the L is silent and the words rhyme with “hood” or “wood”.

Two exceptions to this word are the words “shoulder”, and “mould” or words from this family such as “mouldy”. In these cases, we do need to pronounce the L.

Similarly, we pronounce the L before the F in “shelf” or “elf”.

But we don’t pronounce the L before the F in “calf” or “half”.

We do pronounce the L when it comes before a K in “milk” or “silk”.

However, we don’t pronounce it in words such as “yolk” or “folk”. These words rhyme with broke or stoke.

We don’t pronounce the L before the M in words like “calm”, “balm”, or “palm”.

Can you think of any more?

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The books that I read in January

This is a post from my personal blog, but in case anyone here is looking for book inspiration, I thought I’d also share with you what I’ve been reading in my spare time!

Unseen beauty

This is another new feature on my blog – the monthly book review.

Every month I plan to write about the books that I’ve read, what I thought of them, and I’d love to know if any of you have read these books too.

Don’t expect to see pictures of my books because I read them all as audio or ebooks on my phone, but I’ll try to provide links to where you can get them or read more about them – both as printed and audio books. Also, I sometimes read books in German, so in those cases I’ll try to find an English translation to link to as well.

If I hated a book, it probably won’t end up here because I don’t make myself complete books if I’m not enjoying them! There are too many wonderful books out there to waste time on one that’s not fun…

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Virtual staffroom – when teachers don’t know the answer

In episode 4 of my podcast, I talked about what learners can say when they don’t know the answer to something.

But how about when students ask teachers questions and the teacher doesn’t know the answer?

What do you do then?

After all, you can’t know the answer to everything, can you?

Still, it’s not something that we usually talk about, maybe because we don’t want to look incompetent in front of our teacher peers.

I have to say I was more worried about this situation at the beginning of my teaching career. Not because I think I know everything now, but because I’ve learned some strategies for dealing with the situation.

1. When the student asks something you’ve never thought about before

It’s happened to me a couple of times. Usually it’s because the student is looking from the perspective of a learner and things occur to them that didn’t occur to me as a native speaker who just accepted the language as a child without questioning it.

The question was interesting and I wanted to know the answer too!

Or maybe you know something is wrong, but you can’t think of a better reason than “it just sounds wrong/odd/unnatural” and you want to give your student a better answer than that.

A couple of times when I didn’t know something, I admitted it and said I’d come back to the student. That’s much better than trying to come up with an answer on the fly. After all, the student can research after class as well, and if it turns out you were lying or came up with a story to hide what you didn’t know, it looks worse than if you say that you don’t know but will find out.

2. Using it as a way to learn

I had a situation in which a student wanted to know the origin of an expression. I had know idea how it had come into being, but we turned it into a learning exercise. Where do you go when you want to learn about words and their origins? How do you find out which sites give credible information? We got our answer, and both learned something, but during the course of the exercise, we trained other skills that would come in useful at other times.

If there’s no time for this in lesson, a student might enjoy finding something out as an extra task and reporting back next lesson.

3. We’ll cover that later

As good as it is to answer questions, it’s important to stay focussed on the task at hand. Sometimes students can come up with the most interesting questions in order to avoid a task they don’t want to do. I know this because I’ve done it. I may have been that student who wanted to avoid a free speaking exercise and who came up with some fascinating grammar questions. They were valid and worth exploring, but the danger was that doing that meant there would be no time for the speaking exercise I was desperately trying to avoid. My language teacher saw through it!

As interesting as the questions may be, you don’t have to go down every rabbit hole. If you think something genuinely is interesting and worth looking at in more detail, you can always make time for it later on. It doesn’t need to take priority over whatever else you were doing at that point in the lesson.

Of course, putting something off until the next lesson means that you can take the time to refresh yourself on the topic if you’re not quite sure of the rules or the best way to explain something.

4. When the student is trying to make you look bad

To be honest, I haven’t had this in my classes … yet! The people I work with genuinely want to learn and have no interest in trying to trip me up or make me look bad. Still, I choose whom I work with and I am aware that not everyone is in this position.

I have, however, had this problem in an online forum. Someone who thought it was their task to correct every single comment made in a Facebook group, and who suggested that I’d made a mistake, and that this was a very bad example to set for learners, meaning I must be a very bad teacher indeed!

I hadn’t made a mistake, but it made me question myself. I came back, armed with links and sources to quote. It was maybe more than was necessary, but I felt the need to prove I hadn’t done anything wrong.

I probably wouldn’t bother now – trolls will be trolls. There’s a difference between people who genuinely ask a question when they’re not sure about something, or looking for clarification, and people who feel the need to bring others down so they can feel good about themselves!

I think experience definitely helps when dealing with situations like this. That doesn’t mean the next troll won’t get to me, but I think you do build up some resilience, especially if you’re working in the online space and you’re the face of your brand. At least, it helps if you can do this.

Anyway I digress – if you enter into a battle with a student, you may never win. If someone has decided they’re smarter than you, it will always be a challenge for them to prove that you do know how to do your job, and it will probably take up a lot of your energy. On the other hand, it may become a less “fun” game for them if it doesn’t get the anticipated response from you. If someone’s looking to learn – that’s great. If someone’s looking for a fight every lesson – don’t give them one!

There is of course always the possibility that the student was right on a particular point and you were not. Some may see it as a sign of weakness, but others – maybe the majority – will respect you for owning it and admitting you made a mistake. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher – just that you didn’t know this particular thing.

I’ve heard teacher colleagues say they felt a bit intimidated by students who were very confident and who had spent a lot of time in English-speaking countries. If possible, try to make these students allies, rather than competitors. In some cases it might not even be about the teacher at all, just someone feeling good about the fact that they are good at something, rather than trying to give the teacher a hard time. If someone wants to challenge you as a teacher – is there anything you can learn from it? After all, teachers never stop learning. Is there some way that you can channel the student’s energy into something more positive and constructive?

5. No excuse for bad preparation

This brings me to the last point. Nobody can know everything, but that’s not an excuse for bad preparation. If you’re teaching a particular grammar point and you’re not clear about how to teach it or what the rules are, it’s reasonable for students to feel short-changed. If you dashed off some photocopies of an exercise and can’t explain the task or why there are mistakes in it, you probably won’t want to do that again!

I have seen people who were frustrated by questions that they really should have been able to answer, and then I don’t think the students were to blame. They were there to learn after all. I think that, particularly for freelance teachers who are not following a school syllabus, it’s important to be clear about what you can and can’t offer.

Summing up

My students expect me to know what I’m talking about and answer their questions, but I don’t pretend that I have all the answers. Nobody should feel that they have to do that – even teachers!
Also, if you say you’re going to come back to something, make sure you do. Nobody likes broken promises, and that includes students!

Do you have any strategies to add? What do you do if you don’t know the answer to a question?

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Also, if you’re interested in posts for teachers, you can see my other articles about teaching English and running an online language teaching business on my page for teachers.


Visit to the Tower of London

HI everyone,

Today I’ve decided to share something from my private blog because what we did is a good idea for language learners too.

In this article, I talk about what we did when I met up with one of my students. I only provide training online, but when one of my students who had been with me for a number of years decided to come to London, we arranged to meet up and go to the Tower of London.

There would have been information available in German, but we used an English audio guide that told us information as we walked around the buildings.

Whether or not you’re in England, information in English is available at many tourist attractions, so when you’re out and about, why not try to learn about the place in English,rather than your native language?

Or, if you’re learning another language, see if you can find information in that language. I did a boat trip in the Netherlands with information in German, rather than English. It’s a great way to do some language practice while you’re on holiday!

Unseen beauty

One of the interesting and exciting parts of my job is that I work with people in different parts of the world. Most of my customers live in Germany. I meet with them online and help them to improve their English. The customer who has been with me the longest started when I opened English with Kirsty in 2012, but I’ve never met her, because none of my training is face-to-face.

There are many reasons why I love online training – it opens up the pool of customers to people who aren’t in your local area, and also you don’t spend hours trudging around from place to place. After 10 years of commuting to my job in London, I’m done with that!

Anyway, that said, if I hear that one of my students is coming to London, I take the chance to meet up with them.

People tell me as…

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Ask the wise old owl – agreeing with negative sentences

Ask the wise old owl

Wise Old Owl

Why can’t I use as well in negative sentences?
?

If you have a positive sentence, you can use as well:

I like dogs
So do I
I do too
My boyfriend likes them as well

I’ve seen that film
Yes, I’ve seen it too
I’ve seen it as well.

However, you can’t use “as well” in a negative sentence.

You can’t say
I don’t like sweetcorn
I don’t as well.

You have to say something else like
Neither do I
I don’t like it either
Me neither

So the thing to remember is that “as well” doesn’t belong in negative sentences with words like don’t, can’t, hasn’t won’t etc.

I won’t be able to go to the meeting tomorrow.
No, neither will I

I can’t speak Chinese
Neither can I
Me neither

More articles in this series

If you want to read the rest of the articles in this series, go to the wise old owl’s main page.

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If your question is more specific and you would like one-to-one help, have a look at my lessons page.


Listening skills – One reason you don’t understand is that you’re listning for the wrong thing

Listening skills – One reason you don’t understand is that you’re listening for the wrong thing

There aren’t many students in my courses who say that listening to English is they’re absolute favourite thing to do! It’s something that a lot of people struggle with, and there are a number of reasons for that.

An overreliance on subtitles is one reason. People and telephone conversations don’t come with those! The wide range of accents in spoken English is another. Schools and English trainers do their students no favours when they rely on one generic type of English for all their audio materials, then send the students out into the big wide world to face all the many varieties of English and feel disheartened because they don’t understand much of what’s going on.

Today I’d like to look at a third problem – the fact that spoken speech isn’t like written speech.

Take this short message for example:

Hi, I’m just calling to let you know that I’m running late. There’s been a problem with the trains this morning and everything’s delayed. I’ll probably miss the beginning of the meeting, so please pass on my apologies and I’ll give my update when I get there. Thanks and see you later!

Not that difficult to understand when it’s written down.

But when someone says these words, they don’t pronounce every single word like this:

It sounds more like this:

Features of fast speech

Let’s look at what’s going on here in more detail.

  1. Sometimes when we’re speaking quickly, we drop letters, particularly at the end of words. We often lose the T in this way. For some people, it’s part of how they speak – you hear a lot of this from speakers with a London accent. Other people do it too – which is why “just calling” sounds like “jus’calling”, and “let you know” sounds like “le’ you know”. We also lose the T on “that I’m running late”.
  2. If you’re angry with someone and shout “where have you BEEN?” the “been” will rhyme with seen or green. When you’re speaking quickly, it sounds more like “bin”.
  3. When we have two “th” sounds together, we sometimes lose one of them. So instead of “problem with the trains” we get “problem wit-the trains”.
  4. Sometimes we lose the D at the end of words too. “And I’ll give my update” becomes “an’ I’ll give my update”.
  5. “See you later” got merged together and became “see-y-later”.

So, even in this short telephone message about being late for a business meeting, I could pick out five things that sounded different when they’re part of natural speech.

People may try to speak more clearly when they’re giving a presentation, but in general conversation, and particularly when people are in a hurry, a lot of sounds will be lost and words will become merged together.

It’s good to get used to listening to real speech and to expect this, because then you’ll know what to look out for, and it’ll be easier to understand what people are actually saying because you’ll already be anticipating where words will merge or letters will be dropped.

Next time when you’re listening to spoken English, see what other features of fast speech you notice.

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