Should self-employed language teachers start a podcast?

The other day, someone asked me whether, as a language teacher, it would be beneficial for them to start a podcast.

There’s no straightforward answer to this question – it’s one of many things you can do as a freelance teacher, and everyone has to decide what’s right for them in terms of where they want to put their content marketing efforts.

Do you enjoy creating audio content?
Do you have enough to talk about?
Do you have time to commit to this regularly?
Do you like listening to podcasts?

Here are some other things to consider, and questions that I have answered from my experience…

1. Can podcasts help you to learn a language?

I’d say that they can. The reason I set up the English with Kirsty podcast was that I had been such a big fan of podcasts for years. Before the days when I would consume content directly on my phone. Back in the old mp3 player days! I listened to podcasts in English, podcasts for German learners, and also podcasts for German speakers on subjects that interested me.

I’m not a visual learner. I like audio material, and I tell my students now that one of the best ways to improve their listening skills is to use material that really makes them listen.

I won’t write in depth about it here, but I wrote an article called How podcasts can help you to learn a language, which goes into a lot more detail about the benefits of podcasts for language learners.

2. What special skills do you need as a podcaster?

You need to have a message – something to say that can help, entertain, or in the case of teachers, educate people. You need content that will help your learners, and to get that knowledge across in a way that’s memorable, easy-to-understand and engaging.

I’d say that you need to be willing for your voice to be heard.

You need to either learn how to do things such as editing, or to be willing to pay someone else to do it for you.

I think it helps to be interested in podcasting as a subject, to follow the news so you know what’s happening in the world of podcasting, and to engage with others who can teach you things, give you ideas, inspire you, or help you out when things go wrong. If you’re a female podcaster, I would definitely recommend the She Podcasts Facebook group and podcast for this. Alternatively, there is The feed podcast

3. What goes into creating an episode?

This is a simplified version of my workflow:

A. Get an idea. Some of my content is completely unique to the podcast. Other times I use topics from my blog, because my blog readers and podcast listeners tend to be quite distinct, so I find it’s ok to repurpose blog content sometimes.
B. Record the episode.
C. Edit the episode and add the intro and outro music.
D. Create a new episode on my podcast host’s website. This includes uploading the file, setting the image, and writing the information that goes with the episode.
E. I also create a separate page for each episode on my website because that’s where I want to drive traffic. You don’t have to do this though.
F. Publish the episode.
G. Market the episode – because nobody will find out about it if you don’t let people know that it’s out there! Some people automate their social media sharing. I don’t, because I alter the message slightly for each network and want to make sure that the text fits. Nobody likes those tweets that get cut off in the middle because someone chose to share a massively long post from Facebook!
H. Where relevant, add it to the pool for resharing. I don’t use automatic resharing tools, but I do keep a list of evergreen content, because a lot of educational episodes don’t get old. They’re as relevant in a couple of years as they are today. I don’t repost content on my podcast feed, but I’ll happily share it again after a while on Twitter or Facebook, thus driving new listeners back to the content.

4. Why not do Youtube or live video instead?

For a start, I consume much more audio than video content, so it’s a format that I most enjoy.

I don’t like creating video content. I’ve tried it to see whether I would change my mind, but I didn’t.

There’s also the fact that I’m blind and would need help with video editing. Some blind Youtubers get this help. Other blind people do live video with help – some can do it without help – some don’t care how they look. I care very much, and it bothers me that I can’t see whether I’m in focus and whether I look ok. I don’t want to have to rely on someone else every time I want to create content, and with audio content, I don’t need to!

But also from the point of the consumer – not everyone wants to watch visual material all the time. I have friends and customers who listen to podcasts whilst driving to work. You can’t do that with a video. I know people who listen to podcasts while doing chores, running, cycling… You can’t do that with visual content.

There are people with limited bandwidth or data plans. It’s much easier for them to download audio content because it doesn’t chomp through your data as fast as video content does.

5. Does it cost a lot?

In some ways, it costs as much as you allow it to. Yes, better equipment will give you better sound quality, but only if you are using the equipment properly. You can always upgrade if you really get into podcasting, but I would encourage people to get started with what they have. It would be sad if people miss out on your message because you don’t think what you have is good enough. Even if you don’t have the best microphone out there, there are things that you can do to improve the sound quality.

I don’t want to talk too much about my set-up, because I made some of my decisions based on my visual impairment. For example, I pay to use editing software that works well for people who don’t use a mouse, but I know that there is free software out there.

I did pay for an hour of training on this software, although if you are prepared to teach yourself, you can cross off this expense. Or, you could pay to get additional training and enrol in a podcasting course – the choice is yours. The main thing is to not get overwhelmed.

So for me, my ongoing costs are to my podcast host, and for the licence for the editing software.

You could also pay for editing if you don’t want to do this yourself, or cover art if you don’t want to create this yourself. Some people also pay for the social media sharing, but maybe it’s just because I worked in Communications, but my social media and direct communication with listeners or potential customers is the last thing I would hand over to someone else. Everyone is different though!

6. How long should the episodes be?

It’s entirely up to you!

I intentionally keep mine short, because I know that some language learners would feel overwhelmed by a longer format. But I listen to podcasts that range from 3 minutes to 2 hours, so think about the content that you have, and what you want to achieve.

If you waffle on for an hour and send your listener to sleep, it would be better to stick to a shorter show. If you really want to delve into a topic and have plenty to say, it would probably be better to do a one-hour show than 3 20-minute ones.

I try to be consistent so that I can manage listener expectations every week, but I’d say there is no magic length.

7. Who will your audience be?

To be honest, mine is a bit of a mixture. Most of the people listening to English with Kirsty are adult language learners. Many of them are in Germany, because that’s where a lot of my customers are, but none of the content is in German, so it doesn’t matter where they are.

Most of them are intermediate to advanced learners. I do work with beginners, but the speech on my podcast is at a normal speed, and I don’t intentionally slow down or use really easy vocabulary. This is because most of my learners are already working with English and looking for opportunities to practice listening to authentic English, which I find is missing in many language courses.

I have some listeners who are still at school, but the episodes are not aimed at a younger audience, and I don’t do anything about exam preparation.

Some of my listeners are native speakers, but they benefit from the general language tips and they enjoy the explanations about English words and their meanings.

If you decide to start a podcast, try to imagine who your ideal listener would be. What problem would you fix for them? What would they be interested in? what would they want to find out more about?

8. How often do you need to create content?

Again, it’s up to you! English with Kirsty goes out once a week, and I skip a week if I’m on holiday. My other podcast goes out twice a week. I know other podcasts that go out once or twice a month. Others have seasons with breaks between.

The only daily podcasts that I subscribe to are for the news, and I delete anything that is over 2 days old. I know some people produce content that frequently, but they often burn out, because that’s a lot of content production. I also think it’s hard for the listener to keep up.

I’d say once a week is great if you can do it, but two good episodes a month are better than 4 rushed ones.

9. How do you get people to find out about the podcast?

Most of my traffic comes from Apple Podcasts (previously known as iTunes), so once you’ve got your RSS feed from your podcast provider, remember to submit your podcast to Apple Podcasts. Many smaller apps and services pull their data from the Apple Podcasts directory, although some give you the option of submitting directly such as Player FM.

A lot of people ask for ratings and reviews. I prefer to ask for people to share the episodes that they like with their friends or networks.

I share each episode on my business Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn, Xing (like LinkedIn but in Germany), Google, in my Facebook group, in any other Facebook groups where I think the content would be relevant, and in my newsletter.

Being a guest on other podcasts or inviting relevant contributors to be a guest on yours is another way to get your voice or your podcast in front of new audiences.

10. Does it work from a business point of view?

I don’t have sponsors for my podcast. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t, but it would have to be something that I would personally endorse and where there was no conflict of interest in terms of my own products and services.

I do, however, use the opportunity to talk about my own services when they’re relevant. So if the episode is about grammar, I might mention my grammar course. If I’m giving general information about job interviews, I would mention my one-to-one interview training. I also talk about free products, such as the 100 resources for improving your business English, which I put together for episode 100 of the podcast.

But the podcast is not a direct selling tool. If all you do is sell, sell, sell, people will get bored and disengage. Of course you can promote your own online community, products, or services, but it has to be in the context of the value that you’re adding through the free content.

In terms of customers, I have to be honest and say that the podcast isn’t my main method of bringing new customers, but I have had students who found me through the podcast. I see it as a way for people to get to know me, how I teach, and how I work. So someone may discover the podcast, then sign up for the newsletter, then eventually buy from me when something relevant comes up. I don’t want to have all my eggs in one basket, so I use different tools such as the podcast, the blog, the newsletter, the Facebook community – all of them are relevant to different people and help new people to discover my content and my business.

It’s not something direct like an advert. It’s about building a relationship with your audience, developing trust because you show up regularly, adding value. Then hopefully you’ll be top of mind if they need what your offering, or when someone in their network is looking for an English teacher.

You might not see instant results. I try not to be preoccupied with the stats, but I do look at them. However, rather than seeing it only in terms of whether it was an increase or decrease when compared to the last week, I try to imagine the number as that number of people in a room. Finding a room to fit X number of people for a meeting puts it into perspective for me more than “Oh, there were only X number of downloads this week”.

I’m not an expert on podcasting, but if you are a self-employed education professional, I hope this gave you some insight into podcasting and how it can help your existing/future students.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. Also, if you have a podcast of your own, let me know about it so that I can check it out!

More from English with Kirsty

If you would like more articles like this and other news from English with Kirsty to be delivered straight to your inbox, you can sign up for my monthly newsletter.

For more articles for teachers, visit my virtual staffroom page.

Achieving results online with adult language learners

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in my book about teaching English to adults online. You can find the book, “Achieving results online with adult language learners – by Kirsty Major” on Amazon or iBooks, or you can read more about it here.

In the 40 chapters of the book, you’ll find several articles that I have published online, along with exclusive content that can only be found in the book. I talk about my experiences of setting up an online language teaching business, what I’ve learned, and how I’ve dealt with a variety of challenges, both in terms of organisation and running the lessons.

book front cover


Spring give-away

This is not about language learning, but I know some people followed this blog because they didn’t realise that I have two!
So, whether you meant to follow my beauty and lifestyle blog, or you do want my language updates and would also like to be in with the chance of winning some skincare products, you can head over to my other site, “Unseen Beauty”, for my Spring giveaway!

Unseen beauty

I’ve decided to do another giveaway on Unseen Beauty. It’s an international one this time and all you need to do to enter is fill in the form at the bottom of this post.

I know some bloggers wait till they have a huge box of stuff before doing a give-away, but I’d rather do smaller ones and run them more often so that more people have a chance of winning something.

These Glossyboxes are good for packing giveaway prizes in! The winner of the Spring giveaway will receive:

  • A Real Techniques foundation brush
  • A coconut bath bomb
  • A mini almond shower gel from L’Occitane
  • Rituals body mud scrub (70ml)
  • A 3-step instant glow sheet mask from Maskorea
  • A mini of the Emma Hardie maringa cleansing balm
  • A chocolate wax melt
  • I don’t have the links for all the products, but this is the sheet mask because I don’t have…

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easy steps to start learning a language again after a long break

easy steps to start learning a language again after a long break

One of the most difficult things about starting to learn a language again after a long break is that you know you weren’t as good as you were at the time when you stopped learning. It will come back to you with practice, and you might surprise yourself about how much you do actually remember, but it’s the same with anything. If you haven’t been thinking about the language for a while, it’s natural that the words won’t come to you as easily, or you might not understand as much of a text or spoken dialogue as you would have in the past.

So the first step, before you even think about doing anything with the language, is to acknowledge you’ve had some time out, and make a deal with yourself that you’re not going to beat yourself up about all the things that you’ve forgotten.

I used to have Turkish lessons every week. One week for homework I had to write a 1000 word essay in Turkish about my experience of the UK school system, what I liked about it, and what could be improved.

1000 words of Turkish in an essay!

I can write 1000 words of English without any trouble. I can write 1000 words of German without thinking too hard, although I would need to check it more carefully than the English text. At that time, 1000 words of Turkish took several hours, but I did it! It wasn’t perfect! There were things that my teacher corrected. But the point is, my brain was used to putting together words in Turkish.

Having not done any Turkish lessons for the best part of 3 years, I’d struggle to write 20 coherent words of Turkish now. That’s a bit sad, but it’s true. My priorities changed, and I devoted less and less time to this language.

I’m sure I could pick it up again if I set my mind to it, but thinking about this reminded me that there are people who feel the same about English.

Maybe the last time they used English was at school, and that was a number of years ago now.

When we were moving house, I found one of my old French books. I was quite surprised at some of the sentences in there. I had written them – it was my writing – but I didn’t understand everything that I had written when I was doing my exam preparation.

So, if you’ve had a long break from a language, sometimes it can feel a bit daunting to get back into it. Here are some ideas that might make it easier for you.

1. Find an activity that you used to enjoy and start by doing that!

This is tough if you didn’t enjoy anything at school, but try to think of something that you would enjoy. Maybe it’s listening to some English songs. Maybe it’s watching an English film – with the subtitles if you like – just something to get your brain back into listening to English. Maybe there was a book or podcast that you enjoyed.

Whatever it was, find the activity that will cause you the least amount of stress, and start by doing that! You’ll still need to spend time on your least favourite activities – mine was speaking – but it’s good to begin s=with something enjoyable.

2. What have you kept from the time when you were learning the language?

You might not have anything, but if you still have some notes or books, why not get them out and have a look through them?

When I was learning Turkish, I made my notes in a way that made sense to me. Sometimes a good way to remind yourself of things is to use notes from what you did in the past. They’re your notes, and personal to the way you learn and write things down.

3. Do you want anyone to help you?

This could be a language partner or a teacher. Maybe you don’t want to work with anyone else, but if you get other people involved, you might be more likely to stick to your goals because you’ve told someone else about them, and they’ll be waiting to hear from you!

4. Start slowly and work up

As with my example of writing in Turkish, if you haven’t done anything in a language for a while, things will take you longer than they used to. That’s ok. Give yourself permission to work at a slower pace. It’s much better to do more than you planned, than to fall at the first obstacle because you decided you were going to do 2 hours of English each day!

5. Pick learning resources that are right for your level

I used to listen to podcasts in Turkish that were meant for a Turkish audience. I don’t know how much I would understand if I did that now. So in my situation, it might be better for me to start with some materials that were meant for learners. Or, if you were at a lower intermediate level before, it’s ok to reach for those beginner books again to remind yourself of the basics.

Finally

Make sure it’s something that you really want to do. I probably will go back to Turkish at some point, but I know there are other languages that I’ve learned in the past, such as French and Hindi, that I won’t return to. That’s ok. Learning a language takes time, dedication, and motivation, and if you lack the motivation, it probably won’t happen!

Of course it may be that you need to motivate yourself, for example if you need English at work, but still that is a type of external motivation with a desired outcome that you can work towards.

It’s so easy to say that we’re too busy for things. If you want to do something, you need to make time for it. That may mean saying “no” to other things or reorganising priorities – so if you’re thinking about starting a language again, make sure it’s something you genuinely want to do.

If you do want to come back to English after a long break, I have resources on my site that will help, such as my monthly newsletter, which you can subscribe to at the bottom of this post, and my podcast.

If you’re interested in one-to-one training, you can check out my lessons page.

More from English with Kirsty

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Kirsty working with students


The five books that I read in February

This is something that I’m reblogging from my personal blog, Unseen Beauty – the one to follow if you are interested in my beauty and lifestyle posts.
I’m sharing this information here because it’s about books, and I thought that might also be interesting for those of you who are interested in learning English.

Unseen beauty

So, it’s time to look at the books that I read in February. A bit of a mixture again!

As always, I’ll try to provide links to audio books as well, as that’s how I read most of my books. If I read a book in German, I’ll look for the English version too!

1. Still me

Author: Jojo Moyes
Available in various formats on Amazon.

This is the third book in the series that started with “Me before you”. I wanted to see what happened, but I began to lose patience with the main character. She finally finds love for a second time, walks away to pursue happiness in another country and wonders why things don’t go well with that?! And even when things finally look as though they’ll turn around, she still doesn’t learn! Is there any hope?

I’m still interested in other books by this author because…

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Virtual staffroom – do you talk about events like Christmas and Easter in class?

Easter is coming up and I’ve been looking at some of the activities that I use in lessons around this time. There’s a text about Easter symbols – what chicks, sheep and eggs have been used to symbolise, both in current traditions and in those predating them. I’ve found a text on chocolate and how the chocolate Easter egg has developed. I have an Easter quiz.

But should you even talk about things like Christmas and Easter, particularly if your students don’t celebrate them?

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, because it will depend on each group of students, their interests, why they are learning English, and generally what is appropriate for them. However, here are some thoughts.

1. What is your agenda?

I don’t have a religious agenda, but one former student told me that a private teacher had previously used English lessons as a way to try and influence the student’s religious beliefs. I think this is completely unacceptable. Debate is fine if both participants are happy to do it. Sharing of experiences and cultural traditions can also be interesting, but I believe a teacher should not abuse their position of power to try and tell someone else what to believe.

2. What is the goal of incorporating this material into your lesson?

For me, it’s about culture. Christmas, Easter, Bonfire Night, Pancake Day and Halloween are all celebrated in the UK, and if someone is interested in developing their cultural knowledge as well as their English language skills, we can work on this by looking at some of the foods and traditions associated with these events. This will help students to know what’s going on if they visit the UK during the various events, and they will also know what English-speaking colleagues are talking about if these things come up in conversation.

In fact, there doesn’t have to be a specific event to do this. You can have some really interesting discussions about food, in which students talk about dishes from their own countries, or you look at classics like the Sunday roast. What’s the story behind popular dishes and why do people eat them on certain days or at particular times of the year?

Sometimes these activities are good for making comparisons and looking at differences too. I wrote an article about what people from other parts of Europe think about Christmas in the UK, and this generated some good discussions in class about traditions in general.

3. Is it age appropriate?

As a teacher of adults, I’ve found a lot of information online about Christmas or Easter activities for children, but generally adults don’t want to make Christmas cards or go on an Easter egg hunt – they’d just be happy to eat the chocolate instead. So if you’re going to do something, make sure it really adds value and is appropriate for the learners’ needs. It may well be that the student really isn’t interested, or that there is no connection between current events and the syllabus or learning goals, in which case it doesn’t need to be included at all.

4. What can your students contribute?

Rather than just being a fact-finding exercise, is there anything that your students can contribute from their own experiences? Is something like Christmas celebrated in their country? If so, what are the differences. If not, is there a big social or family event? Are there any similarities in terms of food, gifts etc?

I remember some discussions about Bonfire Night and how that developed into discussions that went in different directions – from the use of fireworks to celebrate other occasions, to animal welfare issues.

How about you?

So, do you incorporate events like Christmas, Easter or Mother’s Day into your lessons? If so, how, and what are some of your favourite activities?

More from English with Kirsty

If you would like more articles like this and other news from English with Kirsty to be delivered straight to your inbox, you can sign up for my monthly newsletter.

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.

Achieving results online with adult language learners

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in my book about teaching English to adults online. You can find the book, “Achieving results online with adult language learners – by Kirsty Major” on Amazon or iBooks, or you can read more about it here.

In the 40 chapters of the book, you’ll find several articles that I have published online, along with exclusive content that can only be found in the book. I talk about my experiences of setting up an online language teaching business, what I’ve learned, and how I’ve dealt with a variety of challenges, both in terms of organisation and running the lessons.

book front cover


Are you doing these things that could derail your language learning progress?

You might have great intentions about improving your English, but I’ve noticed people doing some things that actually make it harder for them to learn.

I’ve even done a couple of them myself. Here are some examples.

1. Taking on too much

If I want to find a podcast on a certain subject, I’m likely to subscribe to 10, with the idea that I’ll try them all out, decide which ones I like, and then get rid of the rest. The problem is that sometimes I don’t get round to the “get rid of the rest” part, which means I end up with a really busy feed and no time to listen to everything.

The same goes for Facebook groups – I join a bunch of them to find out which ones are good, and then I don’t always take part in them as much as I want to, so it feels as though I am not getting anywhere and they are not helping me to learn.

I’ve been having a clear-out of my inbox recently. I’m the kind of person who likes to gather a lot of information, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing in itself. However, if something isn’t adding value, or it’s not the right thing for you, then why not get rid of it and focus on the things that are more useful?

2. Choosing material that is inappropriate for what you want to learn

If you want to learn business English, a love story isn’t going to give you what you need. If you want to be able to chat to your English-speaking friends over dinner, the latest financial information might be interesting to you, but it won’t help you to understand your friends’ jokes.

Before you think about which materials you are going to use, think about what kind of learning material will be best suited to helping you reach your goal.

That doesn’t mean you can’t reward yourself with something you enjoy later – just be clear about what you want to achieve and who or what can help you to do it.

3. Wasting your time

Nobody likes to waste their time, and the sad thing is, you can be really busy and still not achieve anything.

I’m not talking about when you get distracted on Facebook instead of doing your homework. I’m not talking about staring into space instead of writing your presentation in another language.

I’m talking about the exercises that people do online, even though they’ve been told that that particular site isn’t very good and there are mistakes in the exercises. I’m talking about the lists of words that people learn, even though they will never need them. I’m talking about the books that people plough through or the tv series that they watch, even though they don’t enjoy them.

For that matter, people can waste money too by buying a load of resources that they will never use or need. I understand you want to try things out, but maybe try one thing first before buying a load of similar books or materials. Then you haven’t wasted as much money if that particular method doesn’t work for you.

Time is precious. If you have to study a certain book for school, then there’s not much you can do about it. But in terms of what you do in your spare time to work on your language learning, why not be selective and use those things that really work for you. Everyone is different, and what works for someone else might not work for you. That’s ok.

I went through a phase when I was 11 or 12 of looking up obscure words that nobody had ever heard of. I thought it was fun. The people around me didn’t! Being curious about language is great, but not all words are equally useful – unless of course you’re playing Scrabble!

If you fail to communicate because most people don’t understand an outdated word that you found in a dictionary, you have a problem! I know someone who tried to learn a page of the dictionary each day, but I’d suggest this isn’t a good strategy, because some of those words were so specific and outdated, that it would be difficult to bring them into conversation or writing!

4. Unreasonable expectations

Part of the problem here is that language providers promote unreasonable expectations too. Sound like a native in 2 weeks and do just 5 minutes of practice a day! It doesn’t work like that! You need to put the work in regularly.

If you want to have high expectations, that’s great, but keep it real, or else you’ll get overwhelmed and feel like giving up when you can’t succeed.

If you’re a beginner, you won’t be able to have in-depth political conversations after you’ve just learned the past tense.

If you write a text in your target language, don’t be surprised that you didn’t catch every single little mistake. Nobody is perfect, especially when they’re writing in a new language.

Strive for excellence, sure. But don’t beat yourself up over 96%! Yes, I used to be that child. As an adult, I’m less of a perfectionist, but I’m getting there. I still get annoyed with myself when I make avoidable mistakes in German, but I don’t let it hold me back any more. That took time though.

5. Comparing yourself to others

We had a boy in our maths class at school who loved maths. I knew I would never be as good as him. For me, maths homework was a chore to get done, but I wasn’t passionate about it and I knew I would never be as good as him. That was ok. I didn’t want to be! My love was for languages, and in those classes I was the one who was passionate about the subject.

You might be learning English because you love it. Alternatively, you might be learning English because you need it. Don’t be surprised if someone who spends every waking hour learning English makes faster progress than you. Your progress is your own journey. You can be inspired or motivated by others, but it’s not helpful to keep measuring yourself against their achievements.

If you want to work with other people, try and find someone whose language level and motivation are similar to yours. This is especially true for language exchanges. Trying to study with someone who can answer a question in 10 sentences while you’re still thinking about your first one can be quite demotivating. If you find someone on the same level or just slightly ahead of you, it’s more of a team effort.

Can you think of any other things that can derail language learning progress? Let me know in the comments!

More from English with Kirsty

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Kirsty working with students


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

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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Kirsty working with students