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Business English Syllabus of Errors

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At the top of the syllabus of errors, what began as a simple ‘vow’ for ‘wow’ becomes an intercultural spaghetti whereby directives destroy team-building and advice giving is undermining. This is when argumentation and rhetorical styles clash.

Jürgen Habermas may have been right when he spoke of “der zwanglose Zwang des besseren Arguments” in German. But globally, there’s always something than a better argument and that’s a better relation-ship. This is where all those subtle and irritating habits of global English – like small talking, touching base, active listening and indirect disagreement – come into play.

You see it’s not a translation. It’s a performance. You don’t translate yourself into English. You perform this language like a behaviour. Skipping the small talk is not accelerating your business – it’s an omission of positive facework that is slowing it down.

Direct disagreement is not ‘unmissverständlich klar’. It’s an omission of negative facework that is globally ‘missverständlich klar’. These are your sins of omission and yes, dearies, they are hurting your business performance. China and India – your two most important new customers – are extremely high context. They don’t really care about your mispronunciation and grammatical errors.

They are more responsive to the most dangerous of all errors – the Face Threatening Act. Like open criticism in front of the boss. Like the postponement of personal relations until after the project.

Montaigne once said “Most of the grounds of the world’s troubles are matters of grammar.” They way I see it, world history itself is just one big intercultural misunderstanding.

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