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How to develop a healthy mindset for using English at work

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

Many people who need to use English at work struggle to do so. In fact, I would say many people suffer in silence, believing they are incapable of using English well enough in the workplace. In this post I am going to share three common mindset problems professionals experience when using English at work and offer suggestions for how to tackle them.

Feeling inferior to other colleagues. If you are an older member of your team, you may not have had the opportunity to spend an extended period in an English-speaking country. You may also have younger colleagues who have been fortunate enough to study or work abroad and who have developed extremely strong language skills as a result. This situation can trigger uncomfortable feelings, particularly if you are ranked higher than your younger colleagues within your organisation.

We all know that living in a foreign country is the best way to learn the language, and if you were not given this opportunity, you cannot be expected to have developed the same level of language, particularly when it comes to speaking and listening. Your internal self-talk here will be crucial - it is easy to fall into the habit of negative, judgemental thinking when we feel inferior. Instead, praise yourself for your strengths (yes, you do have them!) and wherever possible continue learning and improving.

Obsessing over mistakes

This is a very common problem in the workplace. We know that native speakers will be listening to our presentation so we get fixated on all the things we think are wrong with our language. Or, if our boss will be in the meeting we are hosting, we lose our fluency because we are so worried about what they think of us. I can assure you that obsessing over your mistakes is never going to help you improve your speaking! To improve your speaking, you need to focus on your message and your listener. Your listener is much more interested in the content of your language than in the language itself. Moreover, native speakers generally don't know much about their language and are unlikely to be interested in whether you used the right tense. When it comes to your boss, a good boss will want to see you succeed and will want to support you if needed.

Avoiding problems rather than looking for solutions Remember that a large part of our mindset is our attitude to life's problems. It is so, so easy to sink into self-pity about all the problems we have rather than seek solutions. Even worse is to actively use avoidance strategies so that we don't have to deal with problems.

For example, if speaking to native speaker colleagues seems too scary, it can feel easier to avoid them rather than tackle the fear. If you do this, however, the fear has won!

Brainstorming is a great way of coming up with solutions, and it doesn't have to take long. Simply give yourself ten to fifteen minutes and ask yourself what could I do to solve this problem. Write down any answers that come to your mind - don't censor anything. Once you have a few ideas, you can rank them in order (easiest to do / most interesting / greatest potential to trigger change) and do something about the problem! Problems generally feel smaller once we start to take action about them.

Watch a video about this.

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