In this episode we’re going to look at how to deal with sensitive situations in English, and that includes ways of delivering bad news or saying negative things. We’re going to consider ways of using language carefully in order to avoid upsetting people or making them angry. You’ll hear a discussion on this topic between Amber, Paul and me and then a few role plays in which we have to deal with some sensitive situations. Watch out for the specific language that we use.
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“The Bad Haircut” – Imagine this situation:
You are at work on a Monday morning, and your colleague arrives. Your colleague’s name is Jane. She is a lovely person. She is kind, sensitive, and generous. She has also been a little bit under-confident recently, after she split up with her boyfriend, who she had been going out with for 4 years. The break up left her feeling a bit lonely and upset, but now she is feeling much better about herself and is ready to take control of her life again.
At the weekend Jane had her hair cut and she has chosen a new style. It’s really quite different to her previous style, and to be honest, it doesn’t look good. It doesn’t suit her at all, and it is not really a fashionable style either. Let’s say she’s added a fringe, she’s cut it shorter and she’s changed the colour. You’re thinking: “this is a bad move – she’s taken a step in the wrong direction with this new haircut”. She seems to be a bit unsure of herself, but she’s excited about her new hair, which obviously cost her a lot of money. You are the first person she has seen in the office. She says to you, “So, what do you think of my new hair cut?”
What should you say to her?
Now, think about this situation carefully. Consider these questions before you decide on your reponse.
1. How exactly will you phrase your response?
2. How honest will you be? Will you tell the truth or not?
3. How might your response affect Jane’s feelings?
4. How direct will you be?
5. What is the most normal, usual and common thing you would say to a friend in this situation? How would you say that in English?
6. If you were from a different culture, would that affect your answer?
7. How would an English person answer the question?
Jane: So, what do you think of my new hair cut?
Your answer: ______________________________________________(please leave your suggestion in the comments section)
Amber’s answer: Wow, you’ve completely changed! It’s completely new! It’s completely different! It’s a completely new look! (With a positive tone)
Paul’s answer: (If he noticed) It looks great!
Wrong thing to say: Don’t worry, it’ll grow out.
“it’ll grow out” = in time the hair will grow and the new style will disappear, and it will look better eventually.
Should we always tell the truth to people?
What if they’re a close friend?
Should friends always support you, or should they sometimes disagree with you if it’s necessary?
Does this change when ‘the stakes are high’?
Is this also different between different countries, or is it universal?
The Importance of Language
It’s in these difficult situations that language becomes vital – we need to be diplomatic in order to prevent problems, to keep relationships sweet, and to avoid big arguments or hurt feelings. You need to be able to use language very carefully sometimes – but how? What are the approaches and phrases that you can use to achieve these things? Let’s look into it in this episode. We’re also going to play around and improvise a few scenarios in which people have to deliver some pretty bad news, which should be fun.
– How would different cultures react to the same situation?
– Are British people more awkward (than other countries)?
– Do we have many social codes? What are they?
– Does our language define us? Or do we define our language? (e.g. French has more formality in it – does that make them more aware of formality codes in their behaviour too?)
– Are Americans more relaxed and laid back than the Brits?
According to Amber’s German friend who has lived in the UK and in France: It’s possible to break cultural codes in France and you’ll be forgiven because you’re foreign, whereas in Britain they still have lots of social codes but they pretend they don’t have any! So when foreign people break the codes, even subtle ones that we aren’t aware of, Brits might get offended!
Perhaps this means the French are a lot more frank and open about having social etiquette, whereas the Brits like to think they are informal and relaxed, when actually they have social etiquette too, which you have to be aware of.
What are those behaviour codes in the UK?
There are codes around giving and receiving compliments.
Here’s the wrong way:
Girl 1: Oh those are very nice earrings.
Girl 2: Thank you. [Didn’t say anything else – which comes across as rude and inconsiderate]
It shows that there are lots of codes that most people don’t even realise exist.
Here’s the correct version:
Girl 1: Oh those are very nice earrings you’re wearing. [Paying a compliment]
Girl 2: Oh thanks! Yeah, I just picked them up in a car-boot sale (a market). I love your dress. [Being modest, then returning the compliment]
Girl 1: Oh, this old thing! It’s just been in my wardrobe for ages, and I just threw it on this morning! [Being modest]
It seems to be normal to be very modest about compliments in the UK, certainly for girls. Is it the same for guys?
Is this just the British/English? How do you react in your country when someone compliments you?
Generally speaking, the English tend to be quite self-effacing and modest, and we don’t like people who are arrogant and who show off.
What about the difference between Americans and British people?
Americans tend to sell themselves more.
The British tend to be more self-effacing and modest. Paul doesn’t want to come across as being arrogant.
Do men and women have the same social codes?
Careful and Diplomatic Language
Choosing what to say in situations like this requires diplomacy and careful attention to language.
In this episode we’re going to consider the language you would use in situations like this. Here are some categories:
- Giving some bad news when it’s your fault (admitting to something)
- Giving some bad news when it’s not your fault (reporting/announcing something)
- Requesting something that you shouldn’t be requesting
- Saying no to a request
- Saying that you can’t do something
- Explaining something that could cause someone to get upset or angry
Role Plays for Improvisation
How about these difficult situations? What would you say?
Listen to Luke and his friends improvising the situations. Try to notice specific language they used.
1. You agreed to look after your friend’s dog (you didn’t want to do it) and while looking after it, the dog ate your nice handbag. You’re really angry. Tell the friend.
Here’s some language used:
– There was just one thing…
– He’s a bit of a chewer…
– I wouldn’t normally mind, but…
– Oh no!
– I’m so sorry
2. You have to explain to your family or your partner that the internet has to be cut off to save money. Your partner is a total geek who pretty much lives online constantly, and can’t imagine a world without it.
– I think we need to reduce some of the expenditure that we have so we’re not always in debt
– It seems like the biggest expenditure now is the internet
– Why don’t we just potentially cut off the internet in the house
– Maybe you can go out more