Of all the questions I ever get asked, this is probably the most common:
While there are surely things NOT to say…
…. there is never a one size fits all solution or list for all groups (depending on role and part of India, the English is used differently).
……there are so many things THAT SHOULD BE SAID that are not said. While these are not things that should not be said, the fact that they are NOT CURRENTLY BEING SAID is the problem.
In this LONG post (as there are 25 entries on the original post, I will break that up into 5 posts of 5 entries each to make it a little easier to digest, plus a 6th bonus post.), I will share a list of things to avoid saying, how to correct some of those things and also things that MUST be said. Some of the things that MUST be said will be offered as corrections to the first part (things not to say).
As a base for this article, I am using a 2007 article from CITE HR. This article, provided by Gops, is used as a base for some common mistakes I have also seen while consulting with Indian start ups working with US clients. The advice and tips given in this article are tips I give in consultations and training programs I have facilitated. We get very positive results when we update, edit and change the language to the ‘suggested edits’ I will provide below.
So, let’s jump in. [All text in red is taken from the site.]
Use of the Word “Deal”
The article on CITE HR is titled: Dealing With American Clients – Useful Tips
Right off the bat (to start with) on the title, I’d change the word ‘deal.’ I often hear Indian team members say, “I have to deal with my US clients.” or “Help me to better deal with my US clients.”
Do not use the word “deal.” Why? The tone of the word ‘deal’ equates with having to tolerate someone. How would you feel if someone said, “I tolerate you.” to you? In the U.S., anyhow, this does not make the person who hears this feel good. It makes many feel, “He or she doesn’t really like me but has to interact with me for some cold outcomes.” No one wants to feel this way, regardless of culture, is how I feel. So, let’s avoid at all costs using the word, ‘deal.’
What to use instead. Let’s think of some synonyms: interact, talk with, build rapport with, work with, etc.
Use of the phrase “The Same”
Do not write “the same” in an email – it makes little sense to them.
Example – I will try to organize the project artifacts and inform you of the same when it is done.
This is somewhat an Indian construct. It is better written simply as: I will try to organize the project artifacts and inform you when that is done
Do not use the phrase “the same” Why? Well, in most cases, I’d agree that the use of the phrase ‘the same’ could be out of place in some contexts for most Americans. However, as this article was written in 2007, language has changed somewhat. I feel the use of “the same” is a little different in American English.
If you aren’t sure if you say this, note for a US client’s response. If they often say, “Are you sure?” or “Do we need to relook at the delivery timeline?” or “Is there any way I can support you in completing this?” It’s possible you have said, “I’ll try.”
Use of the word “Doubt”
Do not write or say, “I have some doubts on this issue” The term “doubt” is used in the sense of doubting someone – we use this term because in Indian languages (such as Hindi, Tamil), the word for a “doubt” and a “question” is the same. The correct usage (for clients) is: I have a few questions on this issue [sic]
Do not use the word “Doubt”
Why should we not use the word doubt? In consultations with some US clients working with Indians, they told me quite directly, “When I hear the word ‘doubt,’ it means someone doesn’t believe me. Though I know now they want to ask me a question, I can’t get over the cultural meaning I have of this word which is that they don’t trust me.” In American English the word ‘doubt’ is used in phrases like, “I doubt it,” which means “I don’t believe it.”
What to use instead of “Doubt”
Some of the Indian team members I have coached admitted to me that there is a lot of cultural baggage tied to the word ‘question.’ To question someone in Indian culture for many is rude, disrespectful and just not done. Period. Some people can’t emotionally say, “I have a question about XXX.” In such a case, what should someone do if they can’t use the word question OR even use a question (with a question mark or tone) to ask a question? Some ideas may be:
Do you have any other ideas for how you can change any of the above words or phrases? Feel free to share them in the comments below, or message me in the message box located on the top of the right hand column (on the desktop site).
Use of the phrase – “Regards”/”With regard to”
The term “regard” is not used much in American English. They usually do not say “regarding this issue” or “with regard to this”. Simply use, “about this issue”. [sic]
Do not use the phrase “Regards”/”With regard to”
I’d agree with Gops on this point. However, if you do use this phrase, it’s not bad nor will anyone get offended. People will get the basic idea of what you are saying, but it’s just not a way English tends to be used in the U.S.
What to use instead. As Gops suggested, use “about this issue.”
This is a good replacement depending on the sentence. But, let’s look at this sentence, “Regarding the e-commerce platform we are building for your company…..” How can we change this? “When we look at the e-commerce website….” “In reviewing the e-commerce website…”
[Take a listen to a case study on how to negotiate timelines and push back with a US client on adding features to an e-commerce website.]
Use of the word “Pardon”
Do not say “Pardon” when you want someone to repeat what they said. The word “Pardon” is unusual for them and is somewhat formal.
Do not use the word “pardon”
I do not 100% agree with Gops here. While I do agree it is very formal in American English, it’ not the worst word in the world to use. However, there are many other better ways to ask someone to repeat what they have said.
What to use instead of “pardon”
Some ideal ways to ask someone to repeat are listed below. They are taken from another blog entitled “What NOT to say and what TO say to provide good customer service to North Americans.”
3 Things NOT To Do in Emails To US Clients
1. [Over]Use of Punctuation in E-mail
In the original article, Gops mentions:
In email communications, use proper punctuation. To explain something, without breaking your flow, use semicolons, hyphens or parenthesis.
As an example: You have entered a new bug (the popup not showing up) in the defect tracking system; we could not reproduce it – although, a screenshot would help.
Notice that a reference to the actual bug is added in parenthesis so that the sentence flow is not broken. Break a long sentence using such punctuation.
Do not forget to use punctuation. Maybe the lack of punctuation could be an outcome of Mother Tongue Influence (MTI), especially if the mother tongue doesn’t use punctuation, or doesn’t use this kind of complex punctuation. While I don’t necessarily endorse this use of complex punctuation, I do want to remind every one to make sure they are using punctuation at the end of statements or questions. I have corrected many emails that are void of punctuation at the end of a statement, or has the wrong punctuation (the use of a full stop where a question mark should be or a space between the last letter and the punctuation mark). To learn more, read about how to use the full stop or the question mark.
What to do instead:
Rather than focus on complex punctuation, as in the example given in the original post, I actually suggest to break up the sentence into smaller sentences for easier reading and comprehension. This will improve the American’s understanding of your English in both writing and speaking. Let’s see how we can change the above sentence:
Suggested sentence from original post: You have entered a new bug (the popup not showing up) in the defect tracking system; we could not reproduce it – although, a screenshot would help.
Jennifer’s suggested changes: I saw the most current bug report in the defect tracking system about the popup not showing up. We are unable to reproduce the same error. Is it possible to send us a screenshot of the bug on your system? Thank you in advance.
What differences do you see in my suggested change that was not in the original suggested edit? I have changed one sentence into two sentences and one question, adding a fourth statement of thanks.
Keep in mind that when requesting a US client or colleague to do anything, the most polite way is to ask it in the form of a question with a question mark.
Follow up any request with a “thank you,” both in the original request AND as a response after the answer has been sent to you. Do not forget to send acknowledgment emails as soon as you can (do not wait until their office hours to send it, but send it as soon as you read their email).
The other change I had made to this request was to change the subject of the first sentence to ‘I.’ In English if ‘you’ is the main subject, it can come off as too direct and can cause some defensiveness in the other person. Not only in written English, but spoken English as well. And, when requesting someone else to do something that could be taken as a mistake, we should be even more careful to remove ‘you,’ using either ‘I,’ ‘we’ or no pronoun at all. This will make it indirect, which creates a politer tone.
Doing this will save their face, build rapport and create a very customer service friendly environment.
2. Use of the word “mail”
In American English, a mail is a posted letter. An email is electronic mail. When you say “I mailed the information to you”, it means you sent an actual letter or package through the postal system. The correct usage is: “I emailed the information to you” [sic]
[As I have copied this from the site without editing, I used the word [sic] here to denote that I have not edited their mistakes, including the fact that there is no full stop at the end of the last sentence.]
Do not use the word ‘mail’ for e-mail
What Gops said is true here. Americans do get confused if they hear the word ‘mail’ used in place of ‘email.’ It seems so simple and that by the context of the sentence the American would ‘get it,’ but I have indeed talked to quite a few Americans who have worked with Indians who say this confuses them every time they hear it. Of course, if there are any Americans out there reading this who do work with colleagues from India, now you know! In fact, after living in India for as long as I have, I use the word ‘mail’ for ‘e-mail’ and can see other Americans get confused all the time.
What to do instead
Of course, use the word “e-mail” instead of “mail.” It is easy to forget. If one uses the word “mail” by accident, the U.S. client may respond with, “Won’t that be expensive?” In such cases, just say, “Oops, I meant e-mail.” However, if another form of electronic communication is being referred to, it’s completely acceptable to say, “ping me,” “message me,” “text me,” or “SMS me.”
Avoid Jargon and Alphabet Soup without Context
It is usual convention in initial emails (particularly technical) to expand abbreviations, this way: We are planning to use the Java API For Registry (JAXR). After mentioning the expanded form once, subsequently you can use the abbreviation.
Don’t forget to expand abbreviations or define jargon at the first use
Depending on your U.S. colleague’s affiliation to your team or company, they may not know the words or abbreviations being used. Even if it is a colleague that works in your company in the same building in India, this can be the case. A good example comes from an MNC company in Kochi. In a training program I delivered there I asked the 30 or so participants to break into groups based on their working groups. The participants broke into about 6 groups. I asked them to write all the abbreviations their team used on the white board, without writing the expansion. They then went to see all the other lists written by all the other groups. There were many duplications of abbreviations, many of which had different expansions. This random mix of letters that can have multiple meanings is what we call ‘alphabet soup’ in the U.S.
In addition, we need to assure who we are writing to understands our jargon and technical terms. If unsure, it’s always a good practice to write the definition in parenthesis the first time it is used to assure they know the meaning. Sometimes this can happen for the most simple and what we feel to be the most universal abbreviations.
What to do instead
Always give context to any abbreviations, jargon or technical terms the first time they are used.
3. Ineffective Subject Lines
Make sure you always have a subject in your emails and that the subject is relevant. Do not use a subject line such as HI . [sic]
[Sic was used as the original script had a space between the last letter and the full stop.]
Do Not Use Ambiguous Subject Lines
While we all can easily agree ‘Hi’ is a bad subject line, so is ‘Today’s Meeting.’ Why? Let’s think of our audience and how they may browse their inbox. If they are only looking at subject lines, they may not know who the email is from by this subject line alone. They may have 5 meetings today, one of which is with you. If they browse their inbox by name and then subject line, they could think, “Aww by the subject line it’s not too important, so I will wait until the meeting to find out what it is.”
What to do instead:
But what if the email content talks about changing the time of the meeting? Of course then, your client may show up for a meeting and you won’t be there! So in that case, what is a more effective subject line?
Any of these may work:
“Reschedule today’s meeting on XYZ Project”
“Can’t make today’s 3pm meeting”
“Jennifer will attend today’s 3pm meeting in my place”
BONUS: Also DO NOT say “Thank you in advance.”
Read this article for the reason why and replacements for this commonly used and polite phrase in Indian English.
For a free online course that walks you through how to organize the content in your email for easier reading by your client, which will reduce the response time, see this. Or, get started in personalized virtual coaching with us. Check out our effective email writing program.
[For those who want to attend virtual training on these topics, to get the best outcomes, I often collect real life sanitized samples of email threads or client phone calls. While it is important to see how those on the India team write, it is important to see the whole thread to get a better context of the entire conversation or relationship. I can also give advice on words or tones used by the US clients and what they actually mean. Get started today!] We specialize in helping teams in India work effectively, build trusting relationships and connect emotionally with US citizens who are your clients, colleagues or stakeholders.
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