What does your feedback say about you?

How do you give feedback?

Businesses without a strong feedback culture miss opportunities to grow and improve but believing feedback is important is not enough. Great leaders use feedback to develop performance and choose language carefully to inspire the results they want in the future.

Consider this example:

A team member sent an email to a client without correcting the spelling. As you were cc’d, you noticed this. Which if the following would you choose when speaking to them:

  1. You should have used a spell check.
  2. Why didn’t you use a spell check?
  3. Next time, let’s use a spell check.

Learning point

  • ‘You should have…’ criticises. It shows that I can see the mistake but you couldn’t. It says ‘I’m better than you’.
  • ‘Why didn’t you…’ accuses. It says they don’t care and questions their commitment. Do you never make mistakes?
  • ‘Next time…’ inspires. It shows understanding and sets higher expectations at the same time.


ARP Analyse – Revise – Perform


Listen to yourself

  • Do you focus on past mistakes in feedback?
  • Do you order change rather than inspiring it?


If you hear yourself saying:

  • You should have…
  • Why didn’t you…?


  • Next time…
  • Let’s… in the future


When giving feedback:

  • Look for what people can learn from the situation.
  • Focus on how to improve in the future.
  • Talk about the next time, not the last time.

Theories behind business linguistics: Paul Grice (part 1)

Theories behind Business Linguistics: Conversational Maxims

This week, we begin looking at the theory with the biggest impact on business linguistics, pragmatics; the study of meaning in context.

In the first of two posts, we begin by looking at the thoughts of one of the founding fathers of pragmatics, philosopher Paul Grice.

Grice’s Maxims

Grice identified four key factors to create an effective conversation. He called these ‘conversational maxims’.

These are basically four really simple statements as follows:

  • The maxim of quantity: Don’t say any more or less than you need to.
  • The maxim of quality: Say things that are true and provable.
  • The maxim of relation: Say things that relate to what other people have said.
  • The maxim of manner: Say things that are clear and unambiguous.

Grice’s maxims in training

Here are some tips on applying the four maxims in training situations to help the clarity and expression of your trainees:


When listening to someone, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have they explained themselves fully?
  • Are they still talking?

If so:

  1. Ask them to stop and think about what they said.
  2. Ask them if what they said was complete.
  3. Ask them to repeat their message with only the required information.

It’s a similar process when someone gives limited information that you don’t really understand:

  1. Repeat what you understood and ask if it’s correct.
  2. Elicit extra information.
  3. Ask them to repeat their message including the new information.


It’s easier to follow someone, and be persuaded by them if what they say is provable and measurable in your experience.

In order to help your trainees present clearer, more persuasive ideas, encourage them to use examples and demonstrate how their idea works in practice.


Have you ever listened to someone and had no idea how their comment fits into the conversation?

Have they been listening?

Why are they saying this?

If your trainees seem to comment at random, stop them and:

  • Ask them how their idea is linked to previous ideas in the conversation.
  • Ask them how they can show this link in their speech.
  • Ask them to repeat their comment showing the relationship to the conversation.


In a conversation, it’s common for people to start speaking before thinking. As a result, ideas can be confused and difficult to understand.

When this happens to trainees, use this technique to help them:

  • Summarise what you think they’re trying to say.
  • Elicit exactly what they’re trying to say.
  • Ask them how they can structure their idea more clearly.
  • Ask them to repeat their comment.

These days, I find myself helping people express themselves clearly in all sorts of situations. Grice and his maxims have provided an invaluable tool to do that.

To find out more:

 Paul Grice, Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Logic & Conversation, H.P Grice, UCL Study Pack 


Can you hear accountability?

How do leaders and managers ensure accountability in their team and what are the signs of a lack of accountability?

Can you hear the language of accountability at work?

Does this sound familiar?

Team leader: Can you get this done by the end of the day?

Team member: I’ll do my best but I’m pretty busy.

Do you have confidence the task will be done?

Another way

Team leader: I need this done by 5 today. Can you meet that deadline?

Team member: It might be difficult I have 2 other deadlines.

Team leader: Well, this is a priority. How can I help?

What about now? Confident the task will be done?

Learning points

If you want your team to be accountable, you need to give them clear expectations.

If you give specific expectations, you’ll receive specific answers.

Don’t give or accept vague deadlines.


ARP – Analyse – Revise – Perform


Listen to yourself

Do you set clear objectives?
Do you give vague promises?

Listen to your team

Do they say yes or no directly?
Do they say ‘I’ll try’ or I’ll do my best’?


When you think:

‘as soon as possible’ or ‘ by the end of the day’


‘By 5pm’ or, even better, ‘when can you do this by?’

If your team replies ‘I’ll try’ ask ‘What help do you need to meet the deadline?’


Next time you set a task:

  • Be clear
  • Be specific
  • Expect clear responses
  • Follow up vague replies and offer help

How one word changed a world

Jonny was a sales manager. His team performed okay but he knew they could do better.

So he pushed them. He told them things like:

  • You need to close more.
  • I got six leads today.
  • You should visit customer X.
  • I always visit customers as much as I can.

Jonny had his appraisal, including 360 degree feedback. His boss told him his team felt:

  • demotivated
  • disliked
  • distrusted

Performance had to improve.

Jonny was shocked. He didn’t know what to do and decided to see a coach. The coach listened to him talk about his team and then said:

‘Every time you talk about your team, you say ‘they always… but I think they should…’ Are you a team? Do they know they’re a team?’

Jonny knew what to do. The next day, he went into the office and said:

  • We need to close more, how can we do it?
  • We need to visit our customers more regularly, how can we do that?
  • We can better results if we work together.

And things changed. The team seemed happier. They performed better. Results improved.

Because they were a team and everyone knew it.

Learning Points 

‘We’ combines. ‘I’ isolates. ‘You’ divides.

‘We’ creates accountability. ‘I’ creates ego. ‘You’ creates blame.

  • Managers who use ‘I’ sit above the team.
  • Managers who use ‘you’ don’t trust the team.
  • Managers who use ‘we’ grow with the team.


ARP – Analyse – Revise – Perform


Listen to yourself

Do you use I, you or we?

If there’s lots of ‘I’ and ‘you’ how does this affect the team?

Is morale where you’d like it to be?


Think about how you could let ‘we’ into your words.

‘I need you to improve’ becomes ‘We need to improve’

‘You have to…’ becomes ‘We need to…’


When talking to the team next, show them that you believe we are in it together.

Use your words to combine and share, not divide and blame.




What is Business Linguistics?

The most powerful thing in the world is an idea.

Ideas change the world, transform lives and destroy them. All of the best and worst moments in human history began with an idea.

But what happened next?

That idea was put into words. Words that inspired. Words that empowered. Words that transformed a simple idea and created a movement. A movement that changed the world.

And how was the world changed? With words.

It’s crazy isn’t it? Just a few words can change the world. How often do we think about it?

But what if you did think about it?

What if you thought about every word that came out of your mouth?

How would your relationships change? How would your performance improve? How much more effective would you be?

On this site, we consider the words that business people use. We look at how these words affect relationships and results and we discuss how changing your words can drive meaningful personal change and professional development.

If you work, look at the for professionals section for advice on how you can change your words to perform better at work.

If you train people at work, look at the for trainers section for tips and ideas on how you can make your clients’ words more effective.