Are discussions difficult for you?

Do you have to use English in discussions? 

Maybe you have to discuss things in business meetings.  Maybe you have to discuss things as part of your university course or research.

Discussions can be difficult for language learners. The speech is often fast and the speaker turns change quickly.  Sometimes people will also interrupt or strongly disagree with you. 

Below are some tips and phrases that can help you with discussions.

Plan before the discussion
You will usually know the topics before the discussion so plan what you want to say in advance.  Make extra plans for the topics you feel strongly about.   It’s also a good idea to have evidence or examples to back up your opinions.   Also, try and predict what the other speakers might say about your opinions and think about how you will react.  If it’s an important discussion, perhaps you could even do role-play practice with a friend in advance.

Disagree appropriately
While it’s OK to disagree with the other speakers, remember to do it politely and respectfully.  Use phrases like “I’m sorry but…”, “I understand, but…” and “I’m afraid…” to make your language less confrontational.  To be even less confrontational, try using phrases like “I wonder if…?” or “Don’t you think…?”

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Actively listen
Show the other speakers you’re listening to them.  React to their opinions.  This could be by just having some eye-contact and nodding your head.  This could also be by saying things like “Uh huh” or “I see”.  Ask for more details when you need them using phrases like “What kind of…”, “Could you give me an example?” or “Could you be more specific?”  Listening actively to other speakers also means they will be more likely to listen to you later.

Check understanding
Be careful of misunderstandings.  Be sure to check and clarify and if there is something you are not clear about.  Sometimes the way you make eye-contact is enough to tell someone you don’t fully understand.  You can also use phrases like “What do you mean by ______?” or “Do you mean_____ or ______?   You can also check people are understanding your opinions with phrases like “Are you with me?” or “Are you following me?”

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Keep it balanced
While it’s important to take an active part in the discussion, make sure the other speakers also have a chance to speak.  Be careful of dominating the discussion or talking too much.  It’s nice to invite others to speak. Use phrases like “What do you think?” or “How about you?”  Help to make the discussion as interactive and balanced as possible.

Reflect on the discussion and follow up
After finishing the discussion, think about how well you could take part (considering the points above).  Think about how you can further improve your discussion skills for next time.  If you couldn’t make your opinions clear, maybe you can also follow-up with a group email to clarify them.  Also, don’t forget to check any language you didn’t understand.

Below are some common phrases that can be used in meetings and discussions:

Related links:

How can I explain things more clearly?

How can I disagree politely?