You’re sitting at the table with a group of international colleagues, and everyone is speaking in English. You’d like to contribute more to the conversation, but the only thing you hear yourself saying is “uh-huh”“yeah”, and “we can do that”.

All these great ideas and sentences are floating through your head, but you just can’t seem to put them together on time. You just keep thinking to yourself:

“I’ve got to say something, but I’ve got to say it the right way!”

Well, what is the right way? Does it really have to be perfect?

“Of course it does Tyler! If it’s not perfect, my colleagues will judge me!”

Hold on a minute. Stop for a moment and try changing your perspective. “Put yourself in your colleague’s shoes”, as we say.

Think about every moment you were listening to your colleagues speak. What were you focusing on: their mistakes or the content of their message?

Yeah, you were probably too busy trying to decode their message to notice any grammar mistakes.

This is how our minds work. We try to understand meaning before we worry about silly little things like whether she put an -s at the end of an uncountable noun, used a noun instead of an adjective, or should have used the present perfect…

And even if the listener does notice a mistake, it is really going to change anything? He might pause for a moment and think “was that correct?”, but he most certainly is not going to stand up in the middle of a meeting and start shouting “YOUR ENGLISH IS TERRIBLE!”

You see, no one really cares about your tiny little grammar mistakes. Everyone is too busy thinking about their own agendas to worry about someone else’s slip-ups, and even if someone does make it his business to focus on your errors, does his opinion really matter?

Your boss is the only person whose opinion really matters. But hold on. Does your boss really care about how good your English is?

Well, yes and no.

Stop for a moment and imagine you were your own boss. Which is preferable:

  • An employee who barely speaks doesn’t contribute much, but never makes mistakes.
  • An employee who contributes often, shares ideas, and volunteers her thoughts readily, but makes mistakes sometimes.

Clearly, the priority here is a contribution. Why do you think words like “team player”, “proactive” and “dynamic” are so exciting?

Because these words mean action! Anyone listening prefers to see action, not hesitation. They prefer a person who is actively contributing, not holding something back.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should speak carelessly and without thinking. You should be aware of your speaking process.

Professionalism is important, but don’t paralyze yourself.
Think about what you’re going to say, but don’t think too much.
Be proactive and contribute, but don’t dominate everyone else.

You see, the key here is finding your balance.

“But it’s hard to do Tyler, with all those difficult words and complex ideas to remember”

Focus on the task. Let the task be your guide.

Focus on what is right in front of you, and do what is right in front of you. Don’t listen to that voice in your head telling you that you need to speak perfectly. This is just an ill-conceived, mistaken belief that does not benefit you.

Just do your best, and learn from your mistakes.

“Fear is one of the biggest traps that keeps people from taking action. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, success, rejection, pain, the unknown – we all have fears. And the only way to deal with fear is to face it. You must face it head-on, look at it eye to eye and take action in spite of it. Scared of failing? Failure is education. Look at it this way, if you fail, you will know what doesn’t work. And you’ll be able to take a more educated, informed approach when you try again. You’re better off than where you were before!”—
–Tony Robbins

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