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How To Ask For Clarification Like A Native English Speaker

 

Asking for clarification is something we need to do often at work, especially if we are not communicating in our main language. We frequently need to ask colleagues and potential clients to explain something or provide more information so that we have a clear understanding of what they are trying to convey. This is situation is all too common, and yet, a lot of non-native English speakers still feel embarrassed to speak up. In today's episode, Simon gives us an effective way to respectfully ask for clarification. Listen to the episode, read the tips and phrases, and check out the transcript at the bottom.

How to ask for clarification

The first thing to remember when asking for clarification is that you can be honest and straightforward. Needing a clarification is not a bad thing, and understanding exactly what the other person is trying to say will help you and your team be more productive and engage in more effective negotiations.

#1 Start with a small apology

In English, we tend to apologize quite frequently –when we step on someone, when we accidentally touch another person, and also when we don't understand. Over-apologizing is usually not a good idea, but saying sorry is still a polite thing to do when we don't understand something in a professional situation. 

#2 Don't blame the other person

We don't want to blame others for not delivering a clear message. Instead, we want to make it sound as if it was us who didn't follow.

  • I'm sorry, I didn't quite follow what you said there.
  • I'm sorry, I'm not sure I fully understand.
  • I'm sorry, I didn't really catch what it was that you were trying to say there.

#3 Summarize the message

If you would like to make sure that you understood correctly, you can paraphrase or summarize what the other person said. This is a very effective technique to acknowledge the other person, show that we are listening, and check your understanding.

  • It sounds like what you're saying is... Is that right?

#4 Elicit more information

If you need to confirm specific information, you can use a YES/NO question. 

  • When you say [...], do you mean [...]?
  • When you say [...], you mean exactly [...], right?

Now, if you're trying to just find out more, you will need to use open-ended questions that start with WHAT, WHY, or HOW.

Example:

  • "Huh, okay, sorry, but I didn't quite follow. Now, It sounds like you're saying that specifically for next year for 2022. You want to grow your workforce by X percent? Is that correct?"

Continue improving your communication skills for professional situations; get in touch with Talaera. This article works as supporting material for our podcast episode on how to ask for clarification. You can read the transcript below. Make sure you check out all our other Talaera Talks episodes and subscribe to get new episode alerts.

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Talaera Talks - Transcript Episode 24

If you are learning English, including new English words and expressions will help you with effective communication. Remember to check out our other episodes on how to make small talk, how to deliver engaging presentations, how to speak English fluently, and many more: visit the podcast website. Listen to it on your favorite platform.

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Intro
Welcome to Talaera Talks, the business English communication podcast for non-native professionals. My name is Paola and I am co-hosting this show with Simon. In this podcast, we're going to be covering communication advice and tips to help express yourself with confidence in English in professional settings. So we hope you enjoy the show!

0:24
Welcome back to Talaera Talks. My name is Simon. And I hope wherever you are, you are having a great day. So we're going to jump into a Talaera Bit today. And what are we talking about today? Today is about asking for clarification, which if you work in your second language is probably something that you do quite often. I know I even do it very often in my first language. So this is a tool that we use really a lot. And there's a lot of really good ways to do it without blaming the other person or without seeming like you don't know what's going on, which I know is a fear, at least it is for myself. So let's get into some of these tactics.

1:15
The first step and we'll go over the steps and then I'll get into them a little bit more. But the first step is really being open and honest about needing clarification and being straightforward with asking for clarification.

1:30
The second thing to remember is not to blame the other person, right? Even though I'm sure we all know some pretty poor communicators, or we've had experience with people who don't communicate as clearly, we don't want to blame the other person, right, we want to keep the space open for them to expand on what they're trying to say.

1:54
The last step is really summarizing. And that's going to give you an opportunity to really nail in on on what exactly they are talking about. And we can do this in two ways. We can do this in being specific, and really trying to nail down on something specific that they're saying. Or we if we want to find out more information, we can ask open ended questions. And we're gonna look at both of those.

2:22
But first - asking for clarification. How do we do that in a polite way? And really, I would say the first thing to do is you can start with a small apology, like for example, you could say, Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't really catch what it was that you were trying to say there. If you don't mind repeating that. Or if you're trying to, right, get get them to kind of either repeat it or to build on that you can say, Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't quite follow what you said there. But when you say this, did you mean this? Right? So you're kind of not in a way putting words in your mouth, but you're kind of getting the other person to expand on that. And again, we're not trying to blame the other person, right? We want we don't want to say, Oh, I'm sorry. You were not clear? Or Oh, I'm sorry. You didn't speak very clearly. I'm sorry, you didn't... You didn't explain that well enough. We don't want to do that. Okay. Even though you may be right, we don't want to do that. So again, asking for clarification, a small apology. And there just saying I'm sorry, I didn't quite follow, right.

3:32
And then when we summarize, how do we summarize? If you remember in some of our previous episodes, we've talked about the RASA technique, right? Which is that we receive, we appreciate what the other person is saying we summarize in our own words, and then we ask again, right? And that could sound like this. "Okay, so it sounds like what you're saying is that next year, we're going to have to really build up our workforce. Is that right?" So there I'm using the RASA technique to receive, appreciate, and summarize by saying "It sounds like what you're saying is...", and then I'm asking, "Is that right?"

4:16
Now this comes to our last point when we're talking about if we're trying to be trying to find out very specific answers, or if we're trying to kind of get some more information, get a broader sense of what's happening. So if we're trying to ask for specific information, you can say, yeah, you can ask things like, is that right? Or when you say this, you mean exactly this right? And asking a specific question, where they either say yes or no, there you're nailing down exactly what it is that they're looking for. Now, if we're trying to just find out more and we're trying to bet understand where they're coming from, right? their general position. We want to use questions like, WHAT, or WHY, or HOW, right? So for example, if a person saying, "You know, they're telling me about next year, we need to grow our workforce." I'm trying to find out okay, exactly why or, or exactly how they plan on doing this. So I can kind of use those questionnaires to get some more information. "Okay, so when you say you're trying to grow your workforce next year, can you tell me a little bit about HOW you expect to do that?" So they're, we're going to open it up for them to get some more information.

5:49
Now, if I'm just going back to being very specific, if I just want to nail down that they're saying that they want to grow the workforce, and I'm trying to clarify that I can say, "Huh, okay, sorry, but I didn't quite follow. Now. It sounds like you're saying that specifically for next year for 2022. You want to grow your workforce by X percent? Is that correct?" Okay, so here, what we're doing is really nailing down a specific answer, versus the previous one where it was much more open. Right?

6:25
So when we're asking for clarification, really, what do we want to do? First, the first thing is being open and honest, that we need clarification. It's not a bad thing. I mean, I need clarification all the time. And I'm sure you'd agree it's much better to have a clear idea and a clear answer on what's needed before going forward. Right? So using a small apology, just being open and honest that you didn't quite follow that. Again, we don't want to blame the other person, right? So avoid saying you weren't clear enough, or I didn't understand the way that you explain that. Right? Just bring it on ourselves, because that's going to lead the other person to be much more open and honest about how they're communicating. Then we want to summarize and ask either a specific question, or open ended question, depending on the information that we're looking for.

7:25
So as usual, listen to this a couple times, try it out. Again, apply, apply, apply and might not go smoothly the first time, but it'll keep the other person talking. And that at the end of the day, will get you some more information, right. So try it a few times and see how it goes. And, as always, keep learning.

7:49

And that's all we have for you today. We hope you enjoyed it, and remember to subscribe to Talaera Talks. We'll be back soon with more! And visit our website at https://talaera.com for more valuable content on business English. You can also request a free consultation on the best ways for you and your team to improve your communication skills. So have a great day and keep learning!

 

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