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What Your Boss Says in English… and What They Really Mean

Image representing two people learning about what the boss says in English and what they really mean

Trying to work out the subtext (hidden meaning) of things other people say is often tricky in your native language – and it’s REALLY difficult in another one!

Added to this, there are certain unspoken rules in workplaces that employees are just supposed to ‘get’. For example, in many offices, when you go to the kitchen to make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, your colleagues will expect you to offer to get them one too. Or if someone brings a treat like chocolate or cake for everyone to try, they might be shocked if you take more than your share!

When it comes to recognising and copying the things people in your office do, it should be fairly easy to learn the rules and fit in. However, when it comes to interpreting some of the things they say, this can be more of a challenge.

In this blog post, we’ll look at common phrases your boss might say to you in English – and what he or she really means when they say it!

… And hopefully you’ll never be asked to read between the lines THIS much:

“Do it whichever way you think best. I trust you.”

Okay, so this sounds like a really nice thing for your boss to say and it’s always great to have the freedom to do things your way. Often when people say this, though, what they really mean is either: ‘I don’t really care that much. I just want you to deal with it’ or, worse, ‘Please can you take more responsibility for your own job and stop asking for help?’

Either way, you’re going to have to figure out whatever problem you have on your own, or you risk annoying them!

“Are you busy?”

When many people hear this from their boss, they panic! But don’t worry, your boss isn’t actually testing you to see if you’re working hard enough. Instead, what they mean is: ‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ or ‘Can you prioritise this other thing for me?’. It’s best to answer with something like ‘What do you need?’ or ‘I can stop what I’m doing if you need me to’.

“When you get a chance, can you…”

This is something you’re more likely to hear in a country where people are very polite and uncomfortable about being direct – the UK or Canada, for example.

Either way, your boss isn’t really saying that this isn’t that important and you can put this off until you’re not busy. They’re being nice about it, but they are still telling you to do something. You should try to do whatever it is as soon as you can!

“We work hard and play hard”

Oh god. If you’re hearing this, beware! It might sound fun, but in 99% of cases it means: ‘I expect everyone here to work really long hours and then go to the pub for a super awkward drink with me on a Friday night’. There is also a serious risk that your boss might be David Brent from the Office video above.


Dreaming of working in an English-speaking country? Improve your language skills with our range of courses at www.Eurocentres.com