I was just wondering if maybe um...

Jullian Gigglesworth and Lillian Yates studied the differences between how native English speakers (NES) and non-native English speakers (NNES) ask their bosses difficult questions like, "I know it's a busy time right now but can I take a vacation next week?"

In general, native English speakers used the following strategies more often:

1. First names

"Native English Speakers used more informal language, prepared their requests with greetings, let's talk routines...and almost all included the boss's first name."

I don't recommend that you walk up to your boss and say, "Hey dude, what's up?" That's too informal but it is very common to use the boss's first name like this, "Hi Joel, how's it going? Are you busy right now?" If you are a student, it's common to call your teacher Mr.(Last Name) but after you graduate you are always safe using first names, at least in the US and Australia where this study was done. Does anyone know if it is the same in the UK?

2. Sympathy

"um and ah I recognise that you know at present it's not a particularly good time for any of us to take annual leave but..."

"I know we're really busy and I understand that but..."

"Yeah,look, I realise um that we're really busy but I've just got this situation that um..."

Native speakers often show their sympathy for the difficulties that their request might cause the boss: Irecognize, understand, and realize that this may be painful for you but...I'm going to ask you anyway.

You may have also noticed that um and ah was used a lot. This helps signal to the boss that you are a responsible person and it is hard for you to be selfish and ask for a personal favor.

3. Softeners

I was just wondering if I could take you know 3 weeks as soon as possible becuase I have to go overseas..."

"I know it would put the company out a little but um would that be possible?"
"what I was thinking is maybe I could take the extra week off that I haven't had yet."
"I sort of want to take the leave at the moment."

All of these phrases, sort of, maybe, a little, and just make the request sound small and humble. You can use the boss's first name but don't be pushy.

4. Past tense and continuous

"Hi (first name), um I was wondering if I could get some annual leave"
"I actually wantedto take 3 weeks leave at the moment"

Most non-native speakers in the study used the phrase, "could you give me next month for this leave" or "could you help me about this problem".

It's good to know that there are many ways to get what you want. Let me know if it works.

Gigglesworth, J., Yates, L. (2008). Mitigating difficult requests in the workplace: what teachers and students need to know. TESOL Quarterly, 41(4)

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