Have you ever had a problem at work because of your colleagues?
We need to be able to rely on colleagues in order to do our own job well, so building a positive relationship is essential. But if a colleague doesn’t have time to help you or puts you in a difficult position with your boss, what can you say?
Here are 10 phrases you can use at work. They’ll help you either to deal with difficult situations or to create great working relationships with your colleagues.
1. Can we schedule a ten-minute meeting to …
If you want help from a colleague, it’s a good idea to emphasise you don’t need much of their time. It’s much easier to agree to a ten-minute meeting than one which is an hour long. Try it next time you need some help – but make sure you only really take up ten minutes!
2. If you’re happy with this, I can go ahead.
Sometimes you don’t want a colleague to argue with your idea or to delay something because he / she is forced to think of a solution. Instead, make it easy for your colleague to agree with your idea. It’s no risk for your colleague, because if your idea goes wrong, you’ll be responsible. Of course, if it goes well, you’ll get the credit!
You can also say something like “If I don’t hear back from you by (date) I’ll assume you’re happy for me to go ahead”. That way, your colleague has some time to think of a better alternative.
3. Can I pick your brains about something?
Treat your colleague as an expert! Everyone likes to feel appreciated, so if you show that you respect your colleague’s greater experience, knowledge or skill, your colleague will be happy to help you.
4. Is there a better time for me to ask you about this?
This is a useful phrase if your colleague is busy, or unwilling to help you. It’s helpful because you’re acknowledging the fact that your colleague doesn’t have much time (even if it isn’t true!) but it also shows that you’re serious about solving your problem. By asking a colleague to tell you what time you can ask again, you can then go back to the colleague without “nagging”.
If your colleague tells you “next week” or another time too far in the future, say something like “Ah, that’s not going to work for me because…” Then suggest a nearer time – and emphasise it won’t take too long.
5. How can we resolve this?
Try to get collaboration. If your colleague doesn’t help or do what you need, say why it’s a problem to you: “The boss asked me for these figures and if I can’t get them, we won’t be able to finish the report… How can we resolve this?”
6. I’m up to my ears in / with (work / paperwork / the invoicing, etc)
If you can’t help – or don’t want to get involved – give a reason. One way to do this is to say you’re super busy with work. To be helpful to your colleague, you can then add “Could we talk about it a bit later?” or “Can I get back to you later today?”
These phrases are also useful if your colleague talks too much or wants to involve you in a conversation you don’t have time for.
7. I’d rather stay out of these sorts of discussions!
It’s a good idea to avoid discussing “dangerous” subjects like politics and religion – simply because they can lead to arguments. You can also use this phrase to avoid getting involved in a gossip session.
8. I don’t really have an opinion either way
This is good way to say that you don’t have an answer, especially if your colleague asks you a question and you need to make a neutral and tactful reply. For example, if your colleague asks you what you think about the boss or another colleague, say you don’t have an opinion so that you don’t have to say anything negative.
9. Can I help you with that? / Would you like a hand with that?
If you see a colleague struggling with something, offer to help! It’s kind and shows you as a great team-worker.
10. I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it tonight / this weekend, etc
You’ve already agreed to go to a work social event, but now you’re having “second thoughts”. Use this phrase to make a polite excuse. But don’t forget to give a reason! You can say something like “My kid is ill”, or “Something’s cropped up”.
Adapted from Business English ESL.
Need more phrases for working with colleagues in English? To find out how to handle disagreements, the “magic word” to increase collaboration, and how to spot the four kinds of problem colleagues; check out Business English ESL.
This book has all the phrases you need to succeed in English and to make a great impression in every work situation. It’s for anyone who works in an English-speaking office, or deals with English-speaking colleagues anywhere in the world.
You’ll learn how to:
Answer difficult English questions at interviews to land a great job
Impress your boss, expand your role and get a promotion
Speak up in meetings so your ideas get heard and you get credit
Socialize and network in English with ease
Delegate work, give feedback and manage people and projects in ways that get you respect
Deal with difficult colleagues to repair bad situations and build great working relationships
Check out this video on 5 strategies and phrases to build great working relationships with your colleagues!
Speak English Fluently!
Hi! I’m Clare, an English teacher and the founder of this site.
I can help you speak English more easily! Start here for English fluency:
The Fast Phrase Finder – The world’s FIRST spreadsheet of fluency phrases. Get your first 10 English fluency phrases here!