Giving Instructions in English, clear but polite, a fine balance.
Being able to give good clear instructions is an important skill to learn both for your career and family life. To avoid having to do everything in life yourself, you are going to have to learn to delegate, but to do that you need to be able to give good clear instructions. If you neglect to tell people how to do something, the chances are that the task will be done in a different way (not necessarily worse I hasten to add) but giving instructions gives you a handle on quality control.
Coco’s Britspeak Byte
The Brits are a polite nationality, we insist on pleases and thank you’s. We are a little odd; we apologise, even though it was us that got pushed and shoved. We are a generally quite a chaotic nationality by German standards and yet we like to keep things fair by joining a queue in an orderly line. We complain about those very same queues but would never push without asking or sneak in at the front.
We generally try to avoid confrontations and keep to first names because being liked and approachable are seen to be key leadership values. Ultimately being liked and a team player are both more important than being right or first.
Giving instructions and taking on the role of boss can be a real challenge for many Brits because clear instructions are clear and consise, the Brits feel bossy without politeness to protect them and nobody likes a ‘bossy boots’. (A poem to demonstrate)
The right structures to give easy to follow instructions.
In theory at least, in the English language, we use the imperative form to give directions.
1. “Take the bus to Zoologischer Garten, then walk to the Hop on/Hop off bus stop on Kururstendamm, Keep going until you get to Kaufhaus des Westens. The sightseeing buses stop right there!”
(not ride the bus, that would make it sound like you were sitting on the roof)
2. “Turn left and go straight on.”
3. “Do something in English for at least ten minutes a day, every day!”
4. “Be careful!”
5. “Take your time” can loosely be translated as ‘pay attention to the details’, depending on the situation.
6. “Please take a seat.” Request
7. “May I take your coat” Invitation
8″Take a seat.” Command
NOT “I take your coat” Daylight robbery 😉
Infinitives first for imperative Instructions
Let’s take a look at how to use the imperative. Firstly, you need to work out what the infinitive form of the verb is (to go, to sit, to take, to drive etc), now just forget about the ‘to’ and you are ready to put that infinitive at the beginning of the sentence for emphasis.
Go to the meeting, I’ll join you in there
Try to contact the client again, we need his support with the beta testing by the end of the week if we are to keep to schedule.
| To make it negative, it’s easy, just put a “do not” or “don’t” before the verb.|
Don’t is less assertive or strict than “do not”.
“Don’t go to lunch without me, I’m just finishing this email!”
“Do not leave your computer on when you leave the office.”
You might well be familiar with the imperative form if you are the
type of person that reads instruction manuals. In the spoken English
language we also use the same format to show someone how to do
something. Check out the huge range of “How to…” videos to see
how versatile this structure is.
It is helpful in terms of helping someone to get their head around
the bigger picture.
We tend to use “sequencing” words to give details of the steps in the process.
For example “firstly“, “secondly” and”finally” helps a lot.
Even simple instructions can be broken into ‘byte sized’ chunks.
Firstly, open the lid of the printer
Secondly, check which cartridges need changing
Then, unwrap a new cartridge and slot it firmly into position
Finally, close the lid and test the printer.
Watch this How To Video
It’s about how this father to a teenager tries to break down the clearly monumental (huge) instructions of changing a toilet role.
People also say “after that” instead of “then” and “first” / “second”
instead of “firstly” and “secondly”.
Breaking something down into manageable steps will make it much
easier for people to understand the process, making your business
communication more effective.
Tips & Tricks
When you are giving instructions, you can help the other person to
follow your instructions with additional information and advice.
Remember: have the cartridge handy, before you open the printer
Be careful not to … put the empty cartridge down in a way that left
over ink can leak and damage a desk or the carpet.
Try to … have your printer at a height where it is easy to get to
Try not to … change the cartridges unless they are really empty
You need to … check that the paper is correctly aligned too
It’s important to … order more cartridges when there are only two
more in the storage cupboard.
Examples of Imperatives in a Dialogue to provide instructions.
It helps to … get the cartridge before you open the printer
Make/Be sure to … reload the paper at the same time so that any
backlog in printing can be quickly processed without further
Always … check your printer in tray and delete any duplicate print
Never … take the last cartridge without checking that new ones
have been ordered.
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This clarity would make it easy to understand. Unfortunately, native
speakers like to take the sting out of instructions by adding
colloquialisms without even realising it,
Use adjectives and adverbs.
This adds an element of ‘how to’ to your instructions. Compare.
1. Rehearse your speech beforehand, making notes on your script.
2. Rehearse your speech repeatedly beforehand, read slowly and
clearly and make notes on your script in green so that you can edit
your script to reflect your own personal speaking style.
SLOWLY * CAREFULLY * QUIETLY * QUICKLY
We can also use the imperative form to give a warning or advice,
and (if you use “please”) to make a request.
The Devil is in the Detail
Subsequently (after you have given the basic instructions) , to be more specific, you might want to use words like simultaneously, immediately, incidentally.
Big words perhaps, you might think. Is it really necessary to use such complicated words? Well it depends on whether you are giving instructions to your child about how to open a can of sweetcorn or whether you are showing your deputy how to handle the press in a crisis doesn’t it?
One thing is certain, if the person carrying out the instructions does not understand these words and is not self-confident enough to confirm their meaning, then frustration is inevitable.