TEFL teaching materials

teaching professional people english

Advanced business learners – complaining to HR

Learners who come to english as a tool for their management career can be a challenge.  I have ways of getting people to talk (although I’m careful not to leave scars).  However, although I know that the talking really is what brings about the most progress, I sometimes find myself feeling as though I’m chatting vacuously rather than actually working.  Taking some formal lesson content along to use before I coax the student into extensive conversation helps me with this.

A very good source of material for managers is the British Council website, and I’d like to recommend one of their podcasts for use in the classroom.  You can download the audio from here as well as a pdf transcript with some preliminary true/false questions.  There are lots of interactive exercises to accompany these podcasts but they are probably better used by students outside classroom time.  That said, if you think that the listening might be a stretch for your weaker students you can visit these and pick up ideas for vocabulary to pre-teach, for example.

Here’s how I have used this piece recently.

Set-up:  I explain that I have brought along a listening exercise from the British council website, and that I shall stop the audio strategically in order for the student to give his opinion.  I give him the first page of the pdf folded so that he can only see the questions, not the transcript.  Sometimes the questions help, sometimes they don’t.  Make sure you give the student a brief pause so that he can read them.

Listening:  I start the audio and keep an eye on the transcript.  Try to make a mental note of the point at which the exercise actually starts – that way when you replay it, you can by-pass the introduction.  When the dialogue reaches ‘…and that’s another thing.  He never listens!’ hit pause and ask the student what he thinks.  Does the complaint sound reasonable?  If he was the HR manager, what would he recommend?  What seems to be the problem exactly?  When was the tipping point in this situation?  Have you ever been in a situation like this (from any angle)?

You may need to play the audio more than once but more often than not that won’t be necessary.  When you hit upon the obvious question – why hasn’t this chap spoken to his line manager directly? resume playback..  I just play the next two lines of the script, from ‘Right ..’. to ‘he has no time for us’.  Does this shed any light on the situation?  (‘For us’?  Are other people in the department having problems as well?  Given that pinning the manager down is proving to be difficult, what advice would the student give?  Usually they will recommend either e-mailing the manager, or calling a 3-way meeting with the employee, the manager, and HR..)

When this discussion has run its course, play the onversation to the end and see how the student evaluates the HR manager’s performance.  Usually it is felt that she gives a good account of herself and that the situation may be salvageable.

Follow-up:  At this point, I have had very interesting discussions about preparing for difficult meetings and about employee relations.  Some points which you may be able to bring up are;

  • The HR manager suggests preparing for the meeting & taking notes.  What methods does your student favour for this?
  • Criticism is to be avoided.  What exactly should the employee say?  How should he state his grievances?  How should he deal with denials from the manager?  (the ‘that’s just not true’ line – obviously, with concrete examples)
  • What agenda should they set for the meeting?
  • What outcome would indicate success?  (Scheduling a follow-up meeting, an agreement to review procedures, an agreement to establish lines of intra-departmental communication…)
  • If Mr.  Johnson wants to take the matter further, what evidence will he need?
  • There is an elephant in the room – why has Sandra not been replaced??  If the company has decided that the post should not be filled, how should the department deal with re-distributing the workload??

Rôle play:  If you are lucky enough to have a group then you won’t have to participate unless you want to.  Here are some scenarios to try.  If you think of others, please share.

  • The conversation between Mr.  Johnson and Mr. Bond, as described in the audio.
  • A telephone conversation between the HR manager and each of the men, individually and separately, after this meeting as taken place.
  • Subsequent to the initial meeting (assumed to be a failure) a 3-way discussion between HR, Mr. Bond and Mr. Johnson.
  • If we go for the worst-case scenario, what happens if these two men just can’t work together any more?  Rôle play a meeting between members of the HR department – what should be done?  Should one of them be moved?  Who?  Are we talking about demotion or promotion?

Written work:  So many possibilities..

  • The e-mail from Mr.  Johnson to Mr. Bond as described.  (Do not neglect this.  These ‘little’ things are often the most difficult)
  • An e-mail from a disgruntled Mr. Bond to HR regarding a mysterious e-mail he has received from his subordinate Mr.  Johnson.  He’s at the end of his tether with this unco-operative member of the department.
  • A memo from Mr. Bond to HR setting out the case for replacing Sandra – the department is clearly a person short!
  • A memo from HR to Mr. Bond & Mr. Johnson inviting them to a meeting at HR, along with the agenda for the meeting.
  • Minutes of one of the meetings rôle-played.
  • …..?  What do you think?

I daresay that there is enough material here to keep you occupied for a lesson.. have fun!


About Catherine Kennedy

Second year undergrad (super-mature) at Sheffield Uni doing single honours Religion, Theology, and the Bible. (Formerly TEFL teacher in France)

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March 2012
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