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0124 Asking for Clarification in a Business Meeting.

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 124: Asking for Clarification in a Business Meeting.

Hello, and welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast episode 124. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, and as always, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Today’s podcast is about asking for clarification when you don’t understand something at a business meeting. Let’s get started!

[start of dialogue]

I was negotiating a contract with a new business partner, and we had a meeting to clarify the terms.

Bill: If I understand the terms correctly, the length of the contract would be one year with a one-year option. Is that correct?

Ms. Samuels: Do you mean the contract for equipment rental or the one for training?

Bill: I was under the impression that both contracts had the same terms.

Ms. Samuels: Yes and no. Let me see if I can clarify that. The terms are the same except that the contract for training has a clause that allows for the cancellation after the first six months.

Bill: Could you elaborate on that?

Ms. Samuels: Sure. What I mean is that either side could cancel the training contract after the six months as long as it's in writing.

Bill: Let me see if I have that right. This contract is for six months of training, but if it isn't cancelled, continues for another six months. Is that right?

Ms. Samuels: Yes, that's right.

Bill: Okay, that's clear enough. Let's move on to the other terms

[end of dialogue]

In today’s podcast, we’re talking about asking for clarification or trying to get someone to explain something to us that we don’t understand. “To clarify” (clarify) means to explain something you don’t understand. Well, in the dialogue today, the story begins by Bill talking about how he was negotiating a contract. “To negotiate” (negotiate) means to talk to someone and try to come to an agreement, try to create an agreement between two people. Usually, this is a business term – you negotiate. You can always use this in politics – two countries can negotiate. Well, here we’re negotiating a contract.

A “contract” (contract) is an agreement – a legal agreement between two people or two companies. In this story, the man is trying to negotiate a contract with a new business partner, someone he is going to work with. And they had a meeting to clarify the terms. Well, clarify – we already know, to explain something you don’t understand. “Terms” (terms) - in business when we talk about the terms, we’re talking about the conditions or the parts of the contract – what the contract or agreement actually says. For example, one term of a contract could be how long the contract will last – one year, six months, and so forth. Another term of the contract or part of the contract could be how much you are going to spend – how much money you are going to spend. So, those are all terms of a contract.

Well, Bill begins the conversation by saying, “If I understand the terms correctly.” This is an expression that we would use before summarizing or giving our interpretation or understanding of something. For example, someone is explaining a contract to you or someone is explaining anything to you. And you want to make sure that you understood. You want to check with that person. You say, “If I understand you correctly.” And here Bill says, “If I understand the terms of the contract correctly.” He goes on then to give his understanding – “The length of the contract would be one year with a one year option.” An “option” (option) in a business contract means that you have a possibility for continuing the contract for a longer time. And once the contract is over, you can continue it for more time.

Bill then says, “Is that correct?” – which is a way of asking am I correct, do I understand correctly, is that correct. And Ms. Samuels says, “Do you mean the contract for equipment rental or the one for training?” “Do you mean” is a way you ask people to tell you more information – to get more information. You’re not quite sure what they don’t understand. You don’t understand what they don’t understand. So, you say, “Did you mean,” or “Do you mean this or that?” “Training” (training) is sort of like classes for employees, for people who work for a company, it’s education – it’s giving them some more information about something. So, you can go to a training to learn how to use the Macintosh PowerBook G4, for example – that’s my computer. I could go to a training about that – a class about that.

Bill then says, “I was under the impression that both contracts had the same terms.” “I was under the impression” (impression) – when you say to someone, “I was under the impression,” you mean that is how I understood it. “My understanding of this was,” and then you give your understanding. “I was under the impression that this girl loved me, but it turns out she did not love me at all.” How sad huh? “I was under the impression that” – I understood, that’s what I understood.

Well, Ms Samuels says, “Let me see if I can clarify that.” When somebody says, “Let me see if I can,” they mean give me the opportunity, allow me, let me do something. Here, it’s “Let me see if I can clarify” – make it clear for you. And she says, “The terms of the contracts are the same” – the two contracts or equipment rental – renting equipment and training. But that the contract for training has a “clause” that allows for the cancellation after the first six months. A “clause” is a part of the contract. It’s usually a sentence or two sentences or some part of the contract that is very – has a specific terms. A “clause” is one of the terms. But usually, it has to do – often has to do with an exception or something that’s different about the contract. So, the clause here allows for or means that you can have a cancellation. And “to cancel,” of course means to end something. So, a “cancellation” is an ending. So, what they’re saying here is that for one contract, they can end the contract after only six months.

Bill then asks Ms. Samuels to give him more information. And one way to do that is to say, “Could you elaborate on that?” “Could you elaborate?” “To elaborate” (elaborate) means to give more detail, to give more information, to elaborate. And Ms. Samuels says, “Sure” – yes. “What I mean is that either side or either side – either pronunciation is correct – that either side could cancel the training contract after six months as long as it’s in writing.” “What I mean is” is another way of introducing an explanation. When someone doesn’t understand you and you can say, “Well, what I mean is,” and then you try to explain it in a different way. In this case, the contract can be cancelled if it is “in writing.” And when we say, “I want it in writing,” we mean I want it written down on a piece of paper.

Bill says, “Let me see if I have that right.” This is another way of saying to the other person, “Okay, let me see if I understand you correctly. Let me see. I’m going to tell you again what I think the situation is.” So, “Let me see if I have that right or correct.” And then he explains his understanding of the contract – the contract is for six months of training but if it isn’t cancelled, continues for another six months. “Is that right?” – meaning “Is that correct?” And Ms. Samuels says, “Yes, that’s right.”

Now let’s listen to the dialogue this time at a native rate of speech.

I was negotiating a contract with a new business partner, and we had a meeting to clarify the terms.

Bill: If I understand the terms correctly, the length of the contract would be one year with a one-year option. Is that correct?

Ms. Samuels: Do you mean the contract for equipment rental or the one for training?

Bill: I was under the impression that both contracts had the same terms.

Ms. Samuels: Yes and no. Let me see if I can clarify that. The terms are the same except that the contract for training has a clause that allows for the cancellation after the first six months.

Bill: Could you elaborate on that?

Ms. Samuels: Sure. What I mean is that either side could cancel the training contract after the six months as long as it's in writing.

Bill: Let me see if I have that right. This contract is for six months of training, but if it isn't cancelled, continues for another six months. Is that right?

Ms. Samuels: Yes, that's right.

Bill: Okay, that's clear enough. Let's move on to the other terms

[end of dialogue]

Special thanks to Dr. Lucy Tse who wrote this podcast and really makes this podcast possible for you. I’m just the voice of the podcast but Lucy does most of the work and so, we definitely want to thank her for all that she has done. Remember to visit our website at www.eslpod.com for more information and for the script of today’s podcast.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. This podcast is copyright 2006.

Glossary
to negotiate – to make suggestions, offers, and demands and to hear someone else’s suggestions, offers, and demands, so both people can agree to a final decision

* The shirt Luisa wanted to buy had a small mark on it, so Luisa negotiated with the seller so that she could pay a lower price for it.


contract – a formal agreement; a written document agreeing to a set of actions

* Our company signed a contract with this company to rent our computer equipment.


partner – someone who works with someone else to do a task or goal; individuals or companies that work with each other to achieve a goal

* The book publishing company was a business partner with the local school, and the two worked together to provide cheap textbooks to the school’s students.


to clarify – to explain something; to make something less confusing

* Therese did not understand the teacher’s lesson in class, so the teacher clarified the concept for her.


term – a statement, usually written on paper, that one must agree to before a service is provided; a statement that explains how a service will be provided and for the price that service will be provided for

* The terms of the agreement state that the customer will pay $75 each month for the service to continue for another year.


correctly – right; in a true way

* After learning the right steps to the dance, Pierre could do the dance correctly.


option – a choice; some action one can pick or choose to have or to do out of two or more choices

* The father told his daughter to choose either the option of going to the park or going to the zoo.


Do you mean...? – Are you talking about…?; a question one asks to learn the meaning or truth of what someone else said or asked

* Do you mean that I need to start the project over again, or can I fix the mistake without throwing the rest away?


training – education; a program one participates in to learn how to do something

* Mika took training to learn how to take care of small medical emergencies.


I was under the impression that – I thought that; a statement one makes to say what one thought was true or real, usually said when one wants to know if what one thought was true is actually true

* I was under the impression that the assignment was due on Tuesday, but I heard someone else say it was due on Wednesday.


clause – one part or section of an agreement

* The agreement included a clause stating that the customer would lose his money if he chose to end the service early.


cancellation – the act of stopping something, usually a service; the action of ending something that would continue if one did not take the action to end it

* The telephone company employee tried to convince the customer not go ahead with the cancellation of the service, but the customer cancelled it anyway.


to elaborate – to explain more; to give someone more information about something

* Ernest’s idea sounded interesting, so Sylvie asked him to elaborate on the details.


What I mean is that – What I am saying is; a statement one uses before giving more details or an explanation

* What I mean is that I do not like eating strawberries, not that I cannot eat them.


in writing – written or shown on paper; made using written or typed words for someone to read

* Alex wanted to see the instructions in writing because he did not think he would remember the instructions if he only heard them once.


Let me see if I have that right. – I want to tell you what I understand and find out if it is right.; a statement one makes to learn if one understands something, or if what one thinks is correct is actually correct

* Let me see if I have that right. Mable has a pet dog and not a pet cat?

Culture Note
Saying “Sorry” in Business

When someone makes a mistake and does something that “causes you harm” (hurts you), you expect the person “to apologize” (to say “I’m sorry”). And when someone apologizes, most of the time, you no longer feel so bad, and you forgive them – or at least, are less “bothered” (troubled) by their actions. Saying “I’m sorry” “goes a long way” (accomplishes a lot) in making a bad situation better.

So why does “I’m sorry” seem so difficult for some businesses to say? The answer, at least in the United States, can be found in our legal system. Saying “I’m sorry” is admitting that you did something wrong, and if you admit you did something wrong, someone can easily sue you. “To sue” means to go to a judge and ask for money for whatever “damages” (financial loss or injury) you have suffered. “I’m sorry” means you are “guilty” (did something wrong or illegal) in the U.S., and most companies don’t want to have to pay for their mistakes.

Doctors and hospitals are especially “reluctant” (resistant; unwilling) to say, “I’m sorry” due to “medical malpractice suits” (legal actions against a doctor because of physical harm he or she caused). But many people sue their doctors because they are angry that the doctor doesn’t just apologize for doing something wrong. If their doctors apologized, they would actually be less likely to sue. For this reason, more than 36 states have passed “apology laws,” where saying “I’m sorry” cannot be “used against you in court” (cannot be used as proof you did something wrong and therefore you must pay money). States that have apology laws have less expensive malpractice suits than those that do not have these laws.