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Business English for Architecture: How to Explain Changes to Clients

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges you’ll face working as an architect in the English-speaking world is explaining project changes to your clients.

Business English for Architecture: How to Explain Changes to Clients

Because often these clients don’t want to make any changes or they don't necessarily understand them. They have their heart set on a particular design feature, they don’t understand why changes are necessary or they might just prefer your original design plan.

But breaking the news simply can’t be avoided if you want to grow your business or your career.

Here are five ways you can explain those changes to your architecture or design clients with confidence.

1. Be prepared

Business meetings in English can be daunting when you’re not a native speaker. But by thinking through your responses beforehand and brushing up on your English, the meeting with your client can be much less stressful.

Make sure you know exactly what changes you need to explain to the client, how to justify the changes and what you hope the overall result of the meeting will be. It’s also a good idea to revise the specific English architecture vocabulary you’ll need for the meeting and brush up on your grammar beforehand.

Many of my English for architecture coaching clients like to keep a notepad with them with useful vocabulary items, expressions and other helpful tips that can jog their memory when they need it.

Don’t forget to prepare yourself for your clients’ potential reactions to the changes and consider how you’ll respond to their questions. Remember- they might not understand the changes you’ve made and it will be your job to explain it to them.

2. Keep it simple

You should always keep your language as simple and as jargon-free as possible when speaking to your client. You don’t need to impress them with your English vocabulary here- quite the opposite. Clarity is key.

Use short sentences, avoid using technical terms and make sure you pause and check that your client has understood before proceeding. To do this, you can use questions such as:

  • “Does that make sense (to you)?”

  • “Do you have any questions about this?”

  • “Do you understand what I mean?”

  • “Do you follow?”

  • “Do you know what I mean?”

This is especially important because clients often say that they understand when in fact they don’t. They’re too embarrassed to ask you to explain what they mean, or they can’t because of cultural norms.

Shaping your language like this will show your design clients that you care about them. You’ll strengthen the client-architect bond, your client is more likely to be happy with the finished designs and you increase your chances of repeat projects.

3. Use diplomatic language

If you suspect that your client won’t be happy about the changes you need to explain, you can use modal verbs to soften your language.

Modal verbs are ‘helping verbs’ that help explain: ability, possibility, permissions or obligation. They include ‘might’, ‘may’, ‘can’, ‘could’, ‘will’, ‘would’, ‘must’ and ‘should’.

When you use them in a business English setting, they help you sound more polite and understanding. Your message will be better received and you’re more likely to achieve the right results. They’re also a useful way to find out more about your client’s expectations so you can shape the project accordingly.

For example:

  • “Could you tell me what you think about...?”

  • “Can I show you the alterations here…?”

  • “I would like to explain to you the changes…”

4. Use visuals

Visuals can often work much better than words when it comes to showing the project design to a client and helping them understand what the experience might be. It can also trigger questions from your client that can help guide the project as a whole.

For example, could you show the changes on a 3D model with the changes in a different colour? Or displayed differently to the rest of the model? Could you compare the previous architectural plans with the new, updated version? Could you also explain changes in space and scale by using a tape measure, stepping out the size of things and trying to allow clients to get a better understanding of how the changes will impact on their experience of the space.

Whenever there are sizes involved, it’s useful to use the space you’re in to communicate. For example, if a kitchen worktop is to be 1000mm instead of the usual 900mm for ergonomic reasons, use your hands or a tape measure to show how high it is.

5. Use language to help them feel heard

It’s also vital that your architecture client feels that you’re making an effort to listen and understand their feelings and opinions, even if you don’t entirely agree. At the same time, you might need to gently steer their ideas in a different direction so that you can create a design project that uses your natural talent for architecture whilst also meeting their needs.

Here are some of the expressions you might like to use to do this:

  • “I understand that this is the most important part of the design…”

  • “From your perspective, I can see that this might be a problem for you…”

  • “I can see why this would be your preference…”

  • “Thanks for pointing that out to us. I think it’s a great idea and…”

  • “How would you feel if we tried this instead?”

  • “Would it be OK with you if we explored another option?”

  • “How would it work for you if we tried a few other options?”

  • “What do you feel are the advantages of this project?”

  • “What do you like most about this project?”

Final thoughts

Explaining design changes to a client is never the easiest part of being an architect or designer, especially if you believe they might disagree with your team’s ideas.

But by preparing what you’ll need to say, using simple language and visuals, modal verbs, and using language that shows that you’re listening, you can overcome these challenges. In turn, this can help you build both that business relationship and your career as an architect.


Want to improve your business English skills so you can advance in your architecture career?

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