How to be diplomatic in English

As we saw in our previous blog, politeness is important in the English language. Students of English often come from native language groups that have a very direct way of speaking, and this can often sound jarring to an English ear. At the very least, in a formal setting like work or if you were on holiday in England and had to go to the police, it is useful to know some phrases for navigating a discussion so that it does not turn into an argument. Most of the time people in England will be good to you if you use the right language.

  1. I’m not sure that I agree
  2. I don’t agree

Firstly, you need to know how to disagree. Disagreeing directly, as in b) can sound quite direct and perhaps aggressive. It can be used to shut someone down quickly, but if you are trying to be diplomatic and find some middle ground then this is not as good as a cushioned sentence as in a).

  1. That’s not a great idea
  2. That’s a bad idea

Here we see two sentences that are similar in meaning but one uses a negative adjective while the other uses a positive adjective in a negative structure. Which one do you think sounds softer? Correct, c) sounds much softer than d) and we should use this technique whenever we want to say something bad in a nice way.

  1. That’s not quite true
  2. That’s not true

We can use words like quite, just, not really to soften a sentence. In reality, we mean the same thing, but breaking up the delivery and making the sentence a bit longer really helps it sound less like you want to start a fight.

  1. You don’t understand
  2. Maybe I haven’t explained myself well

Blaming the person you are talking to for not understanding or not agreeing is one sure-fire way to get them angry. If an argument starts to go off course then you should put the blame on yourself and try to come back to a point where you can clarify and perhaps make yourself heard.

  1. I don’t think things were done correctly
  2. I’m not entirely sure that these tasks were really approached in quite the right way

Longer sentences are usually more polite. Try adding a combination of the things we’ve seen above to make a super nice polite diplomatic sentence that should be so well cushioned that no one could possibly take offence to it.

  1. Well, we can agree to disagree. Shall we go to the pub, then?

If all else fails and you can’t find a solution to your discussion, you can always just agree to disagree, with no hard feelings. A pint will usually solve what words cannot.


Written by James R. McCance for Aston School

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