“A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip” Caskie Stinnett
Don’t you just love this quote?
Wouldn’t it be great to tell someone something truly negative in such a way that they feel flattered?
Can you do it in your language?
It takes a lot of practice and I must admit I have yet to master the art of diplomacy to that extent. I am working on it, though.
Today’s lesson is less masterful but equally important and is in response to numerous emails and enquiries I’ve received from English learners related to how to be diplomatic in English.
Listen to this post here
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I wrote a lesson a few months ago (which I’ll refer to now as Part 1 ) on how to be diplomatic in business with English. The post must have been shared (a big thank you) because I’ve received emails asking me to correct learners’ sentences. In each email, the learners either share a selection of sentences with their answers and ask me to correct them, or I am asked to suggest a more diplomatic alternative.
There must be some kind of unit on diplomatic language in one of the English courses that everyone’s taking at the moment because the sentences I am asked to correct are exactly the same for practically each email I receive!
So I thought for the sake of simplicity and to avoid repetition, I’d share these sentences with you and suggest different ways in which you could make them more diplomatic. Some are more formal and others are informal.
Hopefully, if you’re taking a course, you’ll find this lesson helpful, and if you’re not, you could add these sentences to your library of useful resources.
So here goes.
#1 You made a lousy decision.
I’m afraid you didn’t make the best decision.
It wasn’t one of your better decisions.
#2 There has been a bad accident.
I’m afraid there has been a bad accident.
I’m sorry to inform you there has been a bad accident. (formal)
Terrible news! There’s been a bad accident.
#3 It is better if he were replaced by someone with the right skills.
I think it would be better if we replaced him with someone with the right skills.
Don’t you think it would be better if he were replaced by someone with the right skills?
#4 I want more time to finish this presentation.
It would be really helpful if I could have more time to finish this presentation.
I’d really appreciate it if I could have more time to finish this presentation.
Would it be possible to have more time to finish this presentation?
Is there any chance I could have more time to finish this presentation?
#5 We have a problem with the accounts.
There seems to be a problem with the accounts.
We appear to have a problem with the accounts.
I’m afraid we have a problem with the accounts.
#6 I don’t like it.
I’m afraid it’s not what I would have done.
I’m afraid it’s not what I would have chosen.
Mmm, I’m sorry but I don’t really like it.
#7 You don’t understand me.
I’m sorry, perhaps I didn’t make myself clear.
I’m sorry. Let me put it /say it another way.
I’m sorry, what I mean is….
I realise it’s a complex issue. Let me try and explain it better.
#8 I don’t know what you mean.
I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.
I’m sorry but could you explain that again?
I’m sorry, I am confused. You said….
#9 A: Could you email me the documents by Friday?
B: I can’t do it.
I’m afraid I won’t be able to get them to you by then. I could email them to you first thing on Monday morning. Would that be ok?
I’m really sorry but it’s going to be difficult to get them to you by then.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get all the documents ready by Friday.
#10 A: Do you agree with Tim’s proposal?
B: No, I don’t!
Actually, there are a few points I find difficult to accept/ disagree with.
I’m afraid, I don’t. Sorry.
Well, I agree with some of it but not all.
#11 A: Is there a discount on these items?
I’m afraid there isn’t.
I’m afraid there isn’t at the moment.
I’m afraid not. Our prices are extremely competitive.
You’ll notice that I used the expressions “I’m afraid”, “I’m sorry”, “unfortunately”.
That’s because they’re great when it comes to softening your language especially when giving bad news, disagreeing and being more indirect and therefore polite.
It’s also a very British thing. I am not sure the Americans apologise quite as much! There really isn’t any need to apologise so much but we British love apologising!
Having said that, these expressions are vital if you’re to succeed in doing business in English because the English Language demands that you soften your language in these situations.
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Ciao for now