“Politeness is a sign of dignity, not subservience” Theodore Roosevelt
You’ve had a tough journey trying to get to work. The traffic on the road was heavier than usual which meant it took you an extra 30 minutes to get in.
Or maybe the trains were running late which meant a busier carriage, no empty seats and you ended up standing for 30 minutes! Those precious 30 minutes you normally use to catch up on sleep or read the paper or your book.
So you’re running late, you’re feeling irritable but you think you’ve got enough time to get yourself a quick coffee from the cafe over the road. You hurry over and when it’s your turn to be served, the barista takes your order, accepts your money, gives you your change and shouts ‘next’ without once giving you eye contact, let alone a smile!
How rude is that? Not only have you had a tough start to your day, you’ve also had the unpleasant experience of rude customer service.
It’s so unnecessary, don’t you think?
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Why is it so difficult for some people to show politeness and courtesy when engaging in business?
If we want people to respect us and do business with us, we must show them politeness first. I’m sure you’ll agree with me. I always think that if you’re polite to people first, it’s going to be harder for them to be rude back. Of course, there are always exceptions, but that’s for another discussion.
I want to tackle the subject of politeness in this week’s lesson, and I want to relate it to 3 business scenarios we’ve found ourselves in at one time or another – having to decline/refuse an invitation; disagreeing politely with a colleague or client; making a request/asking a favour.
In all three situations, politeness matters and choosing your words is important. You can do this easily in your language, but how about in English?
Here’s where your fellow EWATers and I may be of some help by suggesting some expressions you may want to have tucked away in your bank of polite English expressions ready to whisk out as and when they’re needed.
In these scenarios, I am focusing on spoken language and not written language where the register could differ.
Business Scenario #1: Declining/refusing an invitation
In your professional life you’re probably invited to events such as dinners, conferences, a drinks party, to have a drink with colleagues or customers, a golf day and so on.
Some of these invitations will be in writing (conferences, golf day), but often we’re invited on the spur of the moment (on impulse) by say, a colleague at a conference to join them for dinner; for a drink at the end of a hard working day or after a meeting.
If they’re clients or colleagues you don’t know well and you want to turn them down (refuse them) gently, you could say something like:
- I’d love to but I’m afraid I have to…..
- Dinner? That sounds wonderful but I’m afraid I can’t this evening.
- I’m afraid I have to get home early. Maybe another time?
- What a super idea. If I didn’t have to prepare for my presentation, I’d say yes.
- What a bad timing!!! I’m sorry I’m going to miss it… (Thank you to a fellow EWATer for this expression)
You might want to offer them an alternative time:
- I’d love to join you tonight but I’m afraid I need to get back. How about next week?
- That sounds great but I can’t make tomorrow night. I can do the day after tomorrow. Is that any good?
- Friday? Unfortunately, I’ve already got other plans. What a shame. I’d have loved to join you. Next time, perhaps…
- Oh I’m sorry.I can’t make it this time. Maybe another time. (Thank you to another fellow EWATer for this expression)
Can you think of other expressions you’ve used?
One EWATer suggested, “I’d love to join you for dinner but I’m on a diet!”. Fantastic response although it would leave you wide open for persuasion by the other person.
Business Scenario #2: Disagreeing Politely
This is really tricky because if you’re involved in a discussion on a topic you’re passionate about and your colleague or client has an opinion you find hard to accept, being polite can be extremely difficult.
However, if we’re to maintain good business relationships, we have to find a way to politely disagree with them.
One technique is to acknowledge the other person’s view first before you disagree with it. It’s important you demonstrate you’ve been listening to them and value their point of view. This will also make your counter-argument stronger.
- I understand what you’re saying, however if you were to….
- I see what you’re saying, but I think …..
- I see what you mean, but have you ever wondered…
- I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t think…
- I see your point but I think…
We often use an apology to soften the tone and make your disagreement more polite.
- I’m afraid I don’t see it that way.
- I’m afraid I have to disagree with you
- I’m sorry but I can’t agree with you on that
- I’m afraid I beg to differ
Some people use an apology that doesn’t soften the disagreement:
- I’m sorry but you’re wrong
- I’m sorry but you’re talking nonsense!
- I’m afraid that’s just rubbish!
Beware of these. They work if you know the people well, you know they won’t take offence (or you don’t care if they do) or you’re just annoyed with the way the meeting is going!
Another way is to pretend to be unsure about your position.
- I’m not so sure about that…
- I’m not sure that’s how things went…
- I don’t think that’s what they had in mind..
- I’m not sure that’s a good idea
- Mmmm, I’d have to think about that
Business Scenario #3: Making requests
If you need something to be done, you’re going to have to ask politely. I dislike people (especially at senior levels) who think they can order people around. Everyone wants and deserves to be treated respectfully and that means being asked to do things politely. You’ll get so much more out of people if you treat them well.
- Could you pass me the phone, please?
- Do you mind calling me a taxi?
- Will you be able to get this done by the end of the week?
- Could you do me a big favour?
- Are you busy at the moment? Could you help me out with this?
- Could I borrow you for a couple of minutes/ hours? I could really do with your expertise. (flattery works wonders!)
- Could you read this document for me, please?
- Do you think you could get us some coffee? Thank you.
- We need a couple of volunteers for this project. Would any of you be willing to help us out? We’d really appreciate it.
With a little effort we can make people feel better about themselves and make ourselves look better in their eyes. Politeness matters in life and in business. If you want to be treated with respect and consideration, show them politeness first and it will be returned.
Which expressions do you like and plan to use? Share them with me in the comments box and tell me in what context you’d use them. That way you get to practise the expressions in the right context.
See you next week.
Ciao for now
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