7 Effective Ways To Use A Diplomatic Tone In Business Environment

To create a good impression and establish a good relationship with others we must strive to communicate well. Hence we must use a tone and speech that sounds professional, polite and understanding. In business meetings and negotiations, being too direct can sound too aggressive and might put people off. Seasoned business people understand that to encourage action to be taken and get the results they hope to achieve, softening their tone and speech can help to sound friendlier and considerate of others. They know that subtle changes in tone in business negotiations can have an effect on the rapport they are trying to establish and affect the outcome of the negotiation. By using a diplomatic tone, their message will be better received and will stand a better chance of achieving the desired results. 

To sound more diplomatic in the English language, here are some techniques that you can use. 


1. Use Modal Verbs 

When you are asking questions or making a request, you can use modal verbs to soften your tone. Modal verbs are words that are often placed before the main verb in a sentence. If used to express possibility, it can make English sound more polite and diplomatic hence giving the whole sentence a different tone. Modal verbs that are often used to soften a command or make polite requests or are “could,” “would” and “may” and “might”. 


Direct Diplomatic
“I want you to help me with booking my accommodation for my business travel.” “Would you be able to help me with booking my accommodation for my business travel?”
“I’m not attending the meeting in Italy.” “I may not be able to attend the meeting in Italy.”

“I might not get to attend the meeting in Italy.”


2. Use passive voice

Use active and passive voice to soften your language and introduce more politeness. Active voice is a sentence in which the subject of the sentence performs the action. While passive voice is a sentence in which the action or an object of a sentence is emphasized rather than its subject. If you want to emphasize accomplishments or work completed, it is best to use active voice. However, if you want to deemphasize the person, then use passive voice. 

When transacting with others, you may encounter some inconveniences, miscommunication or even delays. In these cases, you would still want to establish a good rapport with others and avoid sounding like you are blaming someone for something, or giving them responsibility for something. To reduce the emotion to avoid unnecessary confrontation use passive voice. This highlights less on the person responsible for the situation. It is a good way to depersonalize the issue and place the blame on the action and not the person.

To do this, you can remove the subject from the sentence completely and focus on the object and the action.


Direct Diplomatic
“Philip booked the hotel.” “The hotel was booked by Phillip.”
“Reno attended the meeting in Italy.” “The meeting in Italy was attended by Reno.”
“The manager approved the proposals yesterday.” “The proposals were approved yesterday.”
“The client promised us…”  “We were promised…”


3. Transform direct statements into negative question forms

There are many situations in business when you may have to deliver or respond to unwelcome news. In diplomatic tone, you can make a direct statement into an indirect question by turning it into a negative question form. Turning it into a negative question, makes it sound more of a suggestion and not an order.


Direct Diplomatic
“You are assigned to book the hotel for my business travel.” “Wouldn’t you be able to book the hotel for my business travel?”               
“You will attend the meeting in Italy.” “Couldn’t you attend the meeting in Italy?”
“You should review the proposal later.” “Wouldn’t you be able to review the proposal later?”
“We must inform the passengers about booking cancellations immediately.” “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to inform the passengers about the booking cancellation immediately?”

“Couldn’t we arrange to inform the passengers about the booking cancellation immediately?”


4. Avoid using ‘you’

Finger-pointing and blaming are avoided in diplomatic speech. Using ‘you’ in statements may sound too direct, aggressive and as if you are  ‘finger-pointing’ someone. It is best to avoid blaming others or being negative when it is unnecessary. To do this, put the focus on ‘I’ or ‘we’ instead of using ‘you’


Direct Diplomatic
“You did not book my hotel accommodation.” “I was hoping you were able to book my hotel accommodation.”
“You did not attend the meeting in Italy.” “Perhaps I’m not making myself clear that you’re supposed to attend the meeting in Italy.”
“You don’t understand me.” “Perhaps I’m not making myself clear.”
“You didn’t explain this point.” “You didn’t explain that properly.”

“I didn’t understand this point.

“Sorry, I’m not following.”


5. Avoid negative words 

Use positive words in a negative form to soften the tone of your statement. Rephrasing your statement will soften the message and have a more indirect effect. People react much better even when a positive word is used with a negative auxiliary since it doesn’t sound too negative. To do this, replace a negative adjective with its positive opposite. 


Direct Diplomatic
“I think canceling our bookings due to changes in the itinerary is a bad idea.” “I don’t think that canceling our bookings due to changes in the itinerary is a good idea.”
“I am satisfied with this arrangement.” “I am not entirely satisfied  with this arrangement.”

“I am not totally happy with this arrangement.”


6. Use minimizers

In business, it is normal to encounter some problems. To avoid causing unnecessary alarm while you are working to find a solution, it is helpful to tone down the severity of the situation. This does not mean you will misinform anyone or take the situation too lightly but you will just make the problem sound less alarming. In times when you need to deliver a piece of bad news, using minimizers will help to soften the message. Minimizers are words that decrease the intensity of the word and make a problem seem smaller and less severe. Some of the words that have a minimizing effect and can help soften the tone of your speaking are “slight,” “slightly.” “small,” “a few” and “a little”, “a little bit,” “a bit”, “kind of,” “one or two,” “a little on the ……side,” and “small.”


Direct Diplomatic
“The booking process was too slow.” “The booking process was slightly slow.”
“There has been a delay in the review of the proposal. It may take weeks before it will be reviewed.” “There has been a slight delay in the review of the proposal. It may take a bit longer to be reviewed.”
“We’re having problems with the meeting in Italy.” “We’re having a few small problems with the meeting in Italy.”


7. Use the second conditional structure

It is very common to use the second conditional sentence to soften requests and sound more polite. The second conditional describes something that is possible but may not happen. This sounds more positive as you are able to express the possibilities although without assurance.

The second conditional structure is:

If + condition (past simple verb) + result (would + base verb) 


Direct Diplomatic
“Get back to me by tomorrow to know the booking updates.”  “If you could get back to me by tomorrow to know the booking updates, that would be great.”

This sentence can also be reversed into:

“It would be great if you could get back to me by tomorrow to know the booking updates.”

“Give me a discount.” “If you could give me a discount, I would appreciate it and be very grateful.”

Being polite and diplomatic can make you look more professional with your business dealings. By following the techniques above you can make the right impression and create an atmosphere of respect. Choosing the right words and the right grammar will enable you to soften a command or remove the unpleasantness of the message you have to deliver. This will enable your statements to be well-received and reach a reasonable agreement.


If you want to learn more about diplomatic language, you may try our conversational courses. These can help hone your skills in diplomatic speech. 


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Kaycie Gayle is a freelance content writer and a digital publisher. Her writings are mostly about, travel, culture, people, food, and communication.