5 Ways to Use a Diplomatic Tone for Better Business Communication

Imagine that you and your team are working late hours to complete your current business project.

Then your manager walks into the office with this announcement:

Please note that the project deadline is two days away. There’s a lot to do and you don’t have much time. I suggest you put in more effort and extra hours from now on.

Does hearing this make you feel like a child who has not done their homework? Does it make you feel guilty or like your hard work is not being appreciated?

I’m sure it does. This is something you might expect a teacher to say to her kindergarten class. But this is certainly not the way we want to sound in business. If you sound like this, you might make other people feel bad or, even worse, everyone might think you are very rude.

In business, we want to appear friendly, helpful and courteous at all times. One way to do this is to use a diplomatic tone in our business communication.

Why It Is Important to Set a Diplomatic Tone

First of all, what is tone?

Tone is the manner in which you speak or write, and how it affects the person who receives that message.

For example, the tone a mother would use on her child who keeps throwing toys down the stairs (“Stop that right now!”) will be very different from the tone she would use when they are playing together (“Let’s make this train go round and round, sweetie!”).

Tone is present in all forms of communication. It is reflected in the way you phrase your message and the words you choose to use.

In spoken communication, your tone will also be reflected in your voice, facial expression and body language. For example, you would welcome a customer with a smile, a friendly greeting and a handshake.

You might now understand what is meant by “angry tone” or “loving tone.” The tone reflects your attitude and emotions. So, what does a diplomatic tone sound like?

Someone is being diplomatic when they strive to communicate well, be understanding and find solutions that work for everyone. In general, a diplomatic tone simply means a softer tone which sounds professional, polite and understanding, creates a good impression and encourages action to be taken.

Using a diplomatic tone in business is important in getting the results you hope to achieve from any type of communication.

3 Good Reasons to Care About Your Tone

As a business professional, there are many reasons why you should use your most diplomatic tone when communicating with your coworkers and business partners. Here are three of the best reasons.

To Be Courteous and Diplomatic

Let’s look at our earlier example of your manager’s announcement:

Please note that the project deadline is two days away. There’s a lot to do and you don’t have much time. I suggest you put in more effort and extra hours from now on.

Remember how you felt when you heard this? It sounds like your manager has not seen all your hard work. It sounds like he just wants to pressure you, and like he is not satisfied with your results.

Now how would you feel if your manager had walked in and said this instead?

I know how hard you’ve all been working. Our project deadline is Friday. I hope you’ll continue giving it your best to make this project a success.

Does this make you feel better? Do you get the feeling that your manager cares and values your effort? This probably will make you want to work harder, because you know that your work is being noticed and appreciated.

As you can see, softening your tone in business will make you sound much more friendly and likable. Your message will be better received and you will stand a better chance of achieving the desired results.

To Sound More Positive When Delivering a Negative Message

No one likes to receive a negative message. However, there are many situations in business when you may have to deliver or respond to unwelcome news, for example, a drop in sales, a project delay or a customer complaint.

When you have to deliver or respond to a negative message, using a softer tone can make your message sound more positive and easier to accept.

Your tone can also let people know that you believe in their abilities, and that you believe that they can solve any problem.

To Make a Problem Seem Less Serious

Again no one likes to hear about problems or bad news at work especially if it affects them.

If you have to report or respond to such situations, you don not want to alarm and upset people unnecessarily. Using a softer tone is a good way to make a problem seem less severe (serious).

5 Ways to Use a Diplomatic Tone for Better Business Communication

1. Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are special verbs that are used with other verbs to express ability (could), to offer (would), to make a request (may) and so on. You can use the modal verbs “could,” “would” and “may” to your advantage when softening your tone. They are especially useful when you are asking questions or making requests.

There are many ways to ask a question or make a request. The questions in the following examples are not necessarily incorrect. But they would sound much more diplomatic if you used the modal verbs “could,” “would” and “may” to soften your tone.

Rather than: Can you please get this report ready by Monday?
Say: Could you please get this report ready by Monday?

Rather than: Do you want to be on our team?
Say: Would you like to be on our team?

Rather than: Can I use the conference room today?
Say: May I use the conference room today?

2. Passive Voice

In English, sentences can either be active or passive. Active voice is a sentence where the subject performs the action specified by the verb.

Active voice: The project manager (subject) signed off those reports yesterday.

Passive voice, however, is a sentence where the subject has the action performed on it.

Passive voice: The reports (subject) were signed off yesterday by the project manager.

In the passive voice, you may leave out the subject if you think it is not necessary to emphasize (point out) who performed the action. For this reason, the passive voice is often used to soften the tone.

When you use the active voice, it something sounds like you are blaming someone for something, or giving them responsibility for something. The passive voice, especially when the subject is removed from the sentence, focuses more on the situation and less on the person responsible for the situation.

Passive voice: The reports were signed off yesterday.

3. Choice of Words

Your choice of words is very important in communication, especially in writing. To be diplomatic, you need to choose your words carefully.

Very strong words, or words with negative connotations (implied meanings) may sound impolite and undiplomatic or make a situation appear worse than it really is. It would be best to avoid using words like “failure,” “trouble,” “mess” and “lazy” if possible.

Replacing overly strong words with more positive words will soften the effect of your message and make even the biggest problems seem smaller and less severe.

Rather than: Last year’s project was a failure.

Say: Last year’s project was not a success.

If you are pointing out mistakes and problems, be sure to consider the effect your message may have on the receiver. It would help to explain why you think it is a mistake or problem.

Rather than: This software is useless. I want it fixed as soon as possible.

Say: This software is not working properly. I know you’re very busy and may not have tested it fully. I hope you can find the time to fix it as soon as possible.

In situations where an apology is needed, you might use words like “sorry” or “apologize.” You can also use an apology word to show that you understand another person’s problems, and that you care about their feelings.

Rather than: It’s impossible for us to give you a refund for this item.

Say: I’m sorry we’re unable to give you a refund for this item.

4. Rephrasing

Achieving a more diplomatic tone can sometimes be as simple as rephrasing or rewording your message. You can do this by focusing less on the problem and more on the positive actions that you are taking to solve the problem.

Rather than: Our computer system is down. We are not sure how long it will take to fix.

Say: Our computer system is down. We’re now working on a fix and hope to have it back up as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience.

5. Minimizers

When you encounter a problem in business, you generally want to tone down its severity (seriousness) and avoid causing unnecessary alarm while you are working to find a solution.

Using minimizers, or words that have a minimizing effect like “slight,” “small,” “a few” and “a little,” can make a problem seem smaller and less severe.

Remember you are not taking the situation lightly or misinforming anyone. All you are doing is softening your tone so that the problem sounds less alarming (shocking).

Rather than: There has been a delay in our shipment. It may take weeks to arrive.

Say: There has been a slight delay in our shipment. It may take a bit longer to arrive.

Rather than: We’re having problems with the computer.

Say: We’re having a few small problems with the computer.

As you know, there is more than one way to say or write something. What is important is to make your tone as courteous and diplomatic as you can.


Try to find different ways to use these softer tones to your advantage in your daily communication as a business professional.

Practice using these techniques when speaking or writing at work and make your diplomatic tone work for you.

Good luck!

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