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5 Ways to Use a Diplomatic Tone for Better Business Communication

You’re at a project meeting at work and your supervisor says:

The project deadline is two days away. There’s a lot more to do and we don’t have much time left. I expect each of you to put in more effort and extra hours until it’s finished.

Does hearing this make you feel guilty, or like your hard work isn’t appreciated? It sure would for me.

This is because the supervisor’s tone isn’t diplomatic or polite. And it’s certainly not the way we want to sound in our business affairs.

In business, we want to sound friendly, helpful and courteous at all times. One easy and effective way to do this is to use a diplomatic tone in our business communication. Read this post to learn five ways to achieve this.


1. Use 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:Say:
Please get this report ready by Monday?Could you please get this report ready by Monday?
Do you want to be on our team?Would you like to be on our team?
I need the conference room today.May I use the conference room today?

2. Use the 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. Choose Words Carefully

Your choice of words is very important in communication, especially in writing. To have a diplomatic tone, 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.

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:Say:
Last year's project was a failure.Last year's project was not a success.
This software is useless. I want it fixed as soon as possible.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.

4. Rephrase Direct Statements

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:Say:
Our computer system is down. We are not sure how long it will take to fix.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. Use 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:Say:
There has been a delay in our shipment. It may take weeks to arrive.There has been a slight delay in our shipment. It may take a bit longer to arrive.
We're having problems with the computer.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.


Use these methods to employ (use) a polite tone 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.

And One More Thing...

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:


If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

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For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:


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FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

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Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.

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