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Diplomatic Language

I was teaching the International Business Communication course last week and we did a negotiation simulation, which involved the course participants looking at a case study and then performing a negotiation in the classroom. Before the simulation, we talked about what a negotiation is and how it affects our daily lives, both in and outside work. We didn’t draw any solid conclusions but we did look at some negotiating expressions and talked about being diplomatic in business negotiations and I thought I’d mention some of the features of diplomatic English.

You can use the following techniques to sound more diplomatic in English.

1. Use the past continuous to sound more distant

e.g. We were hoping to hammer out the details today. / We were thinking of offering you a three month trial.Using the past continuous helps the speaker to sound more tentative and not overly direct.

2. Use negative questions to make suggestions

e.g. Wouldn’t it be better to…..? /  Don’t you think we could.....? / Couldn’t we.....? These questions carry the speaker’s opinion and ask for a reaction.

3. Use modifiers to make things seem less or smaller

e.g. That may cause a slight problem for us. / We have a bit of a problem with the accounts. Using 'slight' here makes helps the speaker to be softer, phrases like a bit of, sort of, kind of came have the same effect.

4. Modal verbs can be used in a similar way

e.g. We might be able to agree to that, provided...../ We may be able to help you there…..
The modal verbs make the verb weaker and not as definite.

5. Use positive adjectives with ‘not’ instead of negative adjectives

e.g. That might not be possible / That’s not as reasonable as we hoped you would be. The positive adjectives are nicer for people to hear than negative ones.

6. Use phrases to signal bad news for the listener

e.g. Unfortunately….. / I’m afraid….. / I’m sorry but….. / With respect….. These phrases can soften bad news.

I hope you find these tips useful.

By Ben

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