Writing Solutions | Tentative Language for Meetings: 7 Tips
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Tentative Language for Meetings: 7 Tips

Tentative Language for Meetings: 7 Tips

If we are talking to our best client, an overseas supplier or a potential boss, we often have to be careful about the language we use.  Language with negative implications can be toned down and made less direct to avoid possible offence.  This comes naturally in our own language, but it can be more difficult if we are not native speakers.

Here are some tips for being diplomatic when you have to say something that may not please the other person!

  1. Be more tentative by adding a “would”.

That is too difficult.                                                      That would be too difficult.

  1. Make statements into questions.

We don’t have an option.                                            Do we have any other option?

  1. Soften the impact with an introductory phrase.

Good openers that “prepare for bad news” are:

* I’m afraid / Unfortunately / To be honest

We have overspent the budget.                                 I’m afraid we have overspent the budget.

  1. Change negative adjectives to “not very + positive adjective”.

The proposal looked bad.                                           The proposal didn’t look very good

  1. Be more tentative by introducing doubt.

We couldn’t do that.                                                     We are not sure that we could do that.

  1. Add little words (quite, really, entirely) to make the phrase less direct.

We don’t agree.                                                              We don’t entirely agree.

  1. Avoid language that accuses someone else by taking the blame yourself.

You are not offering us a good price.                      We need to find a better price.


Some of these tips also work well when writing tricky emails.  For both verbal and written communication, softening your tone with tentative and indirect language generally gets better results!