So far in our series of posts on politeness, we’ve looked at four different approaches that can be adopted to communicate appropriately in English.
Read on for more tips on how to sound well-mannered when you speak or write.
5. Question forms
Using question forms is a great way of sounding diplomatic when giving advice or suggestions. One option is to form yes/no questions when requesting people to do things. Another is to use negative questions in order to introduce your views gently. Here are examples of both:
Close the door.
Could you close the door, please?
I want directions to the airport.
Could you possibly give me directions to the airport?
We need a better proposal to win the contract.
Don’t you think we need a better proposal to win the contract?
We should paint the cabin blue.
Wouldn’t it be better if we painted the cabin blue?
If you make a direct statement to express your thoughts, the chances are you’ll upset others. This is particularly true when what you’re saying is something negative. In order for you to sound more diplomatic, you could use qualifiers, such as a bit, a little, or kind of. A qualifier can decrease the intensity of anything negative that you say. Here are some examples of how qualifiers can decrease the intensity of your words when you complain or criticise.
This curry is too bland!
This curry is a bit bland.
Jeez, it’s so hot in here!
It’s a little hot in here.
Derek is extremely boring!
Derek is kind of boring.
7. Passive voice
We can use the passive voice to shift the focus of a sentence from the doer of the action to the action itself. It’s particularly handy when we wish to avoid blaming people for things that they fail to do. Using the passive structure makes the sentence impersonal, creating distance from the immediate present. Here are some examples:
You forgot to switch the outside lights on last night.
The outside lights were not switched on last night.
Looks like you have made a lot of spelling errors.
Looks like a lot of spelling errors have been made.
Remember, more often than not, non-native English speakers sound impolite unwittingly, because they take the wrong approach.