How To Use Diplomatic English In Meetings - The English Training Company

How To Use Diplomatic English In Meetings

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How to use diplomatic English in meetings

How to use diplomatic English in meetings is a challenge for native speakers and non native English speakers. For many non-native speakers how to sound diplomatic when doing business in English is a real challenge. Is it a cultural thing or can non-native English speakers actually learn to be diplomatic?

The answer is YES! And we’ve seen and helped many professionals achieve it in our Business English training.

How to use diplomatic English in meetings is a key communication skill to be successful doing business in international environments.

Building and maintaining relationships is an interpersonal skill that relies on mutual respect and many times diplomacy. All languages are influenced by culture and cultural norms (See Fons Trompenaars excellent book) and the English language is no different.

With the English language the British place so much importance on politeness “please” and “thank you”, diplomacy and being indirect that you could say it’s almost a natural obsession. See the BBC´s tips for working in a British company.

While Americans are more direct, they still share a lot of common expressions of ‘Diplomatic English’ with the British.

To help you, in this post I share 7 techniques and the diplomatic English that native speakers use. Let’s get started!


Situations for using diplomatic English: making suggestions, blaming someone, making requests, giving a command, making an objection, giving bad news and negotiating.


How To Use Diplomatic English – 7 Techniques


 1) Using softeners

(bad example)

“I have to cancel the meeting.”


(good examples)

I’m afraid I have to cancel the meeting.”

I’m so sorry but I have to cancel the meeting.”

Unfortunately, something’s come up and I have to cancel the meeting.”



– this is direct with no apology for giving bad news. It can sound harsh with little empathy for the other person.

– softeners come at the beginning of the sentence and prepares your listener for the bad news you are giving them.


2) Modal Verbs (e.g. would, could, may, might)

(bad examples)

“I want more time.”

“Give me an answer by tomorrow.”


(good examples)

“I could do with more time.”

“It would be so helpful to have more time.”

Could you give me an answer by tomorrow?” 



– it doesn’t sound demanding or like an order.


3) Using qualifiers (e.g. one or two, slightly, a little bit, few)

(bad examples)

“We are having problems with the new medical device.”

“We’re going to run over budget.” 

“The launch plans are behind schedule.”


(good examples)

“We are having one or two problems with the new product.”
“We’re going to run slightly over budget.”

“The launch plans are a little bit behind schedule.”



– qualifiers are words that increase or decrease the “impact” of the other words.

– they are used frequently to decrease “impact” when giving bad news.


4) Passive Voice

(bad examples)

“You said you were going to sign the contract today.”

“You agreed to lower your fees.”


(good examples)

“We were told that you were going to sign the contract today.”

“It was agreed you would lower your fees.



– the passive voice can be useful to soften your language, be indirect and remove emotion.

-the passive voice puts the emphasis and blame on the “action” (object) and removes it from “you” (subject).

-the passive voice helps avoid confrontation.

-while the active voice is much more direct.


 5) Negative Question Forms

(bad examples)

“We should change the wording of our recommendations for the client report.”

“The report needs to be much shorter to save time for the client.”

“We must inform the stakeholders about this issue immediately.”


(good examples)

“Shouldn’t we change the wording of our recommendations for the client report?”  

“Couldn’t we shorten the report to save time for the client?” 

“Couldn’t we arrange to inform the stakeholders immediately?”



– how we deliver communication is important to meaning. Do we want to be indirect or direct in our meaning?

– making an indirect suggestion to a manager or client works better as they are more likely to listen to it.

– being direct when speaking can sound too forceful and aggressive.


6) Using the Past Continuous (Progressive)

(bad examples)

“I hope we can come to an agreement today.”

“I think we should choose ABA as a preferred supplier.”

“I plan to organise a conference call to discuss this issue.”
(Good examples)

I was hoping we could come to an agreement today.

I was thinking we should choose ABA as preferred supplier.

I was planning to organise a conference call to discuss this issue.



-using the past continuous tense sounds more hypothetical and less certain, and therefore is indirect.


7) Rephrasing a negative sentence

(bad examples)

“I haven’t finished the report.”  

“I won’t have the report ready by then.”


(good examples)

“I’ve not been able to finish the report yet.”

“I won’t be able to have the report ready by then.”



– you can rephrase a negative sentence to make it sound more positive.

– use be able highlights your attempt to do it but things outside of your control stopped you – e.g. other work, waiting for work from others, etc.

-use “yet” to show your commitment to finish the work.


I hope this helps in your job and professional career!

See you soon! / Hasta pronto!

Christopher Wright



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This post was written by Christopher Wright and published on 16th January 2018 under the categories: Meeting In English Tips
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