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Diplomatic Language in Business English


Soft Skills are very important in the workplace. Understanding the dynamics of personal interactions and the potential pitfalls of mishandling situations is a vital aspect of developing your interpersonal skills and progressing your career.

In these pages, we look at communication issues related to:

  • Management and Leadership

  • Conflict Resolution; and

  • Interactions between staff and colleagues

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Dealing with staff and colleagues in work in a polite and respectful manner is part and parcel of developing good interpersonal and professional relationships. Building such relationships is a proven way to achieve success and satisfaction in work, and with your career in general. People respond well to respect, but in management, it must be balanced with assertiveness and confidence. You cannot be afraid to tell your employees that you’re not happy with their performance, or that you want them to work harder. Likewise, as an employee, you need to develop good relationships with your colleagues if you are to enjoy your work and perform well overall.

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Management and Leadership Relations

We’ll begin with the language of leadership. Maintaining a balance between respect and authority is difficult, and employees generally respond very badly to rude or impolite language. Here are some ways of dealing with troublesome staff without sounding too aggressive:

Instead of…

Why not try…?

+ (options)

  • Be quiet!

  • Stop Talking!

  • Would you mind…

  • Do you think you could…

  • …lower(ing) your voice?

  • …keep(ing) it down?

  • …tone (toning) it down a bit?

  • …keep(ing) the noise down a little?

*Use the Present Continuous (+ing) with ‘Would you mind…’

  • Get back to work!

  • How are you getting on with that task/project?

  • How’s your work coming along?

  • Do you need help getting that done?

  • If you’re having problems finishing that, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

  • You’re late (again)!

  • Why are you always late?

  • I’ve noticed your punctuality hasn’t been great lately.

  • It’s important to keep an eye on your timekeeping. It won’t reflect well when it comes to your performance review.

  • When you get settled at your desk, let me know and we’ll have a chat about your timekeeping.

  • It’s not really fair to everyone else when you come in late.

  • Is there a particular reason we need to address?

  • Maybe there’s something we can do to figure out/resolve the problem/issue.

  • Why don’t we see if we can sort out the problem before it gets any worse?

  • Sit down

  • Why don’t you take a seat?

  • If you wouldn’t mind taking a seat…

  • I think you’d be more comfortable sitting down.

  • If everyone could just find their seats…(we can get started)

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Of course, it’s possible that demotivated staff (or just lazy staff!) will sit around doing nothing when there is plenty of work to be done. Keep in mind that you might not be aware of the real reason someone isn’t working or following your instructions. There could be personal reasons for their poor performance or lack of motivation that need to be dealt with tactfully and professionally. These options will help you to be direct without seeming rude or pushy. This is all about asserting your authority without going on the offensive:

Instead of…

Why not try…?

You’re too slow!

  • You seem to be running a bit behind schedule.

  • Is there something I can do to help you meet your deadline?

Why aren’t you working?

  • You might like to get stuck into that task I set you now.

  • Seeing as it’s quiet, this would be a great time to make a start on that project.

  • Why don’t we take advantage of the downtime to get up to speed on our ‘To Do’ list? There are probably lots of things we’ve forgotten to cover.

You’re getting worse at your job.

  • Your productivity/output has been slipping/sliding lately. Is there anything you need to discuss/talk about?

  • Why don’t we sit down later and have a chat about your progress? It’s important we address any issues that keep you from doing your best.

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When an employee eventually sits in front of you for their Performance Review, their poor performance and their drop in productivity must be addressed. There can be many reasons productivity drops amongst your employees - low wages, poor morale, internal conflict, and so on. It’s important not to make the situation worse by coming down like a ton of bricks on your employee(s). Instead, you need to use ‘diplomatic’ language to soften the blow when giving out or redressing someone who works for you. Here are some ways to say what you want without overtly insulting or upsetting your employee(s):

Instead of…

Why not try…?

You’re no good at your job!

  • I think you could improve your performance.

  • We need to address your productivity.

  • I’ve noticed that your output is significantly down on last month.

We don’t want you here!

  • I’m not convinced this is the right role for you.

  • You don’t seem happy here. Are you sure this company is the best place for your skill set?

  • We’ve been monitoring your performance over the last few months, and I think it’s fair to say that the job isn’t really a good fit for you. Would you agree?

You were already shown how to do this!

  • Would you like me to arrange a refresher course on any of your training?

  • Do you think you might need to go over the process again?

This is so easy to do! Why can’t you do it?

  • Some people might find this particular aspect of the job challenging.

  • We all have different skills sets, so it’s possible this isn’t your thing. It’s not a problem.

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