How to speak English about awkward matters in business


Does speaking about awkward matters in English in business feel like walking on eggshells?


Do you feel like you might crash the conversation with every word you say. The atmosphere is awkward and tense and you feel uncomfortable.


We have all been there at some stage during our careers.


Can’t speaking English in business be easier?


Can’t you speak more diplomatically?


 Sure, you can.


Let me give you some strategies so you can be more diplomatic in your communication...and feel more comfortable in your business relationships.


Step one: look closer at awkward moments and learn from them


Do you sometimes not get a reply to your emails when you have to give negative information? 


Do misunderstandings occur when you have to discuss delicate matters like terms of payment, or a missed deadline?


What is the effect of these situations on your business?


Maybe it is hard to get back in touch with your client or you have lost a business contact.


If one of your business relationships seems "off," think about the situations and what happened shortly before they got awkward and tense. What exactly did you do or say?


Did you write an email? in that case you just review your email and check whether there is any direct language or you have just said “No”. It is considered impolite to just say “No” in spoken or written English. So in Business English you should be a little flexible and use sentences like the ones I’ll share with you in paragraph 3: What to say when you think you've said something wrong.



  1. How can you become a more flexible communicator and speak about delicate matters?


What helps many of my clients is to accept that you cannot  translate directly from your native language. It is often not the right way to say things in English as it might be too direct or have a completely different sense. 


It is important to adjust your language to a more international style of English. That could mean taking the time to learn some new expressions to help you deal with delicate situations more smoothly in English. I am going to include a few that you can learn today. I am also happy to help in specific cases. 


It is also important to accept the indirect way in which some culture approach delicate subjects although it might take some time to get used to it. Maybe you even think that you sound insecure when you ask a question like: Could we go over your objections again? instead of “Can”. But learning a new way of communicating - even if it feels strange at first - will have a lasting impact on your business relationships



2.             Learn some diplomatic expressions for your business conversations



During my work as a Business English coach I noticed that it is sometimes a little challenging for my clients to say “No” in an indirect way. So I would like to share some diplomatic expressions for saying “No” and also for expressing direct statements more diplomatically. It's not easy to change your habits when you don't know what to say. Here are some expressions you can start using now for saying "No"....That way you can start improving your business relationships right away.



Instead of saying “No” you can say:



·      Sure we can increase the price, but…


·      Would it be possible for you to give us a slightly higher discount?


·      Should we deliver the goods in 4 weeks instead of ….?


·      I’d rather you give us longer payment terms.




For expressing yourself diplomatically you can use some “tiny” words like:



·      I’m sure there is a bit of movement on the price.


·      We just need to adjust the terms of delivery a little.


·      You might just finish your task by the end of the day.





Words like “might, a little, a bit” etc. make sentences less direct and have a softer effect for the listener.



3.             What to say when you think you've said something wrong:



It's not your fault, intercultural communication is complex and we all make mistakes sometimes.The important thing is to put your contact at ease if you think you've said something wrong. If that happens, try one of these:


  • I hope that wasn’t too direct.
  • I didn’t mean to sound impolite.
  • I’m sorry if I was too direct.


Think back to your situations from the introductory paragraph:how would these expressions have helped you be more diplomatic? How would they sound and what might have happened?



4.             Better Business Relationships Start with Practice" 


I would like to invite you to role play these situations with a friend or colleague. Try to practice as often as you can until you can use the expressions spontaneously.


If you want to get some more help you might consider working with a coach. Please feel free to contact me.


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