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The delicate art of giving information and asking for things in a way that gets you what you want

There are many ways of saying what you mean. Think about how a 2- year old asks for something and you are left in no doubt about what they want. Very demanding employers might use the same imperative tones to say what they want too, and there is a difference between how people might ask for things according to their relationship in the hierarchy (as we considered in Checking My English Magazine Issue 3). There are also differences in the way different cultures make their requirements known, as Alexei mentions in the interview at the beginning. Some are more direct than others. In English it’s seen as being more diplomatic to say soften your approach by saying things in a less direct way and using a particular range of expressions.

Let’s take a look at some of these strategies:

Make it sound as though you don’t want to trouble the other person:

Use Can I just rather than I want to

Can I just ask you something?

Can I just have a quick word with you about…?

Make a problem sound smaller and less serious than it really is :

Use the words a teensy bit/ a bit/ slightly or rather than very/really

I‘m a teensy bit concerned that we haven’t finalised the details yet.

We’re experiencing a bit of an issue with the delivery times.

We’re running slightly late and won’t arrive until 2pm.

There’s a slight problem that I need to discuss with you.

Make your listener ready to hear unfavourable news:

Use an introductory word or phrase such as I’m afraid that, unfortunately or I’m sorry to say that

I’m afraid that it won’t be possible to deliver that design on that particular budget.

Unfortunately, we’re going to need some more time to complete the paperwork so it won’t be ready for a few more days yet.

I’m sorry to say that we’re having to make some cutbacks in staffing so we’ll have to let you go.

 Make the idea sound as though the other person thought of it first:

Use a question starting with would or could

Would it be an idea to compare our results from this time last year?

Could it be worth asking the HR department to organise some training on this?