If you’ve ever had to mediate a situation at work, or break some bad news to a colleague, then you’ll realise the importance of diplomatic English. Being able to soften the way our language sounds can make a huge impact in a business environment.


Whether it is to give an order, discipline a member of staff, or resolve a dispute, adjusting the words you say so that you do not come across as rude might help you out of an awkward situation one day.


Speaking diplomatically can be especially difficult when you are using a language that isn’t your mother tongue, as we may lack knowledge of alternative grammar structures and vocabulary. Take a look at some diplomatic English phrases we recommend that you learn.


Modal verbs


Modal verbs can be used to make statements sound more polite. Modal verbs include: could, would, may, might.  




  • I want more time to finish this project BECOMES: It would be nice to have more time to finish this presentation.
  • Hand me the telephone, please BECOMES: Could you hand me the telephone, please?




Phrases like I’m afraid and To be honest are commonly referred to as softeners. A softener is a word or phrase that conveys a softer tone, they occur at the beginning of a sentence and commonly prepare us for bad news.




  • To be honest, I do not agree.
  • I’m afraid I cannot remember.
  • I regret to inform you.




We can rephrase negative sentences so that they appear more positive. It can pay off to sound enthusiastic and constructive in the workplace. Replace words like ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’ with phrases like ‘unable to’.




  • I can’t complete this project by the deadline BECOMES: I am unable to complete this project by the deadline.
  • I won’t be able to attend the meeting this afternoon BECOMES: I am not in a position to attend the meeting this afternoon.


We hope this diplomatic English lesson helps you to avoid sounding too harsh in the workplace. If you are interested in learning more Business English, why not take a look at our English for Work programme.