This is an advanced business English lesson about dealing with difficult situations. In this lesson, you will learn to speak tactfully and indirectly to people. It will teach you how to criticise customers and co-workers without being rude.
Do you have to deal with difficult situations at work sometimes? Maybe you have to say something to a client or your boss. Tell your teacher about it. What happened? Did it go well, or did it go badly?
Conversation: Bad Design
Your boss has asked for your opinion on some new designs. His friend’s company did the work for your company. You think they are really terrible, but you don’t want to offend your boss.
Boss: So, what do you think of the new designs? They’re pretty slick, right?
You: Well, they’re different…
Boss: Yeah! I think they are outstanding!
You: Are you sure they are right for us though?
Boss: What do you mean?
You: Well, to be honest, I am not sure they are what we are looking for.
You: Don’t get me wrong. I like the bright colours, but maybe the combination is not the best. It seems to me that we could choose something a little more sophisticated. You know, something more in keeping with our brand image. Suppose we approach a couple of other agencies and see what they can come up with? Then we might have a better idea of which direction to choose.
There are some different strategies for softening criticism and being indirect.
Use vague language
Some adjectives can sound positive, but really be an indirect way of saying something is not good. In the dialogue, “different” is used that way. Other words like this are “unique”, “original”, “creative” and “interesting”.
You can also make your grammar more uncertain or hypothetical:
- It might help to [VERB].
- Perhaps we should [VERB].
- Suppose we [VERB]?
- What would happen if we [VERB]?
Express something as opinion, not fact
Use phrases to show that you are giving your opinion. Don’t be absolute. Use phrases like:
- I think (that)…
- It seems to me (that)…
- If I am not mistaken…
- I was under the impression (that)…
- I would have thought (that)…
Try to finish these phrases.
Ask, don’t say
Try to help the other party to see your way of thinking by asking questions, rather than telling them:
- Do you think it would be better if we…?
- Perhaps… would make more sense?
Complete the examples.
It’s also good to ask negative questions:
- Isn’t it (cheaper/better/safer) to [VERB]?
- Don’t you think we should [VERB]?
Finish these sentences using ideas from your work.
Use positive words in negative sentences:
- It’s not the best.
- They don’t have a great reputation.
- It’s not as good as I had hoped.
Remember: Don’t point the finger. When you criticise, try not to criticise the person. Avoid using “you” and say “we”, as in the examples above.
Work with your teacher to use the strategies above to criticise tactfully.
- Your friend cooked you dinner. It tastes terrible. They ask for your opinion.
- Your boss thinks that to save money, some people should move their desks into the halls and elevators (the lights are always on!).
Change the following into more tactful language:
- You did a really terrible job. We are going to give the work to another company.
- The price you offered to pay is far too low. You must be crazy! We are a business, not a charity!
- I think that you are too loud, and you are kind of annoying. I wish you would leave me alone so I can work.