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Softening your phrases in business communication

English is much less direct than German. If you say “Ich kann nicht am Treffen teilnehmen, da ich zur Zeit beschäftigt bin”, your German colleagues will have no problems with how you communicated that information. However, using that sentence (I’m too busy to come to the meeting) with your English partner/colleague may cause problems in your business relationship. Non-native speakers often use the shortest sentence possible to pass on information. Because you’re communicating in a different language, you want to be as clear as possible and avoid ambiguity. Here are a few things you can do to soften your phrases when you are communicating in English.

Ask, don’t tell

In English, expectations often come in the form of a question. Here are some examples:

  • Would you mind helping me with this? (I really hope that you will.)
  • Could you please send me the information by Monday at the latest? (I expect to have the information by Monday.)
  • Would it be possible for you to attend the meeting next week? (We would appreciate you being there.)

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Include please and/or thank you

This sounds very simple and easy to do. You’re right. But you would also be surprised how often this is forgotten about, neglected because of time or not considered important enough to include. However, these little words really make a big impact on the message that you give the recipient. Consider the differences in the following examples:

  • The teleconference starts at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. vs. Please remember that the teleconference starts at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow.
  • Leave the documents on my desk before you leave tonight. vs. Please leave the documents on my desk before you leave tonight. Thank you very much.
  • I got the report last week. vs. Thank you for sending the report last week.

Send the right message

Sometimes writing a little bit more helps the recipient understand your intent. Apart from what you would like them to do, emotions can also be communicated in a message like this. Take a look at these two examples:

Ms. Lansing,

The report you sent me last week has a few inconsistencies in it. Please check columns two and three and send me an updated version as soon as possible.

Many thanks in advance,


Ms. Lansing,

Thank you very much for the report that you sent last week. The information you provided will help us greatly during the next stage of the project.

We have, however, come across a few inconsistencies in the figures. Would you mind double checking columns two and three to make sure that they are correct? Please contact me as soon as possible with the results.

Best regards,


More communication tips and phrases

Here are a few posts from our blog that you might find interesting:

Do you use softening phrases when communicating in English? Let us know in the comments box below. We’d love to hear from you.