When dealing with people in business situations it is, of course, essential to be as polite as is necessary. We all know that.
You will also be aware that English has a rather unique, diplomatic style when spoken and that it is important to not sound too direct when you are making requests as this can sound impolite and more like a demand. The same applies in writing.
Modifying your language is a very effective tactic in business dealings when you are trying to establish a friendly and cooperative atmosphere, especially when negotiating in meetings or asking for assistance from colleagues. Polite use of language will take you far.
However, there are different levels of politeness and how you use them depends on three things:
1) Your relationship with your listener. Is he or she your boss or a counterpart or a colleague you consider a good friend?
2) How important you consider your request to be. If something is very important and/or urgent you may need to be more polite than usual.
3) How much inconvenience your request could cause the listener. For example, if you are asking a colleague to work your shift, you are more likely to get a positive response from them if you are more polite than usual and appreciate the hassle it may cause them.
So, what are these different levels of politeness?
Well, you can scale them from 1 to 5 in terms of directness, ranging from very direct (not so polite) to very indirect (very polite):
1) “Help me file these papers (please).”
This is very direct and sounds more like a demand.
2) “(Please) will you help me file these papers?”
This is less direct and perhaps more suitable if you are asking a friend for help.
3) “Could you help me file these papers (please)?”
This is neutral and therefore the most suitable for the majority of business situations.
4) “Do you think you could possibly help me file these papers?”
This is indirect and therefore much more polite. This phrase is suitable for people you don’t know very well.
5) “I was wondering if you could possibly help me file these papers.”
This is very indirect and the most polite request of the bunch. This phrase is best kept for situations where the task is urgent and/or inconvenient to the listener.
Generally, the more indirect the phrase, the more polite you will appear and the more words you will use. It might seem that the indirect phrases are overly polite and in many cases that is true, but bear in mind that they are still effective tactics in gaining help from colleagues or business associates.
Everyone likes to be spoken to with respect and courtesy, and what are a few extra words if it means you get the assistance you want and need?
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