Sunday, June 30, 2013

You MIGHT WANT TO Make Polite Suggestions

As English Users, we often need to communicate our opinions or make suggestions to others.

However, when we do so, we are usually better off being polite about it. In other words, we benefit from not offending those who we make suggestions to. Of course, to achieve this, we need to choose the right words.

Suppose a colleague is showing you a project that still needs some improvement. How would you tell this person about it? Let's imagine two scenarios. In both, your colleague has just finished showing you his / her project and is requesting feedback.

Scenario 1

COLLEAGUE: So, what do you think of the project?
YOU: It still needs work. You should especially polish the examples.

Then you list the different areas where it needs work. Theoretically, there is nothing wrong with this, but it might not be the most convenient approach. So, how could you say what you think and not come off as overly negative, aggressive or persistent?

Easy. If you're providing feedback, first point out any positive aspects, even if it's just potential and only then, recommend improvements. Above all, use polite modals.

Scenario 2

COLLEAGUE: So, what do you think of the project?
YOU: I really liked the focus and the introduction. However, you might want to review the examples a little bit. There are some interesting ideas there that you could probably polish and connect with the general theme.

Let's look at some modal verb expressions that help make polite suggestions:
  • you could (do something)
  • you might want to (do something)
  • you might want to look into (something / doing something)
  • it would really be great if you could ( do something)
  • one thing you might want look over / touch up / review / check
Notice that could, might and would are all modal verbs that help to suggest politely.

These modal verbs are not as imperative as these other ones: must, have to and ought to.

Polite suggestions are also effective when you are requesting service.

In this classic scene from the movie FORREST GUMP, we can see that Forrest is inadvertently a privileged witness to the Watergate scandal. Unable to sleep from flashlights used in the building across the street, the memorable character played by Tom Hanks uses polite language to make a simple request and unknowing changes history.

FORREST: [in the Watergate hotel; on phone with security] Yeah, sir, you might want to send a maintenance man over to that office across the way. The lights are off, and they must be looking for a fuse box, 'cause them flashlights, they keep me awake.

So remember, English Users, next time you need to provide feedback or ask for service, you might want to be polite about it.