Qualifiers: how to sound more polite in a business meeting

If you often attend meetings and negotiations as part of your job, you will know how important it is to avoid direct disagreement.

A disagreement can occur if we make a very direct and simple statement to express what we’re thinking. Statements which are too direct can sound confrontational and as a result the person you’re negotiating with may be offended or get upset.

Look at these very direct statements:

  • The price is high.
  • It’s a problem.
  • I’ll be late.
  • There might be delays with the delivery.
  • We have to make changes.
  • It’s difficult to do.

All of the above statements are too direct for a polite negotiation. They may say what you are thinking, but they can sound impolite or aggressive and may lead to a direct disagreement.

Qualifiers will ‘soften’ a direct statement

In order to sound more diplomatic we should soften our direct statements. One way of doing this is by using qualifiers – words which we put before another word to make it sound less direct.

Here are some common ‘softening’ qualifiers in English:

  • a little
  • a bit
  • a little bit
  • slight
  • slightly
  • short
  • small
  • one or two.

Now let’s use these qualifiers in sentences:

  • The price is a little high.
  • It’s a slight problem.
  • I’ll be a little bit late.
  • There might be one or two short delays with the delivery.
  • We have to make one or two small changes.
  • It’s a bit difficult to do.

See how the direct statements are now softer and less direct. We now sound more diplomatic and a direct disagreement is less likely.

This is how qualifiers work. There are, of course, other ways of sounding polite and less direct during a negotiation. I’ll look at these in a future post.

If you found this article helpful, please click the ‘Like’ and ‘G+’ buttons below and share it with friends and colleagues. Thanks!

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.


  1. sam - August 2, 2012, 3:10 pm Reply

    dear stuart,
    I really enjoyed it and found it helpful and I was thinking we can have some English practice with it.
    best wishes
    sam asadi

  2. Denis Nyayal - December 14, 2013, 8:39 pm Reply

    Previously i had a problem with my superiors,but when i read these and practised,now am praised.thanks to the developer.

  3. Mohammed - March 31, 2014, 12:20 pm Reply

    Dear Sir,

    It is very useful information and i appreciate your great efforts in bringing the essential phrases to be used in formal communication.


  4. walaa - June 12, 2014, 1:18 am Reply

    thanks alot

  5. vinod - March 24, 2015, 5:40 pm Reply

    Thanks for nice article

  6. Xia Yu - October 2, 2015, 3:04 am Reply

    That is wonderful. I like it very much. Thanks a lot. Xiayu from China.

  7. Rajesh Kumar A - November 23, 2015, 2:50 pm Reply

    Thanks for your suggestions

    It’s helps alot….

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