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How to Avoid Offending Someone

What to say in a time of sensitivity.

Gabrielle_cc, Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Gabrielle_cc, Pixabay, Public Domain

It seems that we need be ever more careful lest we offend someone. These phrases may help.

When someone doesn’t respond to your email, text, or voicemail

These reduce the risk of appearing pushy:

"Just checking."

"Knowing how busy you are, I thought I’d follow up and ask whether you’ve had a chance to (insert what you had hoped they'd do.)"

When you’re proposing an idea

You buy yourself additional insurance against offending by ending each of the following with “What do you think?” The first two examples do that:

"Perhaps we should do X, but what do you think?"

"I’d prefer X but if it’s important to you, Y would be okay. What do you think?"

"How about X?"

"Are you open to X?"

"Might you want to do X?"

"X is my thought but do what you think is wise."

"As you’ve encouraged me, I have (insert what you’ve done.)" Even if the person only vaguely or partly suggested it, giving credit builds ownership in and likely assent to your idea.

When you think the person has erred but want them to save face

"I thought X but perhaps I'm wrong."

"Am I correct that X?"

"As I understand it, X"

"To be the best of my recollection, X." Lawyers often urge witnesses to use that one.

Laying the foundation for assent rather than offense

"Thank you for (insert what they’ve done.)"That can be a lubricating preface to your proposal.

"Perhaps that provides at least a mote of value." People value understatement, modesty. That softener could be used right after you’ve proposed an idea.

Use a smiley emoji. That helps ensure that the recipient knows you are attempting humor. But when in doubt, save the humor for safer settings.

"I’m glad you think the interview went well. I feel the same way." (Look for points of agreement.)

Especially in today’s “We not me” ethos, use “I” less and “we” more, especially when it comes to taking credit. Even if you deserve most of the credit, say, for example, “We should feel good about what we’ve done here.”

The takeaway

When using a computer, we needn’t worry about emotional intelligence—we can input our truth unvarnished. But with humans, we’re wise, especially these days, to err on the side of tact, sharing credit, and to think carefully about whether it’s worth offending someone.

I read this aloud on YouTube.