I am working at a client site as an IT Consultant. Recently the client has provided feedback to my employer:

“His communication is direct and straight forward to the point. But most of the time it is very crude and blunt. He needs to improve on presenting his points more sophisticated and in a sweet way. Especially we have observed when conveying negative things or the points which are related conflict of interests to someone or some team. As a lead he needs to learn to add honey to his communication without impairing the facts”

I agree that sometimes I am very direct, blunt and sometimes it appears as rude to others. Based on the feedback I want to improve on my way of communication or presenting the things to others.

What does it mean to "add honey" to my communication?

I am not sure even how to start improving. What techniques can I use to improve with both the sophistication and sweetness of my communication?

Please note this question was originally written by someone who is not a native English speaker. It has been rewritten to help communicate to a native speaking audience.

Few Scenarios of my communication to add clarity to my question
Context is here. I am lead for web UI development team. I found an issue with web service due to which some part of the functionality of web application is not working. Hence I have talked with other team lead who is responsible for that web service. Since he can not reproducible the issue in his machine he debug and make code changes in my machine. That code changes worked fine and I confirmed that asked to commit the code into TFS branch, where is our central code repository. He says that he would like to check in from my machine it self since he has some issue with his machine. I denied because I am not comfortable to commit other than my changes. Here is the conversation

Myself: Hey Service Lead(SL), Your changes are working fine. Please go ahead and commit the changes.
SL: Good to hear that. I have some issue with TFS which not allows me to commit the code. Hence I would like to do it from my machine.
MySelf: I am not comfortable to commit other changes from machine. Please do it from your machine itself.
SL: OK. I will do it after the issue with TFS has fixed.

  • @JoeStrazzere, I am communicating in English language which is second language for me.
    – Babu
    Apr 26, 2014 at 13:57
  • A slightly odd suggestion: I increase the pitch of my voice a tiny bit up and it works wonders for me. Indirectly you get less monotone which is an pro also
    – Martijn
    Jan 13, 2016 at 15:03
  • Could they provide you with examples of people and instances where their communication is preferable to your?
    – user8365
    Jan 13, 2016 at 21:46
  • The easiest way to say a negative thing politely is to negate a positive thing. So: "That's terrible" is to say "It's not great" or even better "It could be improved".
    – Zikato
    Jan 14, 2016 at 12:01

4 Answers 4


There are a number of set phrases you can learn that are softer and sweeter versions of what you may first plan to say. For example:

  • No --> I regret that I can't agree to that request.
  • None of your business --> I really couldn't say.
  • This is late. Give it to me now! --> I was expecting to have this by now and really need it immediately.
  • I can't stand for this! --> What are we going to do about this?

Especially if English is a second language for you, you can set out to learn these phrases. For example, watch movies set in England in the 50's and 60's when this polite way of speech was the norm. Watch movies set in the 18th century and watch how the richest characters talk to each other. (Careful, though, not to sound too old fashioned.) Also, take mental notes of your coworkers and especially the person who gave you this feedback. How do they say no, sorry, hurry up, stop that, this is wrong, you can't have that, and the like?

You may not mean some of what you say at first. Not everyone who asks "how was your weekend?" really wants to know. But you may also find that acknowledging the feelings of your coworkers in words leads to actually caring more - especially if it leads to them liking you a little more.


I have a few tips here.

1) In written communication, it's good to be direct and concise but you should not omit greetings unless you have already had written e-mails with that person earlier in the same day. It's easy to just reply "Ok" or a straight "Yes" or "No" to an e-mail but it might be perceived as agressive tone.

2) In person or on the phone, try to understand the person in front of you. Some people like very direct conversations without small talk but others will like that little bit of "warmth". Try to adapt to the different personnalities you encounter.

3) In the quote we can see that it appears you were perceived as blunt when giving negative feedback. You should take extra care when giving negative feedback. You should especially make sure that your feedback is needed. Sometimes, keeping your mouth shut is the best policy for peace.

4) Last advice, I suggest maybe polishing your english if you are communicating in this language. This may be reflected in the "needs to improve on presenting his points more sophisticated and sweet way" part. This, in my opinion, may also be a source of confusion on your tone. Sometimes, a poor choice of words can convey the wrong meaning.


What I found really helpful for communicating negative feedback is the "I-Message" (thanks to @sleske for looking that up). Basically you change the operator of your sentences. Instead of "You", use "I".

Instead of

You did something wrong


I think this is wrong

You can do that with all your communication. Try to send your feedback as "My opinion". This carries the point across, but it is not as hard to digest.

some examples:

You should have done that the XY-way.

You are wrong

You have to work harder


I would have done that the XY-way.

I have another opinion (or stronger: I think you are wrong)

I would like to have the result faster

  • 2
    Yes, that one's a (valuable) classic. I use that technique myself and it is surprising how well it works. I think the technical term is I-message, coined by psychologist Thomas Gordon.
    – sleske
    Jan 13, 2016 at 7:45
  • 2
    Of course, one risk with that is that people who are used to direct communication do not get the point. So you will have to adapt to your audience; sometimes instead of "I would have done that the XY-way.", you may need "Please do it like XY, as we agreed".
    – sleske
    Jan 13, 2016 at 7:47

I have noticed that people sometimes tend to be blunt due to their attitude towards their customer. Re-think your attitude when you are interacting with your client. Treat them the way you want to be treated when you are at a shop or at a window waiting for some service. Ultimately, they are the "customers" and they need to be satisfied. I assume you are based in India, and so am I. We are adapted to so much of bad customer service that we do not understand value of speaking pleasantly to our customers.

So let us check some practical scenarios : Customer changes their requirements - yes, that can be annoying. But that is how business is. Business changes, and you are there to help them through it. So instead of sending all negative messages or resisting the change, just communicate what can be done, and if it involves additional cost etc, say that the management will analyze get back on it.

If you are disagreeing with your customer, use polite ways to say that(as mentioned in other answers) and also, do not end your sentences abruptly with statements like "that's all I have to say" or "that's it!"; and do not disagree without hearing their side of the story. Say something like "can you please help me understand why xxxx has to happen like this(customer's way) and not like this(your way)"

Sometimes the way we speak (sentence structures, even pronunciation and intonation) can give a negative impression. Work up on those.If you do not have too many opportunities to speak and improve, listen to podcasts - these help a lot!! - example : http://www.businessenglishpod.com/

Finally, treat your peers, leads, supervisors as your customers (the SL in your example scenario) - In your example you could just tell the SL that you would commit the changes on his behalf only if there can be a comment added to it saying so. Also you could just send a follow up email to that (copying relevant people to save your back) saying "Hi Sl, just as discussed I have committed the changes to xxx in your behalf"

  • "Treat them the way you want to be treated when you are at a shop " - another classic :-). "do unto others what you want them to do to you".
    – sleske
    Jan 13, 2016 at 7:49

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