by Liz Walter
A reader of these blogs recently requested a post on phrases for keeping order in the classroom. While thinking about that, it occurred to me that there are several other situations in which people have to impose control on a group, for instance in a work meeting. The difficult part is knowing how to do that without being bossy or aggressive. This post, therefore, offers some polite phrases that both teachers and others could use.
I’ll start with asking people to be quiet. The command ‘Be quiet’ itself sounds very blunt and is certainly not appropriate in a group of adults. You might ask children to pipe down or settle down, but for adults, a phrase like ‘Can we have some/a bit of quiet now, please?’, would sound less bossy. If you are at the beginning of a meeting, something like ‘OK, I think it’s time to get started now’ could work too. If someone is dominating a meeting, you might say, ‘Could we let someone else speak now?’ ‘Can we get someone else’s view?’ or ‘I think x has something they want to say.’
Although it’s common to start negative commands with ‘don’t’, this can also sound a little bossy. Here are some examples of more polite but still assertive ways of making negative commands:
Would you mind not looking at your phone while we’re having a discussion?
I’d prefer it if you didn’t bring food into the meeting room.
There’s no need to use that kind of language.
Of course, commands can be positive too. You can make them gentler by using phrases such as ‘Can/Could we …’, ‘Would you mind …’, ‘I think we need to …’ or ‘I’d like to see …’ at the beginning:
Could we speed things up a bit, please?
Would you mind staying in your seat, please?
I think we need to take a moment to calm down.
I’d like to see everyone putting in a bit more effort.
We only have five minutes left, so could you focus on the task in hand, please?
I hope you find these phrases useful and that they will help you with the old saying ‘It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it!’.