Have you ever been in conversation with someone and felt totally unsafe to share your opinions? Or maybe you thought “What’s the point in saying anything because they’ve already made up their mind?”

It sucks and it doesn’t feel good. Did I mention it sucks?! lol

Talking tentatively is how you avoid situations like the ones I described above. It’s basically a way of confidently communicating your position without disguising it as hard fact. In fact, I think any conversation should be approached with equal parts confidence and humility. And the last important piece is speaking in a way that shows people it’s safe to challenge your opinions.

Here are some examples of how we might start a statement when we are not speaking tentatively:

I know that…
It’s clear to me that…
The fact is…

Now, here are some examples of how you might start a statement when you are speaking tentatively:

I’m beginning to wonder if…
I’m starting to think that…
In my opinion…

Do you see the difference? Still holding your confidence without immediately shutting down the possible position of the other person leads to a much softer and productive talk.

Why would you even want to soften your approach?

The more firm and forceful you are, the more defensive people become. It’s that simple. The more tentatively you speak however, the more open people become. Open is good.

It’s important to note that talking tentatively is not the same thing as being wimpy. When I first learned about this I struggled with it. The best way I can explain the difference is that statements like:

I know this probably isn’t the case but…
This might sound stupid but…
Maybe I’m confused or something but…

all land on the wimpy spectrum. Instead, tentatively speaking sounds more like these:

ABC is leading me to believe that you XYZ. Is there another possibility that I am missing here?
It’s starting to look like…
It appears to me that XYZ is happening. Is that right? Is there more info I need to know here?

The best thing is that talking tentatively helps improve communication across all sorts of relationships. Personal and professional.

For example, when talking to your romantic partner, in the past you may have said something like “If you don’t start paying more attention to me someone else will.” If you make the choice to speak more tentatively you could say something like “I don’t think you mean to but I’m beginning to feel like you are ignoring me.”

Or at work, when speaking with a coworker you might have said “How come you messed up xyz.” If you were speaking tentatively it might have sounded more like this “I’m starting to think my instructions were not as clear as they could have been because this happened. What do you think about that?”

Talking tentatively has been a game changer for me in all of my communications. Are you up for giving it a shot? I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

Lots of love,
Deanna