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Do you know what it means to ‘soften’ your language?

By 24 October 2018Language Tips

Soften your language to sound more natural

Soften your language to show empathy to your patient

These sentences may be accurate but they are harsh to the ears of your patient. In English, we often try to soften language to avoid offence or discomfort. This is true in all contexts, not just healthcare ones.

Instead we do two things.

  1. We choose language which is not judgemental e.g. overweight rather than too fat or obese.
  2. We add words to soften the meaning e.g. a bit, quite, just, please, should/could etc.

In place of the sentences in the image, you can sound empathetic by saying:

You are quite overweight. You need to try to lose some weight.

We can also go beyond this by adding a whole softening phrase before the first sentence e.g.

I know this is not something you want to hear but, you are quite overweight…

If you are able to listen to native speakers talking, listen to how they soften the language of unpleasant or uncomfortable content.

Here’s another example:

Why haven’t you taken the medication as instructed? [This sounds like an accusation]

Please can you explain how you have been taking your medication.

(patient’s response)

It’s just that it’s important to take the medication as prescribed if it is going to work effectively.