AEE 1367: How to Be Indirectly Direct in English

how to be indirect in English

Have you heard somebody say “let me put it to you this way” in English?

Have you wondered what exactly that may mean?

This is one of those phrases that allows you to break somewhat bad news in a more indirect way.

You’re going to learn all about this phrase and others like it so that you can tell something that they may not want to hear in a much gentler way.

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We have a question from a listener

Hello ladies,

My favorite podcast in my language is “The Lideranca Descomplicada.” In this podcast the host explains to us some good ways to be a better leader. Podcasts are very popular in my language to help people with things that they want to improve upon.

You guys are always so helpful, and so I’m hoping that you can give me some advice here. Can you share what a phrase such as “let me put it to you this way” means? Another one I don’t really understand is “out of the blue.”

I think that the All Ears English podcast is the best ever! Any help you could provide would be great.

Thank you,

Anderson Marinho

Understanding A Common Phrase

This is a great question because it focuses on a common phrase of “let me put it to you this way.”

We will get to the other phrase another time, but today we are going to focus on the first expression that the listener asked about.

You have probably heard people use the phrase “let me put it to you this way” and maybe you have wondered about how to use it properly.

Chances are you will hear it used in conversation a lot because it’s a way to break news to somebody.

So what does this phrase mean?

It’s used before explaining something, usually you are using it with something difficult to put into words.

You are telling them something that they didn’t expect, or something that they may not even want to hear.

The phrase helps to put this difficult thing in a nicer way than you really may mean it.

It’s like being nice without fully being nice, so it helps to ease the sting of what you are about to say.

It can also be used to gossip or to make speculations, and that’s not usually a very positive way to use it of course.

There are variations of the phrase such as “I’ll put it this way,” but the intent and use is the same.

The idea is you are trying to tell somebody something unexpected or something that may be hard for them to hear.

This phrase makes it easier for them to hear and easier for you to convey somewhat bad news.

Seeing This Used In Examples

When you say “let me put it to you this way”, it’s a great phrase to use to signal that you are about to explain something or put something in a nice way.

It can help to see how this works in conversation, particularly when it’s used to help deliver what could be bad news.

Let’s look at a few examples so that you can see how this is used in conversation.

You have to remember that with a phrase like this, the tone of voice that you use is so important.

Here’s a first example that is clearly a business type of situation.

A: “So can I pay the bill later?”

B: “Let me put it this way. We can’t provide you services unless you pay by the deadline.”

Though this is straight to the point, it can come across as rude.

As indicated, you may find that this works well in a professional setting or in a business transaction.

Here’s an example to try to talk about somebody’s personality that you may not always find easy to live with.

A: “Did she really break up with him because he forgot her sister’s birthday?”

B: “Let me put it to you this way. She isn’t a very forgiving person and gets upset easily.”

You are very clearly trying to warn somebody about something.

It may directly or indirectly impact them, but you are trying to tell them what you know.

Here’s an example about logistics where you are asking about timing, and somebody is trying to tell you about how to navigate the situation.

A: “Can I still get there on time?”

B: “I’ll put it this way. If you hurry up and take the A train and THEN the N train, you might be able to make it. Good luck!”

This is just being honest and to the point so that you know how to plan accordingly.

It’s a pretty straightforward question with a honest and to the point answer.

Here’s an example where you are honestly expressing your thoughts, and it’s not a bad thing at all.

A: “Do you like your new apartment?”

B: “Let me put it this way. It wasn’t my first choice, but I’ll make do.”

This one is not as rude or abrupt as the others because it’s sort of setting expectations.

You are telling it like it is, and just helping to express your honest thoughts.

Though the apartment may be nice, it may not have been your first choice and that’s perfectly okay to say.

Though many of the examples can come across as rude or abrupt, it doesn’t always have to be that way.

It’s not always easy to give somebody news that they don’t want to hear, but this is where you can use the right tone of voice for the situation.

Similar Phrases That Work The Same Way

This phrase is used to signal that you are about to put something in a nice way when it’s really not so good.

You are using such a phrase to try to prepare the listener for the news you are about to give them.

There are other phrases that you can use to help prepare the listener in this way.

How else can you say this?

Some of these are similar and some are slightly different, but they all work much in the same way.

  • I’ll be honest with you: Though you of course intend to be honest when you talk to somebody, this is like a further reiteration of this. The person you are talking to may not necessarily want to hear what you have to say. So you are saying it in a gentle way to get the truth across to them. You can see an example of how this might go here.

A: “Can you finish the paper by tonight?”

B: “I’ll be honest with you. It will probably take me until tomorrow at about noon.”

  • I’ll keep it simple: This is keeping things straight and to the point. This can come off rather abruptly if you’re not careful, and so you want to be aware of the tone of voice you use with it. This isn’t trying to go easy on the person, but rather saying it like it is. Here’s an example of how this could work in conversation.

A: “Why do you think she failed the test?”

B: “I’ll keep it simple. She didn’t study.”

  • How can I say this without sounding ______________?/ How can I put this lightly? Either of these work much in the same way. These can definitely come off as rude, and so your tone of voice matters greatly here. You may even add in “I don’t want to sound rude” if you really don’t mean to come off that way. Though it can be hurtful or abrupt, you may not necessarily mean it that way. So here’s how it could play out in a conversation.

A: “Why aren’t you going to the party?”

B: “How can I say this without sounding rude? I don’t feel like I know the people that well so I’m a little hesitant to mingle with them because I’m so busy right now.”

A: “Did he decide to go on the job interview?”

B: “How can I put this lightly? He didn’t want to do it.”

All of these phrases work much in the same way.

Some of these may come across in a rude way, and so you want to be aware of the tone that you use.

These can all work, but you want to be sure that they come across in the right way.

Takeaway

These are such important signal words, and so you want to know how to use them.

Are these phrases used to express rude things?

Listen to how others use them and take your cues accordingly.

These phrases are useful and they are frequently part of conversations.

Try them out today, and see how they can work well for you in conversation.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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