What is this?
Many times we state our desires or directions very directly in an effort to be quick and efficient, often this has the effect of seeming blunt, uncaring or sharp to the listener. Softening statements are small additions to a phrase or question which can lessen and even eliminate these unwanted effects.
Why is this important?
In gaining the cooperation and compliance of others it is not helpful when we "turn them off" or otherwise put them on the defensive when talking to them. This is not walking on eggshells - this is enhancing our communication to make it more acceptable - less likely to offend or generate resistance. Regardless of the innocence of the speaker's intent - it is the reception of the verbiage that is of highest importance in building cooperation and compliance. People with very direct communications styles can benefit the most from using softening statements as it can lessen their reputation for being cold, hard, uncaring and so on.
There are a great many word combinations that can serve as softening statements, and your ability to generate a large variety of them for yourself will give you a large degree in flexibility in using them to your benefit.
Some examples of a statement and question that do not include softening statements may help illustrate...
"I need you to stop doing that and start doing this."
"Would you bring me that widget right away?"
Many of us would not think anything is wrong with making a statement or asking a question in this way - there is nothing to get upset about or anything negative carried in them and they are efficiently getting to the point. Some people however, even in reading the phrases get a feeling of being pushed around, or perhaps even slighted in some manner. The use of softening statements can help - and they require little in the way of investment from you.
"You might think I am crazy - I need you to stop doing that and start doing this."
"You may already have guessed this would happen - I need you to stop doing that and start doing this."
"This may seem strange - I need you to stop doing that and start doing this."
"Even though that is coming along well - I need you to stop doing that and start doing this."
"You probably saw this coming - could you bring me that widget right away?"
"I know you are busy but, could you bring me that widget right away?"
"This may not be easy - could you bring me that widget right away?"
"I didn't want to trouble you with this - could you bring me that widget right away?"
As you work with softening statements, you will find that nearly anything will work to take the edge off of direct orders or requests and lessen the generation of resistance within the people with whom you communicate and work.
Here are some more examples:
"Could I ask you something..."
"I may be wrong about this..."
"I thought this might be helpful..."
"You may have already thought of this..."
"I was thinking..."