How to Ask for Clarification Politely

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Have you ever experienced a meeting where somebody is explaining something, but for the life of you, you cannot even begin to understand their point of view?

You’d like to ask for clarification, but you’re not sure how in a polite way.

Perhaps you find yourself asking for clarification a few times and it feels awkward when you still don’t agree with the person. You need more information to fully understand what they mean, but the other person is getting irritated with all of your questions?

Let’s explore the three tenants of how to ask for clarification politely.

1. Check your tone of voice.

We can say the exact same thing in two entirely different tones of voice. Each intonation will convey very different messages. For instance, we can say “I’m not sure that I agree with that” in an aggressive tone, or in an inquisitive tone, and this will impact how the message is received by our listener. Are you aware of how your tone of voice conveys different messages?

Monitoring your tone of voice is a key element of learning to ask for clarification politely. It can help ensure that whatever you’re saying does not come across in a way that is not intended.

How to Ask for Clarification Politely

2. Be non-accusatory.

If you are wanting to ask for clarification politely, blaming the other person is definitely not the way to go.

Speak from your own perspective, using sentences that start with, “I” rather than “you.” For instance, instead of saying, “you’re not explaining this very well,” you could say something like, “I’m struggling to fully understand the idea that you’re sharing.” When people feel blamed, they become defensive. By speaking solely in terms of your own perspective, your listener will be more open to further discussion.

3. Be inquisitive.

To obtain clarification, you have to truly want to understand the other person’s point of view. One great way to do this is to ask a lot of open-ended questions. Closed questions always lead to a yes or no answer, and hence, gather limited information. Open-ended questions leave space to fully explore another person’s perspective.

Here are a few examples of the types of sentences that you could use to ask for clarification politely at work:

  • “Am I right in thinking that what you’re meaning by that is…”
  • “If I’m understanding correctly, you think that the most important factor in this situation is… Is that correct?”
  • “I think I need more information because I’m not fully understanding the part that you were saying about…”
  • “So I think I understand that you believe X would be the best solution? Could you explain a bit about your concerns regarding the other solution?”
  • “I don’t think I fully understand what you were saying about…  Could you tell me a bit more?”
  • “I think it might help me if I could understand a few more details about that part of the project.”
  • “Could you give me a concrete example to help me understand how that might affect our current situation?”

These types of clarification questions will help ensure that everyone has the same understanding of the situation.

To ask for clarification politely, it is essential to use open-ended clarification questions stated in a neutral and inquisitive tone of voice. In doing so, you will be perceived as non-accusatory and therefore, not threatening. People will understand that you are simply seeking to gain the clarification that you need to better understand the situation at hand and will be more willing to engage with you.

How to Ask for Clarification Politely

Ultimately, using this approach to obtain clarification will not only help to mediate opinions and get individuals on the same page faster — it will also help prevent resentment and rifts in business relationships.

For more on this topic, I invite you to subscribe to my YouTube channel where I post many helpful videos for leaders and teams who want to unlock the secrets to stress-free communication.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

7 Signs That Your Team Has a Communication Problem

The 4 Foundational Skills for Effective Communication

5 Tips to Become a Better Listener

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech-Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two neurodivergent children, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two children with pervasive mental health challenges, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

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Hi, I'm Lindsay

Leadership communication skills to elevate team performance.

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