Passive people give away their passivity with the type of language they use.  Their words tell others that they don’t think very highly of themselves and that they need others’ approval.  This type of language takes away their power.

De-emphasizers are methods of using speech so that passive people feel safe.  If others disagree with what they have to say, they can change what they’ve said to agree with the other person.  These de-emphasizers undermine what passive people say and make them look weak.

In his book Power-talk!, Jeffrey Eisen identifies four patterns of speech that make people think they can take advantage of you:  tag questions, qualifiers, disclaimers and fillers.  This article describes the first two.

Tag Questions

Have you ever heard someone say, “Don’t you agree?” at the end of a statement.  If so, this was a tag statement.  This type of de-emphasizer is used to doubt a statement a passive person has just made.  Tag statements make it seem that a statement of opinion, feeling, belief or intention may not be true.  They indicate to the other person that you’re not sure of yourself and that you’ll change your opinion on the spot if the other person doesn’t agree.

When you add a question at the end of a statement you made, it’s as though you’re saying, “You’re smarter or superior to me, so I’m speaking in an unsure manner for you to either support or disagree with what I’m saying.  If you disagree with it, I’ll take it back and go along with you.  Just accept me as a person and be my friend.” 

Take a look at how these tag questions undermine the power of the statements of the passive person.

• This is a great book, don’t you think?

• This should be painted violet, shouldn’t it?

• This play isn’t very good, don’t you agree?

• I think it’s a very nice house, don’t you?

• The president of the company is doing a terrible job, isn’t he?

• I really should quit my job, shouldn’t I?

If you notice that you’re using tag questions, make a determined effort to eliminate them from your speech.  It makes you seem stronger to make a statement by itself.  Don’t ask for the other person’s approval to have your opinion or feeling.  And certainly don’t change your opinion just because the other person disagrees.

Some people wonder how to ask another person’s opinion if you don’t use a tag question.  Here’s how: If you want to know what the other person’s opinion is, state yours first, then ask the other person about theirs in a way that is separate from whether they agree with your opinion.  Here’s an example: “I liked that movie.  I thought the scenery was beautiful and the characters were believable.  What was your opinion of the movie?”


Passive people use qualifiers to minimize statements they make.  Unlike tag questions that show the other person you doubt your statement, qualifiers evade and make your opinion seem small.   

This is a listing of qualifiers that you want to avoid:

• kind of

• a little

• perhaps

• well

• sort of

• somewhat

• pretty

• I wonder if

• I don’t think

• really

• more or less

• might

• almost

• kind of

• fairly

• probably

• almost

There are many places in sentences where qualifiers are used. “Well” and “I wonder” are qualifiers when they’re used at the beginning of sentences. Qualifiers such as “kind of,” “a little,” “sort of,” and “somewhat” are generally in the middle of sentences. “Perhaps” can be used in the beginning or the middle.

Read the following sentences, and notice how the statements are reduced by them.

• I kind of like going shopping in the mall.

• I’m fairly certain the team is playing tomorrow.

• Well, I don’t think moving to another city is a good thing to do.

• It’s somewhat of a good play.

• You’re probably right.

• I’m a little uneasy about driving a stick shift.

• I don’t really want to eat Italian tonight.

• I might want to go on a road trip next month.

• That’s more or less how I would do it.

• I’m pretty sure I need to sign up for this class to graduate.

• I wonder if that’s a good idea.

• Almost no one drives a car like that.

If you use qualifiers, purge them from your statements and speak your sentences with strength and assertiveness without weakening them.


Carry around a small notebook for a few days and write down every time you use a tag question or qualifier and what you said.  Don’t change your language at all.  At the end of that time, make a list of each tag question or qualifier and how many times you said it.  Put the one you said the most at the top of your list and list them by frequency.  Work on eliminating the top two from your speech.

When you’ve mastered that, work on eliminating the next two, and so forth, until they have disappeared from your speech.  I promise that you’ll be sounding more assertive when you have no tag questions or qualifiers in your speech.

Author's Bio: 

Vivian Harte is the co-author of Self-Esteem for Dummies in the Dummies series. She has helped over 15,000 people learn and use assertiveness skills during the last 17 years. She teaches online classes on assertiveness, self-confidence, and teamwork. She has a Bachelors degree in Sociology and a Masters degree in Public Administration. She taught college classes for many years in Tucson, Arizona. She has two grown children who are both successful. She lives in Tucson with her husband, three dogs and two cats.

She offers several online courses and e-books as well as coaching, and you can find out more about these at her website Discover how to improve your relationships and be a stronger personality. You owe it to yourself!