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Language is an exceedingly
powerful tool. Whether you
communicate orally, or
in written form, the way you express
yourself will affect
whether your message is received positively
Even when you are conveying unpleasant news, the
impact can be softened
by the use of what we call positive
In this article we are
going to be looking at ways you can
communicate in a more
positive way that is more likely to elicit
cooperation rather than
argument or confrontation. Whether you
are communicating with
clients/customers, your staff, or other
you can use positive language to project a
helpful, positive image
rather than a destructive negative one.
No doubt you are familiar
with the "Naysayer". The naysayer is
the person who often
offers criticism of ideas, or always
provides reasons why
something won't work. The extreme naysayer
rarely offers suggestions
or alternatives, but is very good at
picking holes in the
ideas of others.
If you have ever worked
with such a person, (or if you are one),
you will know that this
kind of negative communication is very
fatiguing for those around
this person. The constant challenging
of the naysayer, while
it may stimulate discussion, also creates
a negative environment,
and increased confrontation.
Naysayers don't always
have negative attitudes. In many cases
they simply use language
that gives the impression of negativity.
They have not learned
to phrase their comments in more
It is very easy to fall
into the negative language pattern. Many
of us do so without being
aware of it, particularly in written
For example, it is not uncommon for government
organizations to write
negatively phrased letters to customers,
applicants and those
it regulates. Take a look at the following
typical government memo.
"We regret to inform you
that we cannot process your application
to register your business
name, since you have neglected to
provide sufficient information.
Please complete ALL sections of
the attached form and
return it to us."
While it is polite (albeit
overly formal), it is also exceedingly
negative. It includes
several negative words -- cannot, and
neglected, and it has
a tone that suggests that the recipient is
to blame for the problem.
Contrast this example
with a re-written more positive approach.
"Congratulations on your
new business. To register your business
name, we need some additional
information. If you return the
attached form, with highlighted
areas filled in, we will be able
to send you your business
registration certificate within two
weeks. We wish
you success in your new endeavor."
Note that the negative
example tells the person what he or she
has done wrong, and doesn't
stress the positive things that can
be done to remedy the
problem. The information is all there, but
it sounds bureaucratic,
cold and...well negative. The positive
example sounds completely
different, though it contains almost
it has a more "upbeat" and helpful tone.
Negative & Positive
Negative phrasing and
language often have the following
tells the recipient what cannot be done.
has a subtle tone of blame.
includes words like can't, won't, unable to, that tell the
recipient what the sending
agency cannot do.
does not stress positive actions that would be appropriate,
or positive consequences.
Positive phrasing and
language have the following qualities:
tells the recipient what can be done
suggests alternatives and choices available to the recipient
sounds helpful and encouraging rather than bureaucratic
stresses positive actions and positive consequences that can
Common Negative Language/Phrasing
If you want to move to
more positive communication, the first
task is to identify and
eliminate common negative phrasing. The
following are quite common,
and should be avoided whenever
Expressions that suggest carelessness:
a) You neglected to specify...
b) You failed to include...
c) You overlooked enclosing...
Phrases that suggest the person is lying:
a) You claim that...
b) You say that...
c) You state that...
Expressions that imply that the recipient is not too bright:
a) We cannot see how you...
b) We fail to understand...
c) We are at a loss to know...
Demanding phrases that imply coercion/pressure:
a) You should...
b) You ought to...
c) You must...
d) We must ask you to...
e) We must insist...
Phrases that might be interpreted as sarcastic or
a) No doubt...
b) We will thank you to...
c) You understand, of course...
d) Please respond soon...
If you are going to eliminate
negative phrases, you will need to
replace them with more
positive ways of conveying the same
are just a few examples of positive phrasing.
If you can send us [whatever], we can complete the process
The information we have suggests that you have a different
viewpoint on this issue.
Let me explain our perspective.
Might we suggest that you [suggestion].
One option open to you is [option].
We can help you to [whatever] if you can send us [whatever].
Pull a few memos you have written. Go through each one word
by word, and phrase by
phrase, highlighting sentences that have a
Be alert to subtle aspects of your memos that
send bureaucratic or
demeaning messages. Then rewrite the memo.
In the PSM Supplement (paid subscribers only), you will find
a negatively phrased
memo. Rewrite it so that it has a positive
tone, and compare your
rewrite with the "improved" version
Negative language conveys
a poor image to customers, and those
around us. Sometimes
it causes conflict and confrontation where
none is necessary or
desired. The first place to start using
positive language is
with written material. Once you have
developed the knack of
writing positively, it will be easier to
change your spoken language
to present a more positive tone.
Feel free to
participate in our free chat room on workplace conflict. Discuss your war
stories, and conflict management success stories. Learn from others in
similiar positions. Learn how to prevent conflict, or just vent. It's free.
Great for managers and employees alike. How can YOU communicate to work
with difficult people or hostile customers? Drop in and ask!