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Effective Communication

Language is an exceedingly powerful tool. Whether you communicate orally, or in written form, the way you express yourself will affect the way your message is received to a very great extent. Even when you are conveying unpleasant news, the impact can be softened by the use of what we call positive language. 

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 employees, you can use positive language to project a helpful, positive image rather than a destructive and negative one.  


No doubt you are familiar with the "Naysayer". The Naysayer is a person who often offers criticism of ideas, and almost always provides reasons why something won't work. On the other hand 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 constructive, positive ways. 

It is very easy to fall into the negative language pattern. Many of us do so without being aware of it, particularly in written communication. For example, it is not uncommon for companies to write negatively phrased letters to customers, and even other employees.

Take a look at the following typical 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 rectify 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 identical information. it has a more "upbeat" and helpful tone.  

Negative & Positive Language

Negative phrasing and language often have the following characteristics:

  • It tells the recipient what cannot be done. 

  • It has a subtle tone of blame.

  • It includes words like can't, won't, unable to, that tell the recipient what the sending agency cannot do.

  • It does not stress positive actions that would be appropriate, or positive consequences.

  • Positive phrasing and language have the following qualities:

    • It tells the recipient what can be done.

    • It suggests alternatives and choices available to the recipient.

    • It sounds helpful and encouraging rather than bureaucratic.  

    • It stresses positive actions and positive consequences that can be anticipated.


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