Most people see the first comment as accusatory or critical. And they see the second comment as more encouraging, more helpful.
And so it is with most communications, whether written or spoken.
Negative language tends to create barriers to effective communication, while positive language tends to create a bridge and to encourage more effective communication.
Negative language can have many harmful – and often unintended – effects. For example, if I tell you: “Your idea won’t work” …
1) You become defensive, hurt or mad
2) You stop listening, even if I follow-up with something positive
3) You become argumentative, poised for battle, and
4) Communication breaks down.
However, if I had said: “That’s an interesting idea. What do you think will make this idea successful?” …
1) You’d feel I respected and was interested in your idea
2) You’d be more open to discussion and more likely to listen to my thoughts
3) You’d feel cooperative, and
4) We’d ultimately communicate more effectively.
To communicate more strategically, more powerfully and more effectively, strive to use positive, instead of negative, phrasing.
It may mean breaking some bad habits, and recognizing the need to rethink our choice of words when we feel the need to use not, no, don’t, can’t, won’t and their nay-saying counterparts. For example, use:
- “I agree” rather than “I don’t disagree.”
- “I prefer something else” rather than “I don’t want this.”
- “Please contact me” rather than “Do not hesitate to contact me.”
- “Most people prefer to …” rather than “No one does that anymore …”
- “Our approach is …” rather than “That’s not how we do it.”
As respected crisis PR guru Jim Lukaszewski says: “Negative language is the language of losers. Positive language is the language of leadership and candor.” For more on negative language and how to eliminate it, visit Lukaszewski’s 2001 paper at http://www.e911.com/monos/lessons08.html.