Language is powerful. The way you express yourself affects how your message is received. Even when you’re conveying bad news, you can soften the impact by using positive language. You can use positive communication to gain cooperation rather than confrontation. Whether you are communicating with clients or customers, staff, or peers, or your spouse and children, you can use language to create a helpful, positive atmosphere rather than a negative one.

Think before you speak to make sure you’re using positive language. The difference between “I need more help around the house” and “You’re so lazy” is obvious. But changing even one word or subtly shifting the focus of your sentence can make the difference. For example:

Giving constructive criticism. “The report looks great, but it needs to be finished by Tuesday.” The word ‘but’ negates the postive statement at the beginning of the sentence; so the recipient anticipates bad news. Instead, try “The report looks great, and it needs to be finished by Tuesday.”

Changing a behavior. “Please stop smoking for my sake” sounds selfish and could foster resentment. Shift the focus away from yourself. Try “Please stop smoking for the kids’ sake.”

Convincing someone to see your side. “Changing the date without checking with me was stupid.” Stupid is an inflammatory word. Try “Changing the date without checking with me was not helpful.”

Presenting a problem. Change “They have a problem in marketing” to “We have a marketing problem.” This subtle shift in focus can change the tone of your communication. You share in both the problem and the solution.

Negative language often has one or more of these characteristics:

  • It tells what can’t be done. Change it to what can be done.
  • It has a subtle tone of blame. Suggest alternatives or choices instead.
  • It contains inflammatory words.
  • Don’t label actions; rather, convey the effects of those actions.
  • It doesn’t stress positive actions that would be appropriate, or positive consequences.
  • Stress the positive.
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