Positive Language Can Help

Words matter; that’s why we have them. So it’s safe to assume that negative words carry a negative message, and positive words carry a positive one.

It’s silly to ever think your words don’t matter. Language exists to convey ideas and feelings, and so the words you choose will in fact do that. If you choose negative words, you create a negative experience, and when you use positive words, you create a positive experience. People’s attitudes, be they positive or negative, affect the work they do and the relationship they have with you. When you have a choice, then, opt for positive language.

If this sounds like “the glass is half full” vs “the glass is half empty,” that’s because it is. The same situation can often be viewed positively or negatively. How you frame it shapes the perspective of the person with whom you’re talking.

What does this look like in practice? Well…

Talking To Clients and Customers

A sign on a cash register reads “No credit cards for purchases under $20.” The same sign could read “Credit cards accepted for purchases over $20.” It means the same thing, but frames it in a positive way. One tells customers what you are NOT going to do for them, the other tells them what you ARE going to do for them. In the end, the store is still only going to accept credit cards for purchases of at least $20; the difference is in whether it’s a limitation on customers, or a benefit to them.

When you talk to your clients, they are more interested in what you are going to do for them than in what you’re not going to do for them. Positive words suggest you are trying to help them, while negative words can suggest you are lazy, unwilling to focus on their needs, or are simply trying to extract more money from them. Customer retention often depends on a positive relationship, so try using positive language.

That being said, you still need to be realistic. Don’t agree to everything if you aren’t prepared to do everything. Many sales teams have a “Lead with ‘yes'” philosophy, where salespeople agree to a customer’s request and the figure out how to do it. That creates problems when they make promises and then go back to the product team and say “We need to add these features.” Rather than just saying “No,” however, keep it positive with “No, but…” and explain what you can’t do for them, but also what you can. Make sure they know that you are doing the best you can to meet their needs, rather than ignoring what they ask for.

Being Positive With Employees

These days, you really need your employees to be communicative and collaborative. Information needs to be shared so that problems can quickly be overcome and opportunities can be identified. A negative attitude from you can shut down that communication in a hurry.

When an employee performs poorly and you’re having a feedback discussion, you can take a couple of approaches. You can say, “You did horribly last quarter, what were you thinking?” or you can say “We need to see some improvement in the next quarter; what challenges are you facing and what do you think you can do differently?” Both sentences are designed to improve their performance — after all, that’s what performance feedback is supposed to do — but the negative approach may make them afraid to say anything, while the positive one creates an opportunity for growth.

This is not to say that you need to pat people on the back every time they mess up and keep all your frustration to yourself. Employees need to know when they have done something wrong. Your goal, though, is to improve their performance, and you need to ask yourself if a negative environment or a positive one supports that goal better.

That Little Voice In Your Head

When you’re faced with a challenge and think “I can’t do this,” it typically becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Uncertainty often creates a negative response in you; that’s perfectly natural. The trick is to fight through that and get back to a positive frame of mind. You can be your own worst enemy and your harshest critic. Try instead to find a good path forward.

When you’re given a task and feel overwhelmed to the point of thinking “I can’t do this,” break it down into smaller tasks that you CAN do. Teachers often tell students that when taking an exam they should answer the questions they can, and then focus on the more difficult ones. The same principle applies here. Look for things you can do, and then do them, and that will give you the confidence to take on the harder parts. Rather than saying I can’t,” focus your energy on figuring out how you can.

When you’re faced with problems outside your control, you can do the same thing. Rather than focusing on what you cannot control, tell yourself to control what you can. You may be stuck in Manila’s infamous traffic, for example, and will be late for a client meeting. Instead of letting your inner voice say “Ahhh, I’m going to be late,” figure out what you can do. Simply by calling the client you can resolve the problem; in Manila, everyone understands traffic. Try to keep yourself from making yourself stressed. Let your inner voice tell you what’s possible, not what’s impossible.

When you speak negatively, people around you react negatively. The opposite is true if you speak positively. If the same goal can be addressed in a positive or a negative way, always go for the positive. Your words matter, they shape the attitudes of everyone around you (and your own attitudes, too!), so choose your words carefully.