Most people do not realize how important our choice of words is.
Perceptions that people form of other people, things and situations are often based on the words and phrases chosen to express thoughts about them. A negative impression is brought on by negative language.
As you will read below, negative language often presents an obstacle rather than a solution and is essentially a red light rather than a green light. Most people do not even realize they are using negative language and how harming it is.
With a little practice and some advanced thought, negative language can be turned into positive language, and the effects will be uplifting and empowering.
The Effects of Negative Language
- Negative verbiage is harmful to communication no matter if it is spoken or written. It brings about confusion, poor image and defeat.
- Someone using negative language will add obstacles to a communication that were not there, or it amplifies obstacles that are present. It adds a degree of blame and encourages an undesirable outcome.
- If the language a person decides to use is mean and offensive it can have a devastating effect on a communication event if the receiving party decides to take it personally. The receiving party will most likely stop listening and become defensive. Any hope for collaboration on a particular subject will probably be lost.
- By putting others on the defensive, negative language lays the grounds for potential conflicts (or deepens existing ones). When people stop actively listening to each other and only concentrate on defending themselves communication cannot be effective (see our post on the importance of Active Listening).
- If the language used is not offensive but just generally pessimistic, this can bring about negative effects too: A person who is pessimistic will not be motivated into taking the necessary action steps to get out of the situation that is causing discontent. If this person has influence over a larger group, it can place the whole group into inaction. Imagine how harmful this can be in a business setting.
Imagine if someone told you after you made an effort to cook a nice meal: “Yuck! This is the worst soup I ever tasted!” or how about if a colleague at work told you after reading your report: “This makes no sense whatsoever! How did you manage to get this so wrong?Are you sure you even went to school?”
How would you feel? Would you feel respected? Would you want to prepare another dish for this person or work on another project with that colleague?
Turn that Negative into a Positive
- It is possible to express a negative thought with a positive twist. The positive twist leaves a better impression and lessens confusion.
- For instance, instead of saying “we can’t do that” use the phrase “that might be a problem, but here is what we can do instead.”
- Also, instead of saying “it will never work” you can say “let’s look at our alternatives.”
- Besides rephrasing, you can also use questions to make the other person aware of potential problems and see if they can come up with better alternatives.
- For example, instead of saying “we could never do that, it’s against the company’s policies”, you can say “Hmmm. That sounds interesting. How do you think management or compliance would respond? Do you think there could be a way around any potential conflicts?”
Rephrasing a negative statement with something positive one or asking though-provoking questions replaces an obstacle with a solution, defeat with victory, blame with credit and destruction with positive construction.
Negative language can have a severe impact on communication. With a little thought and a positive attitude, negative language can be turned into a positive without compromising the intent of the message. Negative language does not define victory, but a positive definition will allow you to structure a written or verbal strategy to achieve victory.
Other Useful Resources
Is somebody you know being negative and difficult? Lots of great resources here: 30 Blogs on How to Handle Difficult People – Nanny Service