Module 7: Communicating with Positive Emphasis
February 5 2012
What’s the point of Positive Emphasis?
- Positive emphasis is part of creating goodwill.
- A positive environment is essential to recruit, retain and motivate employees.
- People who choose to communicate positively tend to live longer and more healthy.
- Positive emphasis is characteristic of successful entrepreneurs since they perceive
opportunities and are undaunted by failure.
What should I do if my message is bad news?
- Deliver the news responsibly: be clear and sensitive.
- Straightforward negatives build credibility when you have bad news to give the reader, such
as announcements of layoffs, product defects and recalls, or price increases.
- Being honest about the drawbacks of a job situation increases motivation, morale, and the
likelihood that employees will stay.
- In some messages such as negative performance appraisals, your purpose Is to deliver a
rebuke with no alternative. In these situations, you are legally responsible for ensuring that your
language conforms to organizational and governmental regulations.
Negative words and Words with Negative Connotations
Negative words Some dis-Words Some mis-Words
afraid fail objection disapprove misfortune
anxious fault problem dishonest missing
avoid fear reject dissatisfied mistake
bad hesitate reluctant
careless ignorant sorry Many in-Words Many un-Words
damage ignore terrible inadequate unclear
delay impossible trivial incomplete unfair delinquent lacking trouble inconvenient unfortunate
deny loss wait injury unfortunately
difficulty neglect weakness insincere unpleasant
eliminate never worry unreasonable
error no wrong unreliable
except not unsure
The following examples show how to replace negative words with positive words.
Negative: We have failed to finish taking inventory.
Better: We haven't finished taking inventory.
Still better: We will be finished taking inventory Friday.
Negative: If you can't understand this explanation, feel free to call me.
Better: If you have further questions, please call me.
Still better: (Omit the sentence.)
If a sentence has two negatives, substitute one positive term.
Negative: Do not forget to back up your disks.
Better: Always back up your disks.
When you must use a negative term, use the least negative word that is accurate.
Negative: Your balance of $835 is delinquent.
Better: Your balance of $835 is past due.
- Hidden negatives words that are not negative in themselves but become negative in
“but” and “however” indicate a shift, so after a positive statement they are
“I hope” and “I trust that” suggest you aren’t sure.
“Patience” may sound like a virtue, but it is a necessary virtue only when things
Negative: I hope this is the information you wanted. [Implication: I'm not sure.]
Better: Enclosed is a brochure about road repairs scheduled for 2009–10.
Still better: The brochure contains a list of all roads and bridges scheduled for repair during
2009–10. Call Gwen Wong at 604-555-3245 for specific dates when work will start and stop, and
for alternative routes. Page 124
Negative: Please be patient as we switch to the automated system. [Implication: You can
Better: If you have questions during our transition to the automated system, call Melissa
Still better: You'll be able to get information instantly about any house on the market when the
automated system is in place. If you have questions during the transition, call Melissa Morgan.
Negative: Now Crispy Krisp tastes better. [Implication: It used to taste terrible.]
Better: Now Crispy Krisp tastes even better.
Removing negatives does not mean being arrogant or pushy.
Negative: I hope that you are satisfied enough to place future orders.
Arrogant: I look forward to receiving all of your future business.
Better: Call Mercury whenever you need transistors.
When you eliminate negative words, be sure to maintain accuracy. Words that are exact opposites
will usually not be accurate. Instead, use specifics to be both positive and accurate.
Negative: The exercycle is not guaranteed for life.
Not true: The exercycle is guaranteed for life.
True: The exercycle is guaranteed for 10 years.
Negative: Customers under 25 are not eligible for the Prime Time discount.
Not true: You must be over 25 to be eligible for the Prime Time discount.
True: If you're 25 or older, you can save 10 percent on all your purchases with RightWay's Prime
Legal phrases also have negative connotations for most readers and should be avoided whenever
possible. The idea will sound more positive if you use everyday English.
Negative: If your account is still delinquent, a second, legal notice will be sent to you informing
you that cancellation of your policy will occur 30 days after the date of the legal notice if we
do not receive your cheque.
Better: Even if your cheque is lost in the mail and never reaches us, you still have a 30-day
grace period. If you do get a second notice, you will know that your payment hasn't reached
us. To keep your account in good standing, stop payment on the first cheque and send a
second one. How Do I Create Positive Emphasis?
- Deemphasizing or omit negative words and information
- The following five techniques deemphasize negative information:
1. Avoid negative words and words with negative connotations.
2. Focus on what the reader can do rather than on limitations.
3. Justify negative information by giving a reason or linking it to a reader benefit.
4. Omit the negative if it is unimportant.
5. Put the negative information in the middle and present it compactly.
Focus on what the reader can do rather than on Limitations
- Sometimes, positive emphasis is a matter of the way you present something.
- Sometimes, it’s a matter of eliminating double negatives.
o Negative: We will not allow you to charge more than $1500 on your VISA
o Better: You can charge $1500 on your new VISA.
o Or: Your new VISA gives you $1500 in credit that you can use at thousands of stores
- When you have a benefit, and a requirement, the reader must meet to get the benefit, the
sentence is usually more positive if you put the benefit first.