Merge's Blog

Positive phrasing is more powerful than negative

positive or negative optimism or pessimism bright side of life pIn last week’s post titled Don’t inadvertently send mixed messages, I talked about one reason employees don’t do what you expect and want them to. In today’s post, I decided to address another factor that can get in the way to people acting on your message – namely, your phrasing. If you want your communication to be more effective, if you want the likelihood that the action you desire will occur, then always choose to phrase your statements positively rather than in the negative. Why? Because positive phrasing is more compelling than negative. People are more likely to act, to do what you request, when you tell them what you want rather than what you don’t want.

So instead of saying Don’t miss the deadline or we’ll hear from the corporate office, you could say Please have your report turned in by Friday so that we meet the corporate deadline. This switch to positive phrasing makes a huge difference. In the first negative version you’re focusing on what you don’t want to happen and the negative consequences if it does. In the second positive phrasing, the focus is on what you should do and the positive outcome.

People don’t like to hear what they cannot do, what they did wrong, or what they ought to do, yet ironically, without realizing it, we provide instructions, directions, or enforce policies and procedures that do just that. Plus, positive phrasing is easier to understand than negative. You can be more assertive and straightforward when you say what something is, rather than when you try to express it by saying what it isn’t.

Here are some more examples:

  • I’m not available until March 1st vs. You can reach me again from March 1st onwards.
  • I don’t think this is a good alternative vs. I’m sure you can offer us an alternative option.
  • Let me explain that to you again vs. Could you please recap what we have covered so far?

If you want your communication to be effective, if you want the likelihood that action you desire will occur, then always choose to phrase your statements positively rather than in the negative. By paying close attention to the words you choose, you are more apt to gain cooperation from people and achieve the outcomes you desire.

Do you have any examples to share of positive phrasing versus negative?  Or situations in which this difference has caused trouble or success?  Please add your comment below.

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