Using positive language can be beneficial whether you’re trying to parent kids, figure out a relationship, or just navigate the workplace. Positive statements make the listener feel heard, helped, and validated. Negative statements? They often make people feel blamed or criticized, and that can quickly shut down a conversation. Here are some ways to flip negative language into positive interactions.
Give Clear Instructions
We spend a lot of time telling others what not to do. One way to flip this structure into positive territory is to focus on the desired action instead of the problem to avoid. This technique is especially effective with kids and increases the chances of a positive outcome.
Negative: Don’t run in the house.
Positive: Please run outside.
Negative: Stop poking your sister!
Positive: Keep your hands to yourself.
Negative: Don’t park blocking the driveway
Positive: You can park next to the tree.
Negative: Do not bring smartphones to class
Positive: Smartphones aren’t needed in class, so you can leave them in your bookbag.
Use “I” Statements
It’s psychology 101. Using a statement that begins with the word “I” instead of the word “you,” can often avoid negative messages that make the listener feel blamed or defensive. “I” statements help express feelings in a positive way, even when you’re feeling a little irritated.
Negative: You’re a micromanager.
Positive: I’m used to working more autonomously.
Negative: You spend too much time on your phone.
Positive: I feel unimportant when you’re on your phone.
Negative: You always come home late.
Positive: I worry when you come home late.
Mistakes happen. When you’ve done something wrong, offering a genuine apology can be a strength. But obsessively apologizing every time you bump into someone? That can come off as disingenuous. Another way to think about it: Instead of fixating on your mistake, you can thank someone for how they responded to you. Make a mental note of each time you apologize, and try one of these “sorry, not sorry” alternatives below:
Negative: Sorry for being late.
Positive: Thank you for waiting.
Negative: Sorry to interrupt you.
Positive: I have an idea…
Negative: Sorry for making that mistake.
Positive: Thank you for catching that issue!
Explain What You Can Do
People really don’t like hearing the word “no.” When trying to stay positive, it's much better to tell someone what can happen, rather than what’s not possible. Explaining an available action comes off as confident and decisive — it’s a tried-and-true customer service technique. Use this one yourself when dealing with customers at work, or listen for it when you’re on the phone with Brad from the Call Center.
Negative: I can’t meet you next week.
Positive: Tuesday works better for me.
Negative: I don’t know the answer to your question.
Positive: Let me find someone who can help you.
Negative: We don’t give cash refunds.
Positive: I can offer you a store credit.
Negative: There are no appointments for a month.
Positive: You can schedule an appointment next month.
Limit Everyday Negatives
How about those little negative phrases that crop into our day-to-day conversations? You may be dropping subtle seeds of negativity without knowing it. Does that mean you can’t ever have a bad day? Not at all. But using positive language helps you stay upbeat and project confidence. This is especially helpful in work emails.
Negative: Why not?
Positive: Sounds like a plan.
Negative: I can’t complain.
Positive: I’m doing great.
Negative: No problem.
Positive: I’m happy to help.
Negative: Keeping busy!
Positive: Enjoying the holidays!
Do you notice how each of these slight changes makes a big difference in the overall tone? Challenge yourself to flip a few of your negative statements with a more positive communication, and you might notice you’re having a much better day.
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