Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston founded Syntax Training, whose mission is to help employees and managers write better. Syntax Training courses provide participants with tools, tips, strategies, skill practice, feedback, and job aids to help them write better, guaranteed. To receive a free newsletter focusing on a special writing topic each month, subscribe at

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Using Positive Power

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Do you see the glass as half full or half empty? Supposedly those of us who see the glass as half full have a positive outlook. Those who see the glass as half empty are negative thinkers. And then there are the engineers and efficiency experts who see that same glass as having excess capacity.

As writers, we have the power to evoke a positive or negative response from our readers. Compare these pairs of sentences:

1. I don't have my bachelor's degree yet.

2. In just two semesters, I will have my bachelor's degree.

1. You can't use the conference room until my meeting ends.

2. As soon as we wrap up the meeting, the room is yours.

1. We are not sure where your order is.

2. We are doing everything possible to locate your order.

Do you see the differences? All the Number 1 sentences focus on the negative. All the 2s communicate a feeling of hope and progress. In each pair, the sentences convey the same essential message. But in the 2s, the writer uses language to create a more positive feeling.

Through language, you determine your reader's experience as well as your own. Here are specific steps to create positive experiences.

1. Use positive language. Be sure each message has one or more words and phrases like these:

appreciate value enjoy pleasure be glad to look forward contribute benefit thank you pleased opportunity happy easy rewarding success

2. Use positive forms such as can, do, and will. Avoid can't, don't, won't, not, and other negative constructions. Use the pleasant "Please call me" rather than the wordy "Please do not hesitate to call me."

3. In general, avoid words whose feeling is negative:

confusion absence hesitate limited late fail to decrease loss complaint misunderstand miscommunicate problem refuse deny inability unavailable

Compare these sentences:

We received your letter complaining about our service.

Thank you for sharing your comments on our service.

4. Focus on what can be done rather than what cannot. Examples:

I cannot meet with you until tomorrow morning.

I will be glad to meet with you first thing tomorrow.

You cannot open an account with such a small deposit.

It takes just $100 to open your account.

Never leave the area without first securing your system.

Always secure your system before you leave the area.

5. Focus on what is--not what isn't. Imagine a restaurant server mentioning what is no longer available:

Negative: We were serving a delicious sole, but we ran out an hour ago. The salmon was superb too, but unfortunately it is all gone.

Positive: Let me tell you about tonight's menu choices. We have some excellent specials.

6. When giving feedback, avoid the word but after a compliment. But is the great compliment eraser.

Negative: I liked your dynamics, but you were often off-key in the first section.

Positive: Your dynamics were great. They conveyed a lot of emotion. Once you fix a few notes in the first section, the piece will sound wonderful.

7. When you must say no, say it gently:

I wish I could say yes.

If there were anything I could do, I would gladly do it.

Our balance sheet unfortunately makes it clear that we must close the branch.

8. When you must say no, say it clearly:

Vague: I received your request to have New Year's Day off work. Many people have made a similar request, and it is difficult to accommodate everyone's wishes. Please let me know which other days you wish to have off in the first quarter.

Clear but kind and encouraging:

I wish I could approve your request to have New Year's Day off. Unfortunately, many people requested that day off, and I approved their requests weeks ago. Therefore, everyone who is scheduled on that day must work. So that I can accommodate you as much as possible, please let me know right away about any other days you wish to have off in the first quarter.

9. When you need to say no, say it. Be courageous. If you avoid communicating bad news, you may communicate that the other person is not worth the time or effort that tactful communication requires.

10. Avoid mentioning a negative unless you must. Your reader may not be thinking about it. For example, express your gratitude with "Thank you so much for your help" rather than emphasizing the negative with "Sorry for any inconvenience."

11. Say yes, share compliments, and communicate encouragement at every opportunity. Then when you must communicate a negative message, it will be a mere drop in a sea of goodwill.

YOU have the power to create a positive experience for your reader. Use it.

Labels: communication practices  personal & career development  success factors