Wednesday Wisdom # 8 September 16, 2020 Among the most predictable and persistent mistakes communicators, leaders, managers, and parents make in ser

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Wednesday Wisdom # 8

September 16, 2020

Among the most predictable and persistent mistakes communicators, leaders, managers, and parents make in service to their clients, colleagues, and children is the casual or intentional use of negative words and phrases. Whatever your position, whatever the situation, whatever the outcome desired, if moving ahead is the desired action, hope or motive, it is positive language and direction that will achieve the goals sought.

If confusion, consternation, contention and conflict are your goal, by all means use negative language. The two most famous negative statements, around the world, even today, from generations ago, “I am not a crook” and, “I did not have sex with that woman” remain symbols of the credibility destroying impact of negative language.

On the other hand, Clint Eastwood in the first Dirty Harry movie, had a suspect on the ground, pointed his 57 Magnum pistol at him and said, “Make my day.” The question is would we have even remembered Dirty Harry if, in the same situation, the script had read, “Freeze,” or “Don’t move.” Recently I participated in a discussion on LinkedIn where the author listed “11 Don’ts in Crisis.” She also listed a dozen “Do’s.” The problem is that the emotional power of negative language and instructions is so strong that whenever negative responses or instructions are given, even if constructive “Do’s” are also given, what gets discussed, what gets worried about, what ironically tends to happen? Yes…it’s either nothing or the “Don’ts”.

Negative Language Has 7 Powerfully Destructive Attributes:

1). Negative language is non-communication. If you don’t like something, can’t understand something, don’t want to do something, the listener, employee, or leader is at a loss to understand what you’re talking about. “I wouldn’t do it that way.” Well, that’s helpful!

2). Negative language is confusing. If you say “I wouldn’t do it that way”, “I don’t disagree”, “I can’t speak for them,” “It won’t fly,” what do these statements mean and how does one take action as a result of them?

3). Negative language is destructive. If you say “I don’t believe you,” “This is not the way to reach your objective,” “It’s not in the budget,” “That’s not true,” the negative power of these negative words shows through and the difficulty presented responding in some useful, positive way.

4). Negative language is sticky. Negative comments like these are remembered far more readily than anything positive that might have been said in the preceding or succeeding conversations. Negatives are more easily remembered.

5). Negative language is heavy. Using phrases like, “That’s not our style,” “No one believes you,” “That’s a lie,” “It doesn’t fit our culture,” in conversation, instructions, or explanations are 3-5 times more memorable than the equivalent positive instruction. The difference is that negative language stops everything from happening. Shorter, more positive language gets things moving. The impact is that for every negative phrase you use that affects someone directly, “I won’t support that,” “You don’t look good in green,” “Everyone dislikes your style and your approach,” It would take 4 or 5 times as many positives just to repair the damage.

6). No” is the most negative and destructive word in every culture and language.

7). Negative language forces almost every conversation to focus on the negatives, argue the negatives, and talk about yesterday: a surefire way of preventing tomorrow from being in the discussion.

In my course for new CEOs called “The Ingredients of Leadership”, the first ingredient is to be positive, that is, to eradicate the use of negative phrases and language in everything that the leader does. Every negative phrase triggers the seven corrosive attributes of negative language mentioned above. Positive language has the opposite or completely neutral effect. Here is the translation of all of the negatives used in the article into positives. Keep in mind, that while I show only one positive alternative here for space reasons, there are at least 4-6 other positive ways to say the same things and achieve a far different, constructive result.

Negatives and Positives
wednesday wisdom 8 quote

I always, even with attorneys, prefer positive and blah to anything negative. From a leadership perspective, the people of tomorrow use positive, declarative, and constructive language. The people from yesterday, who want to stop things or move backwards, almost always use negative approaches, images, and mandates.

Most legal jurisdictions in the United States impose rules on attorneys that limit the number of negative words that can be used in sentences and paragraphs. Always make your limit zero.

Using positive language is the prime requirement for successful leadership, management, parenting, and for those who motivate others.

Those who make speaking positive language a discipline and disavow and stop negative language have amazingly different and constructive lives, as do those around them. Everybody notices, everybody will wait for you to translate negatives and make them feel better.

The Decency Credo

James E. Lukaszewski

The true test of civility is a commitment to verbal and written communication that are predominantly positive and declarative and behaviors that are simple, sensitive, sensible, constructive, positive, helpful, empathetic and benefit the recipient out of proportion positively to the sender. Any other pathways lead only to trouble, prolong problems and delay mitigation and resolution. Empathy means positive deeds that speak louder and more constructively than words.