Communication starts by understanding how to use language in its most powerful and positive form.
How you use language has great influence on others.
When you speak in the positive, you’re being honest, direct, and constructive.
Take a look at what each of these ingredients means:
That old expression “honesty is the best policy” nicely summarizes the first key ingredient of speaking in the positive.
Communicating honestly means being straight and truthful with others, having nothing deceptive or insincere in your language.
Most people are able to honestly tell what they think about an issue — as long as they feel safe in doing so.
Plus people are much smarter than you think.
Everyone has a B.S detector and can tell right away if you are being honest or not.
Direct means simply getting to the point and doing so with tact and respect.
Sometimes people confuse directness with being blunt.
In assertive speaking, you’re direct.
In aggressive speaking, you’re blunt.
Being blunt doesn’t take the other person into consideration and often it is hurtful in the way the speaker gets to the point.
It also is less clear than direct speaking.
Here is an example that contrasts direct and blunt speaking:
Direct: “You have a spot on your shirt right by the pocket.”
Blunt: “Look at your shirt. Ever heard of napkins?”
Being constructive is being as objective as possible in the words you say.
Sometimes, people tell it like it is and get right to the point, but then ruin their messages by using destructive words.
That isn’t speaking in the positive.
Whether the issue is a sensitive one or you have good or bad news to report, being constructive means making your point with words that make the message clear, concise and respectful.
The following examples contrast constructive and destructive uses of language to make a sensitive point:
Constructive: “I had a chance to review the marketing plan that you submitted yesterday.
It’s going to need revision to meet our needs.
Let’s review what’s needed and strategize on the corrections to be made.”
Destructive: “That marketing plan you did just isn’t going to cut it.
If this is the best you can do, you’ve got major problems.”
You probably remember this message as a kid: If you don’t have something nice to say, then say nothing at all.
The meaning of speaking in the positive closely resembles this saying, but expands on it by adding that if a point is important to make, you must say it the best way possible.
Sometimes, people think they are speaking in the positive (but aren’t) by sugarcoating or putting a falsely positive spin on their words.
Sugarcoating is trying to sweeten a bad message, an effort to make tough news not sound so bad.
It often involves trying to say something nice even though that nice point isn’t necessarily relevant to the main issue at hand.
The problem with sugarcoating is that it tends to make the message less sincere and direct, which in turn, can make a message more bitter than sweet for the receiver.
Compare these two messages:
“Sarah, I know you worked hard on this report.
Maybe I didn’t make my directions clear to you.
I know you want to do a good job.
Next time, I’m sure you’ll do even better when you have to do another report.
Just let me know how I can help you.”
- Speaking in the positive:
“Sarah, I reviewed your report.
A few parts need some revisions.
Let me show you where they are needed and then talk with you about making the corrections.”
In the sugarcoated message, the speaker tries hard to be nice and not hurt Sarah’s feelings.
An implication is made that Sarah’s report needs improvement but that’s as far as it goes.
In this soft, non-assertive approach, Sarah doesn’t get a clear picture of what was done wrong.
In instances like this, the receiver often dismisses the message because no sense of importance is conveyed.
In the second case, the message is spoken in a straightforward manner.
The language is clear, indicating that parts of the report need to be fixed.
The mystery is gone and no harshness is delivered. This is an assertive approach.
- Positive Spin
When you put a positive spin on your message, you make something sound better than it is.
That is far different than saying something in the best way possible, as you do when speaking in the positive.
In the latter case, you’re not shying away from making an important point; you’re just not saying it as harshly as possible.
You’re using language that combines tact and clarity.
Here are two messages from a manager to his group.
Both are about the same point and deal with a tough situation.
One attempts to put a positive spin on it and the other speaks in the positive.
“This decision by management is really a good one for you.
Remember that our jobs are about adapting to change and keeping this business moving forward.
If you keep this in mind, the new strategies will work just fine.”
Speaking in the positive:
“I recognize some concerns have been expressed about management’s decision to change directions in our product development strategy.
I know that affects what we have been working on the last few months.
Our focus on this issue will be best served by gaining an understanding of the rationale behind the decision versus having an opinion poll about it.
Therefore, I want to inform you of this rationale, and then have you discuss with me how we can implement this change within the team to make it work for us.”
The positive spin scenario makes the situation sound like management’s decision was in the best interests of the employees.
No one is buying that message because it doesn’t address the real issue about how change is affecting the employees’ work efforts and direction.
The comment, “Our jobs are about adapting to change,” may strike some as condescending.
Everything sounds fine and dandy, which brings the sincerity level of the message into question.
The speaking-in-the-positive response acknowledges concerns people have with the decision.
It doesn’t attempt to insincerely defend a questionable decision — yet, at the same time, it doesn’t openly criticize it either.
This message focuses attention on what’s more important, understanding the rationale behind the decision, and then working on its implementation — an assertive approach to a tough situation.