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The Power of Positive Language — Yes We Can

A positive writing style can pay big dividends

A positive writing style can pay big dividends

One of the most satisfying aspects of being a writer is having the opportunity to choose from an endless number of ways to express a single thought or idea. And, while there are lots of different ways to say something with the same literal meaning, how you say it is just as important as what you say. To a large extent, the specific words we choose to express our ideas are what makes the difference between a lousy writer and a great writer. Those choices also reveal a lot about a writer as a person. For the past year, I’ve put a lot of study into the difference between positive and negative language. Negative language is easy to spot. When you start encountering words like can’t, won’t, doesn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t chances are that you’ve taken a turn into negative town – and that’s just a sampling of words from the apostrophized list. There are plenty of others including unfortunately, concerned, disappointed, regrettably and a host of others you can choose from. Oddly enough, negative words are used to express all sorts of ideas ranging from negative to neutral or even positive. For example:
  • He’s not a bad guy
  • This wine doesn’t suck
  • It is not uncommon for that club to have live music
  • I don’t see why not
  • I can’t think of a reason we shouldn’t
  • I couldn’t agree more
  • People don’t buy products or services — people buy from people
Even though the above phrases are most often used in a positive way, they still evoke some degree of negativity. And little bits of negativity can quickly add up. Fortunately, for every negative way to say something there is a positive alternative. The alternative might be obvious or it might take a little thought. Here’s how the phrases above can be restated in a positive way:
  • He’s a great guy
  • This wine is fantastic
  • That club often has live music
  • Sure
  • We should
  • I totally agree – preach on brother!
  • Customer relationships are vital because people buy from people
Technically both sets of phrases say the exact same thing. However, the positive versions  somehow seem a little more pleasant and make the author seem more likable. If the objective of the piece you are writing is to position yourself, your company or your product in a positive light, being cognizant of these subtleties can yield powerful results. If you subscribe to the theory that people make buying decisions based on people, you’ll immediately understand why. As I said earlier, writing can offer some insight into the way an author thinks. I believe that generally positive people tend to write and speak in a positive tone and negative people can’t help but to write in a more negative tone. Given the choice, what type of person would you rather work with? This concept can be extended into positioning and messaging. Negative positioning employs fear tactics. It tries to explain what a company is by explaining what it is not. It focuses on problems rather than solutions. Positive positioning focuses on benefits and possibility. It inspires.

Yes We Can Vs. There’s No Reason We Can’t

Some of President Obama’s best campaign speeches took full advantage of positive positioning. The most effective of all was one of the simplest, “Yes we can.” This kind of message struck a chord with a lot of people. It is evident, President Obama’s speechwriters understand the importance of positive language. Ironically, when he’s not in campaign mode, I’ve noticed that Obama frequently “yes we can” by saying “there’s no reason we can’t.” For example: “If Brazil can do it, there’s no reason we can’t do it.” “There is no reason we can’t do this. We are a people of boundless industry and ingenuity.” “We need a smart transportation system … There’s no reason we can’t do this.” “It won’t be easy, but there’s no reason we can’t make this century another American century.” “There’s no reason we can’t create entirely new sectors of the economy.” “There’s no reason we can’t move just as quickly to pass a rescue plan for our middle-class.” The “Yes We Can” speech is almost entirely positive and does an amazing job of positioning Obama as unique and inspirational. Some of his more recent speeches have a lot more negative language and make him seem like just another politician which, of course, he is. The contrast is dramatic and does a lot to illustrate my point. The reality is that using positive language all of the time is not possible. There are also times where using negative language is the best way to express an idea or emotion. It can help you be sarcastic or edgy. Going 100% positive would probably make you come off as an insufferable dork. However, as a rule of thumb, unless there is a compelling reason to use negative language, my thinking is that positive language is the better choice. Once you become aware of the concept of positive vs. negative language, you might be surprised at how often you use negative language in all types of writing and in your every day speech. If you then purposely write in a positive tone you might be surprised at how much more effective your writing can be. Give it a shot. This speech is mostly positive and it is obvious why it was so inspirational   This speech uses much more negative language. Politics as usual a.k.a “more of the same”