The importance of positive language to your personal brand in your career (and your life overall) is often overlooked. This is because we tend to speak without thinking, its almost unnatural for us as humans to take stock of what we are going to say before we say it. But you MUST take the time to evaluate your words before you use them. Many people who use negative words and phrases are actually very positive people, but the impression they leave behind makes those around them feel that they are a ‘can’t do’ rather than ‘can do’ type of person. Negative language can often subtly give the impression of blame and is awash with phrases like ‘can’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘unable to’. It can also focus on the terrible consequences rather than the positive outcomes.
Making a change to the language you use is a quick win and quite straightforward. So, stop being afraid of sounding too positive and elevate your communication style. Here are some examples of how you can turn things around to the positive.
“Just” and “Sorry”
e.g. “Sorry, I just wanted to check that the project will be finished by the end of the week”
Overuse of “just” is basically saying, that what you are asking isn’t important. Think about how this word is used in other scenarios such as “I was just 30 seconds late”. You might be using the word to soften your approach but it’s conveying a lack of urgency. Drop it entirely. Similarly do the same with the word sorry, we all tend to overuse it when we aren’t sorry at all and have no reason to apologise. Create urgency and clarity instead by saying:
“How’s the project coming along, I’m looking forward to getting it finished on Friday”
“I think” and “I feel”
e.g. “I think I can get the report finished by close of play today”
Using “feeling” words in the workplace has a place. But not when you are discussing deadlines. You are telling everyone that you just aren’t sure about anything. Instead be definitive and plan ahead to make sure you deliver. Stop creating false expectation that can damage your reputation and Instead say:
“I can get the report finished by close of play today” or “I can get the report finished by lunchtime tomorrow.
Use “but” with caution. If you are often starting sentences with “but” I would suggest that your reputation in the office could be that of ‘Negative Nancy’. If you are using it often in the middle of sentences it basically negates anything positive before it. Replace it with AND or where possible or drop it entirely. It can be useful when giving negative feedback however for example “That wasn’t your best effort BUT I know you are capable of better.”
“You could have” or “You should have”
e.g. “You should have spoken to head office first before you did it!”
Think about how you would feel if that phrase was uttered at you? Swap the language around and to convey the positive without making the subject feel anymore guilty than they already do. A positive alternative would be:
“In future you should speak to head office to avoid that situation again.”
“I don’t have time for this right now.
With this phrase you are saying that the person you are speaking to is unimportant to you. It might be true that you don’t have the time to deal with the issue, but rather than focussing on what you can’t do focus on what you can. Be specific and Instead try:
“I can meet you at 10am tomorrow to discuss the issue”
“Can’t Complain” or “Not too bad”
When you are asked how things are going try to be definitively positive about it. It is just “not too bad” its “great” or “fantastic”. This portrays a confidence and positivity that you want rather than a negative uncertainty.
I hear this a lot when people are lamenting something that’s not gone well. Yes the reality is that you didn’t get the project finished in time, but saying “If only we had more time…” is showing a level of pessimism that suggests you gave up before you started. Drop it entirely.
Filler words “like”, “sort of”, “um” and “you know”
This can be tricky to stop doing in the workplace If you speak using these filler words normally. Often they can be a natural part of your speech particularly if you come from certain regions. Pay attention to how often and when you use them. Cutting them out entirely can be unnatural and unrealistic, after all they are known as ‘discourse markers’ and can actually be a positive reflection of politeness – turning down an invitation bluntly is not as polite as saying “um, no sorry I have another party to attend that night”. Ultimately though, cutting these use of these words down will make you sound more professional and competent.
“Does that make sense?”
Checking for understanding is important. But this phrase just highlights that you might in fact be doubting yourself. Try “Do you have any thoughts or questions?” instead.
Smile when you speak
Whenever appropriate smile when you are speaking. People naturally mirror the state of who they are speaking too – its human nature. This can make your communications not only more pleasant but you will also have more chance of getting the outcome you want. However, don’t watch that you aren’t actually smiling too much, or worse still laughing!
Dissecting your use of negative language can boost your confidence and reputation and really help you get to the next level. Practical ways you can do this are:
- Record yourself on a phone call or Skype call and listen for your negative language
- Ask colleague to give you feedback and write down career limiting language you are using
- Pay attention to how others speak and constantly ask yourself how you would have turned their negative language into positive.
Subtle changes in the way you speak, and the minimisation of negative phrases can make a huge difference to how people perceive you. Your personal brand and reputation can be improved dramatically when you make these changes, so it is worth the effort to develop your awareness of your language. Choose to speak in ways that bring out the best version of you and make you FEEL positive too and you will reach the next level quicker than you expected.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. I’d love to hear some examples from you of phrases you can switch up negative language to the positive!