Why Should You Use Positive Language?

What you don’t “no” can’t hurt you.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #47

I've always considered myself a glass half full type of person. You know, Ms. Positive, with my glass half full of my favorite wine. But someone recently suggested that I was a negative Nancy. He pointed out that at times, my language was negative. I thought, "What? That's not true.”

I demanded examples. He pointed out that instead of saying "yes" I sometimes use substitute words such as "sure," "OK," and "yeah."

And I thought, "Yeah, OK, so what"?

“Yes” And “Sure” Are Not the Same

He argued that those words (sure, all right, OK, and yeah) really aren't the same as "yes." He said, "Lisa, when you say ‘yes’ it's crystal clear that you mean yes, but when you say 'sure', or 'OK' or 'yeah' it's like you are reluctantly agreeing. It's even worse when you say 'whatever’."

I had to admit, he had a point. After listening more carefully to my word choice, I realized there is a slight, but perceptible difference. Especially when you add in a negative tone of voice, there can be a BIG difference.

Do You Have a Negative Tone When Talking?

In fact this past Monday my girls said, "Mommy, can we get Barbie Mariposa for our free movie today?" I could have responded by saying "Yes, absolutely." Instead I heard myself sigh "Okay."

I was communicating reluctance. In this case, I was thinking, "They rent this movie almost every time. I wish they would choose something else."

But, they had earned their movie privilege, so in essence I had already said yes. So it definitely would have be more rewarding and more positive for me to respond by saying, "Yes, absolutely." And I could have even said that with a smile on my face.

Unfortunately, I also heard negative language in my work conversations. My new partner, Marc, recently made a suggestion, "How about we run a contest and ask listeners to submit testimonials videos?" I heard myself saying, "Yes, we could but…"

Yes, But…

To be successful you need healthy conflict; it helps you arrive at good solutions.

Of course, "yes, but" is the equivalent of saying “no.” As soon as I heard myself say "yes, but" I said "Wait, wait, wait, let me try that again." I had to remind myself to use “yes and…” instead of “yes, but.”

So, here's what I said instead.

"Yes, I think having listeners submit videos is a good idea. And I think receiving video testimonials is really valuable. Perhaps, in this case, a video on a more interesting or maybe a more directly related topic would motivate more people to participate. And we can still do video testimonials another time. What do you think?"

Again, using "yes, but" just cuts people off. It's a very thinly disguised no, which discredits the other person's idea and potentially leads to unhealthy conflict. By the way, the same goes for “yes, but’s” cousin, “yes, or.”

“Yes we could do testimonial videos or they could submit videos on a more interesting topic.” At least an alternative is suggested, but it still it negates the original idea.

Don’t Be a Yes Man

However, to be clear, I'm not suggesting that you gratuitously just say "yes" either. For a business to be successful you need conflict; you need healthy conflict to arrive at good solutions. Being a “yes man,” or in my case, a “yes woman,” doesn't work. Agreeing just to avoid conflict is equally unproductive.

A "yes, and…" approach allows you to work through conflict in a positive manner. You can “yes” to parts of an idea and then express your concerns about the parts you disagree with. The idea is to first mention what you agree on-- to find your common ground. By talking to the commonalities first you build a strong foundation, which then opens the door for healthy discussion.

“Yes and…” sets the stage for healthier, more effective communication. It helps create an environment that encourages creative discussion of ideas. It moves us forward.

Are You a Negative Nancy?

I hadn’t realized much negativity had crept into my language until I paid closer attention. I challenge you to listen to you own language this week.

Are you a negative Nancy (or negative Ned?) Before you answer, really think about it. Do you say say “yes” or do you say, “sure, OK, all right”? Do you ever say “yes, but” or “yes, or”? Or do you try to reach common ground by saying “yes, and…”

This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

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Thumbs up image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.