When they go low, you go high. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. There are many idioms that focus on turning negative statements into positive, teachable moments. Actually taking a negative phrase before it leaves your lips and making it into a positive statement can be a bit more difficult than popular phrases make the process sound.
Why Negative Language Doesn’t Work
Negative rhetoric causes more issues than it solves. It can make the listener or caller on a customer service line feel coerced or blamed for the issue at hand. For example, the lamentation to an under-performing employee about their production when you are trying to inspire them, such as “Your quarter-end numbers aren’t something to be proud of,” has a bigger impact and possible call to action if said as, “Although your quarter-end numbers aren’t great, you should be proud because we realize you worked harder over last quarter.”
Why Positive Language Is Important
The use of positive language over negative language can promote cognitive function as well as strengthen specific areas of the brain’s frontal lobes. A positive statement helps the listener feel they are being helped, that their problem has been heard and the speaker is on their side. A positive statement makes the listener feel heard and validated. If stumbling to find a way to say something positive, use transition words such as although to connect a positive statement to a negative one, such as "Although your chores aren't complete, those you did finish were done well."
Positive Phrases in Play
Taking a negative statement or thought and turning it around doesn’t take very long. Think about it as a muscle that needs a bit of working out in order to be used effectively.
Instead of emitting a negative for a simple request for lunch, such as “I can’t possibly meet you that quickly,” consider presenting an option, such as “I would love to meet up with you! How does Tuesday sound?” From there you can spin the negative into a positive in a number of ways.
The phrase, “I’m unable to help you with this situation,” turns to “Let’s see how we can solve this issue to your satisfaction.” If someone says something that has you perturbed, take a breath and consider how easier it is to say something nice, or nothing at all. Basic negative phrases include “Why not,” “No problem,” and “I can’t complain.” While they seem flippant, they carry a negative connotation. Instead, use “Sounds like a plan,” “Absolutely,” or “Things are great, thanks,” respectively. Customer service words are often labeled as positive language. Those can include “Happy to Help,” “Let’s see what we can do to resolve your issue,” and “Thank you for being such a loyal customer.” In this case, the negative statements are pushed to the side before they can begin.
Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.