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Don’t Be Negative!

When you have a choice, do you prefer being with people who are positive–or negative?

When you read business letters, reports, email, and other documents, which tone–positive or negative–makes the message more enjoyable to read? Which inspires you?

Unless you are a negative person (in which case you must keep reading), I’m guessing your answer is positive. But if you are like most writers at work, you may forget to include language that communicates a positive feeling. You may, for example, include statements like these:

Supplies are limited, so any delays in ordering might result in unfulfilled orders.

You didn’t leave your phone number, so I couldn’t call you back.

Both examples get their messages across, but their energy drags. Compare these revisions:

Supplies are limited. Order now to reserve copies for your department.

Please leave your phone number, and I will call you right away.

One job of the business writer is to eliminate negative words and phrases. Another–even more important–is to add positive ones. Be sure your messages include gems like these, used sincerely:

value     benefit     enjoy     pleasure     pleased     inspire     enhance     please     thank you    appreciate    profit     feel free     saving     honor     gain    help you     assist you     happy      satisfied      gratified     grateful     welcome     glad     admire     like     delighted     generous

These words can change the tone from negative to positive, from cranky to warm, from irritated to engaged.

Sometimes in the business writing courses I teach, participants want to write their class assignments to imaginary readers they creatively call  "Dear Pain in the Neck" or "Dear Constant Complainer." I advise them to try the opposite: "Dear Favorite Customer" and "Dear Person Who Pays My Generous Salary."  That positive shift in feeling gives the writer a chance to glow rather than glower.

For more ideas about positive language in business writing, see the special business writing tip on our Syntax Training web site.

Remember: Don’t be negative!  Be positive!

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.