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Things That Make Us Feel Good

Last week I taught a Better Business Writing class at one of my favorite places, Sea-Tac International Airport. I love teaching in the Airport Office Building in the bright new terminal. Being there warms me with thoughts of departing on and arriving from much needed vacations and welcome visits to family.

Because I like to travel (and come home) and I love “my” airport, I can’t help but smile when I cross from the parking lot into the bustle of the terminal. The place makes me feel good.

It’s about positive associations.

The same is true of words. With some words, we have positive associations. Phrases such as “Thank you,” “Great idea!” “You’re brilliant!” and “Happy holiday!” make us feel good when they are sincerely communicated.

And words like value, benefit, gift, opportunity, and appreciate create a positive feeling when we read them.

As writers, if we want our readers to have positive experiences when they read our documents, we have to do more than just leave out the negative words. It’s not enough to simply strike complain, you forgot, you failed, cannot, won’t, and “company policy.” Deleting negatives can’t create a positive feeling. Positive feelings come from words with positive associations.

Here’s a challenge: Read the most recent email, letter, report, or memo you have written. How many positive words does it contain? Does your language have positive associations? When your readers review it, will they feel good? When you read it, do you smile too?

If you are thinking that positive words can be meaningless if they are not sincere, you are right. Another positive is honesty. A lie or an attack wrapped in phony thanks and benefits is still a negative message.

When I glide up the escalator into my shiny airport, when I glimpse the suitcases rolling by en route to who knows where, I smile. I’m going to bring some of that good feeling into my writing. How about you?


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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.

4 comments on “Things That Make Us Feel Good”

  • Lynn, hello. I agree with this – but only as you say if the positive words and statements are genuine. Making them more specific helps too – the reader is more likely to believe them.

    The other main benefit from this practice is that it will make you feel good as you write them too!



  • Hi Lynn, I really admire the correlation between your Airport experience with positive writing.

    Sincerity coupled with right selection of words can make a big difference to readers.

    Let me go back my inbox and review few recent conversations! 🙂

    Thanks for that insightful post.


  • Tanmay,thanks for your comment. I enjoyed looking at your blog too. You include such interesting quotes and commentary about quality. I am glad to have read the “Retire Now” piece, which meant a lot to me.

    All the best,


  • Joanna, I took a peek at your Confident Writing blog. It looks like a rich resource. I can’t wait to spend more time there.

    TITLE: Choose your words with care
    BLOG NAME: Confident Writing
    DATE: 08/23/2007 01:32:28 AM
    Words are powerful things. Just think for a moment about the impact other people’s words have had on you, for good or ill – or what you might read into the words that someone else has written, however quickly and

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