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?