If I had a dollar for every time I’ve received an email that concludes with “please don’t hesitate to contact me,” I’d be a rich woman. It’s such a popular way to end a business email. Yet, it always rings a little false. For one thing, it’s an unnecessarily complicated way of saying, “I’d be happy to hear from you.” For another, it turns a positive into a negative — the implication is that the recipient is hesitating and needs to be cajoled into doing otherwise!

Effective business communication should be easy to understand and phrased in a positive manner. Instead, people frequently word messages negatively. And this can come across as seemingly defensive. Take the following two sentences, for example. Which message would you rather receive?

1. There’s just no way I can get it to you until Friday end of day.

2. I’m happy to get it to you on Friday.

You might prefer not to wait until Friday. But, at least, when you read the second sentence, you aren’t immediately confronted by negativity. And, as we all know, negativity can take on a life of its own. One negative email begets another! The reason for this spiral of negativity is that negative language has a way of creating obstacles, rather than offering solutions. It’s a powerfully unpleasant force as you know, particularly if you have someone in your life, who is a complainer. Maybe, it’s that person in the office who always tells you a tale of woe. You remember them! And you avoid them!

The same can be true of bureaucratic language. Organizational forms, for example, are unpopular because they are often worded negatively. Robert Bacal points this out on The World of Work website, using the following example of an opening to a government memo:

“We regret to inform you that we cannot process your application to register your business name, since you have neglected to provide sufficient information. Please complete ALL sections of the attached form and return it to us...”

Of course, it is possible to phrase the statement above in a positive way. You could start by congratulating the applicant on her new business. Doing so would make it easy for that person to respond with the required information. On the other hand, someone receiving the memo may find having to do more paperwork annoying. But, it would be less annoying if the memo had a positive tone.

The idea that positive language helps create more effective communication isn’t just based on anecdotal evidence — it’s also backed by science. As just one example, the website Psych Central points to a publication called Words Can Change Your Brain, noting that its authors say, “A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.”

So, the next time you’re about to write an email to your colleague saying, “Once again you forgot to send me your report,” you might think twice. Perhaps writing, “I’m looking forward to reading your report,” might get better results. After all, wouldn’t you rather be politely nudged to “remember” something rather than be told “shame on you, you forgot again?” Maybe it sounds corny, but when it comes to business communication, it really is best, as the old song goes, to “accentuate the positive!”


If you need coaching on how to make your business communications more effective, contact me at The Language Lab.
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