When used positively, language will uplift.
How many times have you heard the following?
- No problem.
- Not really.
How do you feel when you thank a server for excellent service and you hear, “No problem?”
One of my pet peeves is when I hear, “No problem.”
I say, “Thank you, that was really good!”
The server, store clerk, or customer service rep, replies, “No problem.”
ARRRRGGGGHHHH! How can you steal my grateful feelings for your service and twist them into a negative? Who said there was a problem?
This negativity is not entirely our fault. It is an inherent part of the English language, which offers few options for the in-betweens or shades of maybe.
The English language is bipolar–it’s either “Yes” or “No.”
“Hey, do you wanna go to ____?”
“Do you want this or that?”
Try replying, “Yes.”
Why do we lean toward the negative?
Consider when you and a close friend or family member want to dine out. What happens?
“Hey, let’s go to ____.”
“No, I don’t want to go there.”
“Okay, how about ____?”
“Nope, not in the mood for that.”
You keep going back and forth. Eventually, the hour grows late, your tummies growl louder, and in desperation, you stay home and eat a can of soup.
What if we simply say what we want?
“Hey, what are you in the mood for?”
Instead of saying, “I dunno,” say what you want.
“I’m in the mood for Armenian food.” Well, that pretty well narrows down the choices, doesn’t it? (Just in case you read too quickly, I wrote ARMENian, not AMERIcan.)
Expanding beyond our bipolar language will first require saying what we want.
Like any habit, our negative language habit will take some effort to break.
Tips to break the negative language habit.
- Stop to listen–to really pay attention.
- Hear how often people speak in the negative.
- Become aware of this negative speech and how it makes you feel.
- Instead of saying what’s NOT, say what IS.
For example, instead of, “It’s not bad,” focus on the good features, “Well, I can see it’s potential.”
- Next time you hear someone say, “It’s NOT baaad,” be a little mischievous and ask, “Does that mean it’s no good?” Usually, you’ll stump ’em and hear, “Uhh…weeellll, Nooo, I mean….”
In the 1990s, Dr. Mitchell Perry differentiated between INCLUSIVE and EXCLUSIVE language.
Perry’s work gave us a powerful framework to learn how to bring the spirit of togetherness among people by framing our language to INCLUDE what we mean instead of talking about the universe of exclusion–what we don’t want.
There is a faster and easier way to adopt more inclusive and positive language. And it depends on the situation.
The fast and easy way to use positive language.
When you meet someone new–you’re on a first date, at a new job, wooing a potential customer, or talking to a baby–how do you communicate? How do you listen? How do you express yourself?
You listen with an open and welcoming mind. Your words include as you speak about “us” instead of “you” and about how much you understand what they mean as you try to grow this new relationship.
We naturally use INCLUSIVE and positive affirming language when we’re in new situations filled with hope for a better future.
Positive inclusive language helps build and strengthen relationships.
Likewise, when caregivers focus on what chronically ill loved ones can still do, instead of what is lost, language helps uplift and strengthen both caregivers and loved ones.
When we use positive language that includes–answering with what we want instead of what we don’t want–our words have the power to heal, bring together, and to strengthen.
For more information on the power of positive language when caregiving, click to read Karen and Tom Brenner’s article on The Power of Positive Language.