Is There a ‘Debbie Downer’ in You?

Switch to positive language this year and greatly increase your chances of success.

Have you ever worked with someone who had a tendency to throw cold water on his or her colleagues’ enthusiasm? Have you done that?

I’m not talking about bearing bad news when it’s necessary to do so. We have a responsibility to be transparent at work. And that includes sharing bad news, as well as good news, when it’s called for.

On the other hand, sometimes we use negative language when there is no reason to do so. Negativity is contagious. Very few people like to hang out with colleagues who bring them down.

Experienced supervisors and managers know that it only takes one negative team member to bring down morale for the whole team. That is why hiring officials, whether consciously or subconsciously, avoid hiring or promoting negative people.

Thankfully, positivity is also contagious.

I would rather hire a lesser-skilled candidate who exudes positivity in place of a negative person with extensive experience. I can always train up someone who demonstrates potential and has a positive outlook. Someone with a negative outlook is likely to get worse; not better.

Over the years, I have witnessed numerous careers blossom for employees who started with very little or no experience but showed up to work every day looking to make a positive difference. Great leaders love to hire, develop and promote those types of individuals. So it behooves every one of us to be genuinely positive in every form of communication.

Positivity is especially important in written communication such as instant messages and email. In audio, video and in-person communication, the speaker has the ability to project positivity through tone of voice and body language. However, those extra communication “layers” are absent in written form.

The solution is to use positive language in written communication as often as it’s appropriate and as long as it comes across as genuine. For example, a few years ago I decided to start virtually every email with “I hope you are doing well” or similar verbiage in my greeting. Of course, if I know that the intended recipient is not doing well, I skip that part of my standard greeting.

Additionally, in the body of my email, I consciously avoid negative language unless it’s the only appropriate way to communicate the specific content. For example, if my team failed to do something correctly or timely, I take responsibility for the failure and offer a sincere apology for the mistake or the delay, as appropriate.

I also attempt to turn a negative outcome into an opportunity for improvement by offering a viable solution or commit to a different process more likely to result in a positive outcome in the future. Finally, I close my email with “I hope you find this suggestion (or ‘information’) to be helpful” and an offer to provide more information or “help in any other way.”

Amazingly, these simple communication techniques have made a world of difference in how my superiors, peers and employees perceive my messages. Almost invariably they have responded positively to my emails ever since I started using the aforementioned verbiage.

In summary, my daily interactions and ultimately my career has been enhanced by my consistent use of positive language. I am confident that your own career can also be enhanced if you make it a habit to use positive language. What better time to start a good habit than right now?

Michael Folkray is developing the next generation of world-changing leaders. After a decade in private industry, he chose to dedicate the rest of his career to public service, spending the first 7 years of his government career with the United States Department of Justice. Since 2003, Michael has served in various leadership positions within the United States Department of Homeland Security. He is the founder and leader of a leadership book club for his office’s management team. Michael earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a graduate of the Federal Executive Institute. You can read his posts here and follow him on the following platforms: LinkedInTwitterInstagram.

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