Improve Negative Relationships by Changing a Few of the Words You Use
By Harriet Meyerson
How often do you think about the meanings of the words that you use
every day? Like most people, do you just utter the words that seem to flow
naturally from your mouth? Some of the words that you commonly use may
actually have a negative influence on people. This can create a negative
relationship with the very people with whom you would like to have a good
Here are some places where you might run into trouble by inadvertently
using negative words: leaving a message on an answering machine, talking
with a colleague at work, chatting with a neighbor, meeting with your
children’s teachers, and relating with your family and friends.
Here’s how you can eliminate six commonly used negative words and
replace them with positive words.
PROBLEMS become SITUATIONS
A negative statement would be, “I have a problem at work.” Contrast
this with the more positive, “I have a difficult situation at work.”
A problem seems as though it is stuck to you and will always be there.
It weighs heavy on your shoulders. A situation, on the other hand, seems
temporary and solvable. It has a much lighter feel to it, and it won’t
cause as much anxiety.
ALWAYS and NEVER become OFTEN and SELDOM
A negative statement would be, “You never take me anywhere. We always
stay home and watch TV.” Contrast this with the more positive, “ Since we
seldom go out in the evenings, and we’re often so tired we just watch TV,
I get frustrated. I would love to have a special evening out with you. Can
we plan one together?”
Always and never are negative words because they are rarely true and
exaggerate a situation. Since they are usually used to criticize, people
feel attacked and become defensive. The worst part is that others may
focus on your exaggeration and entirely ignore your message. In the second
statement, however, you are explaining your own feelings and desires, so
there is no need for your partner to get defensive, and you are more
likely to get your wish - an enjoyable evening out.
SHOULD HAVE becomes COULD HAVE
A negative statement would be, “You should have worked on that
management report instead of filing papers.” Contrast this with the more
positive, “You could have worked on that management report instead of
filing papers.” Using the words, should have, creates guilt and shame for
something that has already been done and cannot be changed, whereas the
words, could have, don’t condemn anyone. They let someone know he or she
had a choice, and this experience then becomes a lesson for making better
choices in the future.
BAD becomes UNWISE
A negative statement would be, “You were really bad for missing work
when we had a deadline to meet.” Contrast this with the more positive
“Missing work when we had a deadline to meet was not a wise decision. The
rest of us had to work overtime. Would you please find a way to make it up
Using the word, bad, is a judgement of a person’s character, and causes
resentment. On the other hand, using the word, unwise, refers to the
natural consequences of the person’s actions, and doesn’t judge a person’s
FAULTS become DIFFERENCES
A negative statement would be, “One of his faults that drives me crazy,
is that his desk is always a mess.” Contrast this with the more positive,
“One of the differences between us is that he keeps his desk messy, while
I get frustrated unless everything is put in its place.”
In using the word, faults, you are judging someone’s actions as right
or wrong. Using the word, differences, removes the critical tone, because
you are pointing out how you are different, not that one person is right
MISTAKES become VALUABLE LESSONS
A negative statement would be, “You made a mistake.” Contrast this with
the more positive, “There is a valuable lesson in what you did.” The first
way makes others feel ashamed of what they did, and will probably inhibit
them from trying new things in the future. The second way gives others
something positive to do - to learn from their actions, thereby
encouraging learning and experimentation.
About the author: Harriet Meyerson, president of The
Confidence Center, works with companies that want confident, loyal, and
happy employees, and with individuals who want the confidence they need
for success. Harriet is a member of the National Speakers Association and
the author of Fire Up Your Staff on a Shoestring Budget.
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