Change a Negative to a Positive

Just by Changing 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 relationship.

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.


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.


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.


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 to us."

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 basic character.


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 or wrong.


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.

The bottom line is that words can either be destructive or enriching to your relationships with other people. So, before you allow the words to simply flow out of your mouth without considering what they mean, remember this one very important word - THINK.

By Harriet Meyerson, president of the Confidence Center in Dallas, Texas.

Harriet Meyerson works with companies that want to build employee confidence and improve employee morale. E-mail

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Last modified: 6/16/12