A simple way to make change more positive for your team is to focus on the power of positive language. In this article we help you identify when your language is ‘leaking’ negative emotions. Plus, we provide positive language examples for you to apply as you work with your team to embrace change.

Language reinforces thinking

Using positive language – and encouraging your team to do so – helps to overcome resistance to change. It creates a shift from ‘learned helplessness’ to ‘learned optimism’.

This shift to learned optimism take place because the language we use reflects and re-enforces or thinking.

By changing your language, you can use language to your advantage. You can use it to shift thinking, helping yourself and your team to embrace change.

Here are some of the ways that language reflects thinking.

Past versus future

Language gives clues to whether we’re living in the past or looking forward to the future. Whether we’re glorifying ‘the good old days’ or thinking about the opportunities ahead.

If we shift our language we’ll start to shift our thinking.

Don’t live in the pastDo use these positive language examples
“It used to be so much better when…”“It will be better when… ”
“Before XXX we could…”“In future we’ll be able to…”
“I remember when…”“I anticipate that…”

Conflict versus collaboration

Our language gives clues to whether we’re just looking for problems or opportunities to collaborate.

Don’t look to allocate blameDo use these positive language examples
“Why did you do that?”“What have you learnt?”
“You should have…”“Next time…”
“Don’t…”“Do make sure that…”

Helpless versus in control

Our language gives clues to whether we feel helpless or feel positive about our role in the change.  Are we just waiting for others to make decisions, or controlling our own destiny?

Don’t use ‘helpless’ languageDo use these positive language examples
“I have to…”“I will…”
“I don’t know.”“Let me find out.”
“That’s the way we’re told to do it.”“The things we can improve are…”

Positive language: how to make it happen

It is important to acknowledge the challenges that your team is facing and be honest about the impact. Use positive language in the right way, not to ‘spin’ facts or mislead. Be clear and direct about change and use positive language to encourage the right mindset for dealing with change.

1. Monitor your language

First, become more aware of the language that you’re using. Use the framework we provided above:

  1. Past versus future
  2. Conflict versus collaboration
  3. Helpless versus in control

Also, be mindful of all the informal language you use through-out the day. Identify the words and phrases that you use which are leaking ‘less-than-positive’ thoughts.

“Why not” can become “Sounds good!”

“No problem” can become “Let’s do it!”

“Can’t complain” can become “Work is going well, thank you!”

2. Define your own positive language examples

As you become more aware of your language, be clear about the positive language opportunities. Define the words and phrases you can starting using. Then get into the habit of using them in everyday conversations in the workplace. You’ll catch yourself missing a few opportunities at first, that’s part of the process. With a little perseverance you’ll shift to using your own positive language examples and you’ll see the benefits.

3. Review your written communications

It’s not just what you say, your written communications are important too.  Make it a habit to check your email and other written communications for positive language.  Write them to be future-focused, collaborative and in control.

4. Monitor your team’s language and provide feedback

Be aware of the language your team is using. Pick the right opportunities to make a point. This might be in a team meeting (especially if you hear several examples of ‘less than positive’ language). Just make your team aware of what you’re hearing and ask them to reflect. Use 1-1s for giving feedback too. Share the importance of using positive language.

By gently encouraging positive language within your team you’ll start to make a shift, as people use the language to see opportunity and adopt a more positive mindset.

Don’t ‘over sell’ this. People shouldn’t feel forced. Just gently encourage your team to see the benefit of using language to help shape mindset.

It’s a quick, simple, powerful contribution to change management!

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