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Use the power of positive language in your communication

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

The disciplined use of positive language brings benefits in all types of media interviews, public meetings and confrontations with pressure groups.

Contrary to popular belief and much PR mythology, negative articles and headlines are generally driven by the negative language and examples that spokespersons use. Even the best interview often results in a story with a negative slant simply because a single negative phrase was used. Reporters and others habitually phrase their questions and information requests in negative ways that demand negative responses.

Positive language will enable you to control or frame your communication. Using positive, declarative language and power words will overcome negative and ‘toxic’ language.

Look what happens with negative imagery: on 17 November 1973, Richard Nixon famously declared to an Associated Press managing editors conference in Orlando, Florida, that "people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook.” By repeating the negative language, his words immediately made everyone think of him as a crook.

When Basil Fawlty in the English television comedy series ‘Fawlty Towers’ instructed his staff, “Don’t mention the war,” when they spoke to German guests at his hotel, he was the main offender, hilariously.

In the same way, when people are interviewed in the media, many fall into the trap of using denials that repeat the original allegation, thus perpetuating the claim against them. For example, when the chief executive says, “My company didn’t poison the soil at the mining site,” he is only reinforcing the strength of the accusation in people’s minds. If he is preparing for such an interview, when this type of question is predictable, he should prepare a response in positive language: “My company has a 100% record in maintaining the highest environmental standards.”

When confronted with a negative accusation or statement the response should be made only in positive, declarative language. Some examples of positive declarations that have been converted out of negative words are:

Negative response: “No, the project won’t run at a loss.”
Positive response: “The project is still scheduled to run on time and on budget.”

Negative response: “It won’t have a detrimental impact on the environment…”
Positive response: “The environmental impact will be minimal [zero?].”

Negative response: “That’s wrong. We didn’t pay less than the amount claimed.”
Positive response: “If you check the facts, you’ll find we paid the full amount.”

Negative response: “We didn’t do that”
Positive response: “Here’s what we actually did.”


About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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