The Secret to Using Positive Language

Mike McClement
Coach & Author
Think Confidence
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Are bad speech habits letting you down? Simple phrases and words you’re using could be having a negative impact, not only on the way you’re perceived by others but on your own mind-set too. So, without even knowing it, your vocabulary could be having an adverse effect on your self-confidence.

Think carefully… are there phrases or words that crop up in your speech regularly? Are you using negative or positive language?

Some of us have a habit of repeating the same negative words and phrases over and over again. The problem is that the more we hear, read, or speak a phrase, the more power it has over us. This is because the brain uses repetition to learn.

The good news is that you can break the habit. You can change negative language into positive language. This won’t only make you sound more confident but you’ll notice you feel more confident too.

You’ll need to focus and work hard but the results will be worth it. It can take up to 21 days to break a habit so you’ll need to have a plan.

So, first things first… start to identify negative words or phrases you use on a daily basis. It sounds blindingly obvious but the simplest way to check if you’re using negative phrases is to listen to yourself. This isn’t difficult to do but it does require self-discipline. It’s not something we do naturally, mainly because our focus tends to be on what others are saying, not what we’re saying.

The next time you’re talking in an environment where peoples’ perception of you matters; for example, a work meeting, a networking event or when you’re giving a presentation, you need to be super-conscious of whether you are using negative or positive language.

Here are a few examples of negative phrases I regularly hear people using on my confidence courses.

“Does that make sense?”

This is a perfect example of a negative phrase that could give someone a poor perception of you.

Why say something completely unnecessary that makes you sound as though you doubt yourself? In fact, by asking the question, your audience may start to wonder whether in fact you are making sense.

Although you may be saying it to encourage interaction, what you’re actually doing is sowing the seed of doubt unnecessarily. In fact, you’re questioning your own ability to speak on the subject.

So the next time you want to check if someone understands you, instead of using the phrase “does that make sense?” say something like… “do you have any thoughts or questions?” By using this positive language you will not only give your audience an opportunity to ask if they don’t understand but you’ll also convey the message that you’re confident on the subject.

“I’m sorry…”

It’s common to hear people saying sorry when it’s just not necessary. They often prefix sentences with the word sorry – “Sorry, would you mind if I sit here?” … “sorry, do you have the time please” … “sorry, could I ask a question?” – some people even say sorry for being late when they’re not.

Saying sorry when it’s not warranted simply makes you look as though you lack confidence. You’re immediately communicating an apologetic, perhaps even submissive message to people. If you’re in a work environment, this can make a huge difference. The last thing you need when you’re trying to explain your opinion is the person thinking you doubt it yourself.

So, be conscious of whether or not you’re a serial sorry sayer. Try replacing the word “sorry” with “Excuse me” – because that’s often what you actually mean.

“If only…”

If you have a habit of saying this, you need strike it out. All it does is communicate negativity.

“If only we had more time”, “if only I was fitter”, “if only I was wealthier”, “if only it wasn’t raining” – Carry on like this and it won’t be long before people get frustrated with you. Saying “if only” is pointless. It goes nowhere towards solving the problem, in fact it tells people you’ve given up already.

Removing “if only” from your vocabulary is easier if you focus on thinking more positively. More often than not, it’s pessimistic, negative people who struggle most with this habit. Accepting the reality of the situation helps too, rather than wishing things were different and feeling sorry for yourself.

If you study positive people who come across with confidence and have charisma, they don’t ever use this kind of negative language. The two simply don’t go together.

Are you guilty of using filler words?

Watch out for ‘Filler’ words too.

It’s not only phrases like “am I making sense” that could have negative connotations and affect peoples’ perceptions – you need to be conscious of using ‘filler’ words too. These can be incredibly distracting if you use them too much.

Watch out for words and phrases such as “you know”, “kind of”, “sort of”, “like”, “actually”, “look”. Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people are saying “so” at the beginning of a sentence, often when they’re answering a question.

We’re all vulnerable to lazy enunciation at times. Feeling nervous about something often increases this vulnerability. Interviews or difficult work meetings are great examples of when you need to be on your guard.

No matter what the situation, eliminating filler words won’t just make you sound more professional, it will also stop the chance of your audience being distracted.

Listen to other people. Make a mental note of when people distract you with the language they’re using. If ‘filler’ words start to distract you, you’ll find that they take over from the actual meaning of the conversation, you might even start to feel annoyed. Remember, this is how other people will be feeling about you if you’re guilty of using a filler word such as “like” or “ya know” too often.

Subtle language changes can make a huge difference to people’s perception of your confidence and professionalism. Being mentally aware of your use of negative words and phrases means that you can start to control how confident you sound in your speech.

Challenge yourself to use positive language. Stamp out those negative words today.

About Mike McClement

Mike McClement
Mike founded the Performance Management consultancy, Training Hand, in 1995 and Think Confidence, a subsidiary of Training Hand in 2009. His proven 4 Step Plan to greater self-confidence is the leading online confidence building resource. His book Brilliant Self-Confidence published by Pearson is a best seller in the personal development field. He works both in the public and private sector. An experienced personal development and performance management coach, he has a particular interest in the fields of self-confidence, assertiveness and public speaking.  

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