PositiveSpeak 101

It's a given that not all news is good news, but there's certainly an art to the way to present people with negative or disappointing information. Naomi Karten explains how the trick to remaining positive in a negative situation doesn't involve withholding information, only presenting it wisely.

A chap named Tony was a master at putting a negative spin on things, telling customers what he couldn't do rather than what he could. So during a busy spell, when a prospective customer asked when he'd be available, his response was, "Gee, I'm really sorry. I can't possibly be available for three months." Hardly a surprise, therefore, that the customer took his business elsewhere.

Certainly, Tony's response would have been appropriate if he didn't need the business, but his success depended on keeping new projects in the pipeline.

Consider, therefore, how much more positive his response would have sounded if he'd said, "Perfect timing! I expect to have some time in only three months, and your project sounds like one I'd love to work on. How about if I send you some samples so you can begin to consider the options?"

Choosing Your Words vs. Losing the Customer

The words you use can make a huge difference in what customers hear and how they react. So if you can describe a situation in both a positive and a negative light - and both are truthful and non-deceptive - why not select the positive?

Here's another example: A plane I was on had some minor mechanical problems that delayed our departure. Wisely, the pilot announced both the delay and his estimate of how long it would take to correct the problem. Just as his estimated departure time arrived, he announced: "I'm really sorry to have to tell you this, but it's going to take us another ten minutes because we have to take care of the [technomumble-jumble thingamajig]."

Given that it was a matter of a mere ten minutes, he might reasonably have said, "Good news! We're almost ready to depart. We have one final task to complete and we'll be on our way in about ten minutes."

See the difference? Why present something as bad news that can reasonably and honestly be presented as good news?

Good News: A Root Canal!

Obviously, not everything can be expressed in good-news terms - at least, not without making you look foolish. ("We lost your room reservation! But what a lucky day for you - we're going to put you up at the Slovenly Inn in Faraway Town at our expense.") But if you pay attention to how you phrase your announcements, news and informational messages, you might find you can rephrase some of them in more enthusiastic, upbeat terms. When you do, don't be surprised if customers are more than willing to accept the conditions and circumstances you've described.

User Comments

1 comment
Anonymous's picture

The message here is equally valid within the team environment. Delivery is everything!

July 27, 2010 - 5:41pm

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