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  • Writer's pictureClare Eager

Power of Positive Language

Published in the Peterborough Telegraph 5th August 2021

We all know to use positive language in the workplace. Whether it is to our direct reports, our colleagues or in front of our leaders, negative language is a Room 101 submission. However, once the positive words have been spoken, do subsequent actions reinforce the positivity or do they undermine it?

I’m sure like me, many of you have been told that ‘I believe in you’ or ‘you are so capable’ . On the face of it, a positive message, but how long before that very person who has said that to you, behaves in a way that demonstrates that they don’t actually believe in you or that they do not believe you are capable?

What does the behaviour that emulates the words of believing in someone and their capability look like? Well, it’s about giving room for autonomy, support and coaching where needed and recognising the capability demonstrated.

It’s about the person who is speaking those words behaving authentically, being consistent and operating with integrity, otherwise those words will mean nothing and become negative.

Additionally, increasing the quantity of positive language in the workplace is also good practice. Auditing workplace current language and asking, is it as positive as it could be? One example your language audit may raise, is the positive or negative perceived connotations of the phrase ‘probation period’.

The dictionary defines probation as ‘a process of testing or observing the character or abilities of a person who is new to a role or job’. When the hired person, who has been through possibly several interviews, maybe an assessment center and perhaps delivered a presentation during the recruitment process, is only offered the role on a three or six month probation period, may not interpret this as positive. I’m not saying that new employees should not be assessed or observed in delivering their role, I am suggesting that categorising it as a probation period, may not be the most positive language approach and elicit subsequent negative behaviour.

What if an organisation was to consider there was a three or six month ‘onboarding period’. This puts the accountability on both the employee and the employer to make the relationship work. It speaks of belief in the integrity and validity of the selection process and signals to the new employee that the organisation is working towards them remaining with them. An explicitly positive message.

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