Words not only express ideas and contain information but many also transmit emotion. Just try reading the words below, one line at a time and see how they make you feel.
Happiness Healthy Success Celebration
Misery Depressed Failure Sadness
Taking into account the impact of these words on you, it should come as no surprise that you are much be likely to have a positive influence on your listeners and readers if you choose words that evoke positive emotions. This is particularly important when it comes to words that may mean essentially the same thing but could pack a very different kind of emotional punch.
Consider for example:
“thrifty” vs “cheap” “strong” vs “forceful” “prudent” vs “cautious”
Being aware that words can mean different things to different people – and understanding which words may have negative connotations for those you are addressing – will support you in making appropriate choices to build the the kind of feeling that best serves your purpose.
In general, people like to be spoken to directly and to feel engaged and involved. Instead of talking in abstract terms or using the passive voice, sprinkle your dialogue “you” and “we” and “us”; when you are aiming for cooperation try replacing “Will you please do…” with “Let’s do…”
No-one wants to feel confused, bored or insulted either. So keep your language and sentence structure simple, clear and jargon-free; use verb-driven language to create a sense of action and excitement and stay away from all words that imply judgements or could be interpreted as offensive.
Here is a real life example of the negative consequences caused by an inappropriate choice of word:
Tessa received quarterly invoices for one of her regular subscriptions to a service provider. When the first invoice of a new year arrived, she noticed that the heading had been changed from ‘Subscriber Invoice’ to ‘Subscriber Demand’. Also, at the bottom of the page next to the sum to pay, the wording had changed too, from ‘Amount Requested’ to ‘Amount Demanded’. The use of the words ‘demand’ and ‘demanded’ made her feel as though she had done something wrong even though she knew that her payment was not late and this was not a reminder invoice. She took pride in being conscientious and making all of her bill payments on time. For the next two quarters, she suffered silently every time she read the word ‘Demand’ on the invoice. When her subscription was up for renewal, she was not really sure why she did it, but she switched providers.