There’s been a lot on people’s minds lately. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 4 in 10 adults in the US reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder over the past year. These symptoms aren’t just mental, either. Many adults reported negative impacts to their sleep and eating habits, increases in alcohol and other substance use, and worsening chronic conditions.
With a global pandemic, social justice issues, and worsening climate change, it's difficult to concentrate, let alone stay positive. But receiving a kind email, reading an upbeat article, or seeing an enthusiastic ad can boost people’s moods—at least temporarily. And if writing with a positive tone can change someone’s outlook even the tiniest bit, why wouldn't you do it?
Now, more than ever, it’s important to offer your readers and colleagues hope and positivity. In this article, we’ll discuss 6 ways you can start writing with a more optimistic slant.
Besides making a difference in another person’s day, positive writing can be an effective way to communicate with vendors and clients. Generally, people respond more favorably to positive ideas than negative ones. Even if the person you’re writing to is grumpy, they will probably react to it better to an encouraging email than a nasty one. Plus, being positive can make you seem more approachable and relatable, and fostering goodwill can have a lasting impact on your relationships.
Now, you might be thinking it’s hard to be optimistic without being disingenuous or annoying, and you’d be right. That said, it is possible! You probably know people who are good at this. You can spot them because they always generate the most client engagement, soothe irritated customers, and easily develop trust and credibility among their colleagues. Writing in a naturally positive way is a learned, valuable skill. Below are 6 tips to make your writing sound more optimistic.
Remove “can’t,” “won’t,” and “don’t” from your vocabulary as much as possible. Of course, if someone is asking you to do something illegal, feel free to use those words! But in most cases, “can’t,” “won’t,” and “don’t” have a harsh, pessimistic connotation and sound demanding. Instead, draw attention to your desired action rather than the problem at hand. Start with what you can do, framing your response as a solution. Offer as much support as you can while still maintaining your boundaries. Here’s a quick example:
Positive: Tomorrow I am free to chat after 3pm.
Negative: I'm fully booked tomorrow morning and most of the afternoon and can’t meet until at least 3pm.
It’s important to practice reframing your writing this way because people may be under stress when reading it. When people are stressed, they are more likely to be triggered by negative language. As a general rule, it’s best to come from a positive place by asking how you can help. Often, opening the dialogue will make people feel comfortable sharing their concerns with you. From there, you can even work together towards a positive resolution.
You know that coworker who can always make you smile? They make funny, interesting, or even outlandish comments that make them stand out. You can learn a lot from them.
When someone thanks you for something, don’t just reply “no problem.” Add a little something extra, like “Certainly, I’m here to help!” or insert something specific, like “My pleasure. You set me up for success by doing an incredible amount of research on x topic.” Calling out a specific way someone made your job easier will make them feel good and will make your response unique.
Use interesting adjectives as well. “Great” is extremely overused. Opt for “fantastic” or “incredible”—find a thesaurus and make a list you can look at when you’re drawing a blank. Another trick is to offer praise or gratitude when people least expect it. If someone you don’t normally interact with knocked a presentation out of the park, shoot them an email explaining what you enjoyed about it and what they did so well. You’ll give them a pleasant, memorable surprise.
Expressing thanks is one of the quickest, simplest ways to incorporate more positivity into your writing. People love shoutouts, so give them! Having said that, be sure there they are legitimate and meaningful, otherwise, people will think you’re being insincere. If you’re struggling with how to phrase your commendations, begin with the words “I appreciate your [fill in the blank],” or “Thank you so much for [fill in the blank].” Doing this at the start of your written communications makes the recipient feel special and at ease. Showing gratitude actually changes the receiver’s brain chemistry. According to Harvard Business Review, positive comments generate oxytocin, a hormone that “elevates our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others.” Not to mention, giving kudos it makes you feel like you did something genuinely nice.
Of course, being positive 100% of the time isn’t always preferable. Gauge the situation—sometimes being positive can be very insensitive. If there is a devastating community event or painful layoff process occurring at work, don’t adopt an overly positive communication style. It comes off as flippant and disrespectful.
But day-to-day, be mindful of where you place positive information in your writing. As you might expect, people’s eyes are drawn to the first and last parts of emails and naturally skim the first and last parts of paragraphs in longer articles. Try to place positive words or phrases in those sections to emphasize the good, rather than focusing on the bad.
Even if the temptation is there, it’s never ok to publicly humiliate someone in your writing. As Warren Buffet once said, “praise specifically, criticize generally.” In other words, compliment someone individually and offer constructive criticism to an entire process, team, or organization. It hurts when you are singled out, no matter how subtle someone is. It sinks morale and places blame on one person. If you must criticize a team’s work, do it with empathy in mind. Focus on solutions rather than harping on what might’ve gone wrong, and remind everyone that tour criticism represents an opportunity for growth and innovation.
At Homer, we advocate for reading aloud as often as we can. Why? Because it works. Reading your writing out loud instantly highlights mistakes, confusing or clumsy sentences, and unnecessarily complex paragraphs. It will also uncover areas of your article or email that doesn’t convey a positive message. Modify your phrasing to emphasize the positive side of things and replace negative words with positive ones. After making adjustments, read your piece out loud again. Trust us, it’s much easier to notice tonal differences when you’re reading it out loud than when you’re silently reading at your computer.
Weaving these 6 steps into your writing can dramatically affect how people perceive you. Being perceived as a decent person can get you far in business—people remember you for it and are more likely to want to work with you in the future. When you get it right, positivity can be contagious. And who doesn’t want to be around happy people?
Putting each of these tips into practice can be challenging, but improving other aspects of your writing doesn’t have to be. Homer is a web-based app that streamlines your writing by identifying redundant adverbs, passive voice, and complicated sentences.
Homer is currently offering a free trial—don’t miss out!