Did you know your brain can’t hear the word “not”?  It actually deletes that out and then focuses on the “do” part.

Try this out.  Don’t picture an ice cream cone.

What happened? I bet all you can think of right now is an ice cream cone.

So when giving instructions, feedback or responding to requests it is important that you flip from stating them in a negative to stating them in a positive.

My colleague, Dianna Booher from Booher Consultants, is a prolific author of books on all aspects of communicating.  What I love about Dianna is her eloquence and the simplicity with which she gets to the heart of the communication.  As I looked at speaking to you about the power of Positive versus Negative Words I thought Dianna’s piece was so brilliant I wanted to share it with you.

So, with her permission, here is Dianna’s wisdom on this:


From Dianna Booher:

“We hear and remember positive wording better than negative wording–particularly instructions. When you read a sign that says, “DO NOT DUMP TRASH HERE,” you have to switch tracks. “Hmmm. I can’t dump trash here. Then where? Oh, I can dump trash over there.” However, if the sign reads, “DUMP TRASH IN THE BIN NEAR THE BACK DOOR,” you can avoid the switching technique.

Not: “I don’t know whether I should make that purchase.”

But: “I question the wisdom of that purchase.”

Not: “I can’t have this ready until Friday.”

But: “I can have this ready for you on Friday.”

Not: “They can’t correct that problem until they redesign the motor.”

But: “When they redesign the motor, they’re going to correct that problem.”

Not: “Our managers don’t communicate with one another.”

But: “Our managers need to find ways to communicate across departmental lines.”

Not: “We’ll have to go into debt.”

But: “We can issue bonds.”

The positive message or instruction sinks in easier and faster.”


Remember to keep things simple, direct, and positive.  You will create more energy and brain memory so people ACT on what you say.

Anne Warfield, CEO of Impression Management Professionals in Minneapolis, MN.
IMP is a provider of strategic presentation skills training focused on the Outcome Thinking Methodology, helping leaders gain executive presence.