Please read this sentence aloud: “You know, the restaurant we ate at on Friday was super luxurious, and the staff was wonderful. However, the dining area was outdated, and the tables were sort of tiny. We had a good meal though.”
Now – and don’t cheat by glancing back up – tell me, which words do you recall most easily? If you’re like a majority of the general public, you just mumbled “outdated” and “tiny” to yourself.
Studies show that negative words, experiences and ideas crowd out positive ones in our minds. When we hear a negative word, it is what we remember the most. Check out this recent New York Times article that addresses why this is just human nature.
Why should we care? It is important for PR professionals and business leaders to understand this phenomenon as it can have serious, and possibly damaging, effects on client relationships.
Imagine that you’ve just received word from a hotel representative that your room is not available. Ask yourself which explanation makes you feel better, knowing that you’re really hearing the exact same message: Sorry, lady, we gave your room away.
Option 1 (wrong): I’m sorry, ma’am. The suite you reserved already has another guest in it. We accidentally double-booked it in our reservation system, and the other person checked in first. Sorry for the mistake; I’m not sure how it happened. Would you be OK with a smaller room?
Option 2 (right): Ms. Ellett, we’re so sorry, but it seems the suite you booked isn’t available as we promised. We’re working diligently to get everything straightened out so you can thoroughly enjoy your stay here at our hotel. Please have a seat in our lounge, relax and enjoy a beverage on the house while we get this taken care of. We’ll get back to you within five minutes and get you all settled in.”
The point is this: Even when the news isn’t all Pollyanna in nature, it can be handled in a way that makes your audience feel better about the situation. The way we say something can make all the difference in the world.
Here are some tips to remember:
- Don’t say negative words.
- Never repeat negative words – even if it is your intent to deny them.
- Think about all of the positive words you want associated with your company. Ensure any front-line colleagues know these words.
- Think about all of the negative words you DO NOT want associated with your company. Again, ensure client-facing staff members know to avoid these words.
- And remember, jargon – words your audiences don’t use on a regular basis – is considered a part of the negative word club. If you must use jargon, immediately explain what you mean.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to avoid the naughty list, give us a shout.