Why positive words are powerful

We are so used to notice the negative and to criticize what is not working well, that we forget how powerful positive words can be. Many studies across disciplines repeatedly confirm: whether in business or in life, positive feedback inspires peak performance. Positive words are powerful!

I was recently reminded of the importance of using positive words when I attended a workshop conducted by Rosamund Zander, author of The Art of Possibility, and wife of the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Zander shared that in order to elicit peak performance, her husband looks to put in people’s eyes that “shine” that is a tell sign of enthusiasm, joy, and inspiration. He believes people give their best when they can also inspire others to connect and join in the experience.

Why positive words are powerful

Dr. Hallowell in his book, Shine makes the point that “without the right care, brains get stupid.” According to him, the way to prevent or reverse this is mostly by instilling optimism and hope into the work environment. Take a look at this short video in which he shares his basic ideas:


Positive words inspire people to give their best and feel confident, instead of negative. This leads to improved performance due to greater involvement of the cerebral cortex. On the other hand, chronic fear and stress due to a negative environment causes neurons to be hijacked from performing well because the brain has to deal with negative emotions.

I want to share six specific strategies that can help leaders harness the power positive words. Working with your own attitude is a good place to start!

Key ideas for using positive words effectively  

Positive affirmations are a powerful tool in helping people shine at work and in life. To be more effective and maximize its benefits, you need to follow some key principles:

  1. Be genuine. False praise will backfire. You have to be authentic in your praise. This should not be a manipulative technique. It has to come from the heart to be able to really inspire. You need to cultivate positivity in yourself if you are going to be able to affirm and inspire others.
  2. Keep eye contact. Looking to another person in the eye makes a powerful connection and can tell them you are genuine in your praise.
  3. Word it in positive terms. The statement must be in itself positive in order for it to yield positive results. For example: Instead of saying: “I was glad you did not get angry when that costumer started insulting you,” it’s better to say: “Great job in staying calm and therefore helping that angry costumer calm down.”
  4. Be timely. It’s more effective to comment on the positive close to the time the person performed the action.
  5. Be brief. Experts agree that an affirmation statement must be short and specific to be effective. Shorter positive affirmation will have a greater impact on the brain than statements which are lengthy and very wordy.
  6. Praise often. There is evidence that people perform better if the ratio of positive to negative is 5-9 positives (depending on which study you read) for every negative. Leaders I work with tend to think they don’t have time to be looking for so many positive things. But when they start thinking about how much more time is wasted because of poor performance, errors, and conflict, they agree it takes less time and it’s a better return on investment to take time to notice and verbalize the positive.

You can choose to help other’s give the best of themselves or to snuffle the spark in them and see them just do the bare minimum to get by. What would it be?

Remember. . .

You can harness the power of positive words to inspire people to peak engagement and performance

Help put a spark in other people’s eyes and your own will also shine!

For personal reflection and sharing

Who has helped you have a spark in your eyes lately and how? How can you put a spark in someone’s eyes today?

Share your answers with us in the comments below.

Photo via Flicker by Janet Ramsden

Ada GonzalezComment