How Negative of a Freelancer Are You?

I was reading an email that offered me an opportunity to partner up on a joint venture and I was thinking I should jump on board the opportunity–until I read a crucial little phrase that swerved me in the other direction. It was right in the wrap-up:

“Don’t hesitate to contact me.”

Suddenly something in my mind shifted. My relaxed expression shifted to a mild frown.

“Mmm. This isn’t a good fit for me,” I decided. I didn’t really know why it wasn’t a good opportunity any more. I just closed the email. I didn’t get in touch with the sender.

I didn’t think much of my reaction until I was skimming through comments on my blog one day. “I couldn’t agree more,” a commentator had written.

I hit the reading brakes. What?! How could you not agree? That was a perfectly good post! How theā€¦

When I reread the comment, I got my bearings. The commentator had been agreeing with me (in a very nice way, too). So why my reaction? He’d simply tripped up my brain. How?

By using negative language. In this post, I’ll explain how using negative language can cause clients to take you less seriously and hurt your freelancing business.


Don’t Be Negative When You Want a Positive

In both cases, the two people writing to me had positive intentions. They’d wanted me to have a good reaction to their words. But, innocently, unknowingly, they’d actually influenced a negative reaction that got them exactly what they didn’t want.

Let’s be clear: Negative language doesn’t mean flaming or nasty comments. It means using words and phrases that have negative mental associations. A simple word like don’t, for example, flicks on our brains in ways that make us think of words like stop, halt, warning, be careful. They’re just words, but they carry meaning.

And how we perceive meaning influences our emotional reaction. Choose the wrong words and you can stop action in its tracks.

Years ago, negative language was pretty common. Someone, somewhere, thought it was very good manners to use “I can’t agree more,” and “Don’t hesitate to call” in business. Executives, assistants and managers were trained that this was the proper way to communicate to convey a credible image.

That was just the way things were back then. But, it didn’t work.

See, when you notice words like “don’t,” and “hesitate”, your brain slows down and focuses on the meaning they carry. This attention is hard-wired into our brains, providing a warning system–we certainly don’t want to do anything bad or dangerous. So, we pay attention to words we associate with caution.

It’s worth paying attention to the words we use, especially when it comes to getting people to take action or helping them think of you favourably. We love our negativity. In fact, a 2005 study revealed that 20% of the words we use are neutral and only 30% are positive.

Half the words we produce express negative emotion.

Our tendency to focus on the negative can affect sales results, and not always for better. “Don’t wait to buy,” might kill a marketing campaign, because readers focus on “don’t” and “wait”. Sales fizzle. “You won’t regret it,” might influence a reader to think they might actually regret it, so they hire somewhere else. A fast “no problem” might water down a lucrative contract into a lesser one.

Yeah. The right words are pretty important.

How to Turn Negative Into Positive

So how can you turn this negative language situation around? Easy. Avoid words and phrases like “can’t”, “won’t”, “don’t”, “wait,” “won’t regret,” “don’t hesitate,” and “no doubt.” These are all words that potentially carry bad feelings, a sense of “stop” or a cautionary association.

Replace negative language with words that encourage action and good feelings. Choose ones with positive associations, like “can”, “will”, “do,” “feel free,” “go ahead,” and “for sure.”

Take a simple “don’t hesitate”, for example. Replace it with “buy now.” See the difference? More importantly, can you feel the difference? There’s definite action-oriented positive emotion rolling off the second option, and “buy now” conveys a lot more confidence, too.

Here’s a fun exercise you can try. Go back to an old email and read it carefully to see how many negative words you can find. Think about how you perceive each word and the type of emotional impact it creates in your mind. Watch for any phrases that might cause hesitation in the reader’s mind.

Now think about how you could replace those words to create positive impact. Warm feelings. Action. Because when readers take action you want them to take–without hesitation, without a doubt in their mind…

Well. Only good can come of it, right?

What About You

Do you use negative language when you communicate with your freelancing clients? Do you think it could be impacting your business?

Share your thoughts in the comments.