Is your communication negative without even knowing it? Find out how to tell and how to master constructive feedback with positive communication strategies.

Communication strategies make or break careers (and social lives). You know the one. You avoid the person at the office any and every way you can.


Because they annoy the crap out of you with negativity – especially in communication. The Negative Nancy. We’ve all had to deal with one in the confines of a compact set of cubicles.

“How’s your day?”

“How are you doing?”

“What do you think?”

These are just a few of the questions we avoid. They are giving constructive feedback to everything without being asked.

We avoid the bathroom, the break room, meetings, group functions – you name it. We’ve all done everything to keep away from the person who just speaks of negativity and all the ways they are mostly miserable. Nobody wants to work with them.

It is a career killer.

Power of Positive Communication Strategies

Positive communication strategies have been proven to be career makers in the climbers. This is particularly the case when experience and expertise are lacking. Yes, the way you communicate and make people feel might get you ahead of the Negative Nancy, who has more experience and know-how.

Why? People will want to work with you. They will want to hear your message, even when you are delivering constructive feedback.

I look back on my career and realize my communication was a significant factor as to why I was leading people much more experienced rather early in my consulting career. Positive communication strategies – or affirming communication as I refer to it – is a huge catalyst to fuel motivation in not only the people around you but also yourself.

In our quick-fix world, we often forget to focus on the affirmations. Skipping these ‘positives’ and only focusing on the ‘negatives’ is one of the major communication barriers when delivering constructive feedback.

Been there. Done that.

All the time.

Is you naturally use negative communication?

Yup. You likely are a Negative Nancy, and I am going to lay out some strategies quickly to help you to turn that boat around.

With some of the coaching and leadership development sessions I’ve done, it is like moving the Titanic on a dime – and there is no wiggle. It can be done, and the first part is awareness. As you will see below, many people use a naturally negative communication style.

Many of these strategies can be used during the interview process for your dream job.

Identifying your negative communication patterns.

Negating (or negative) communication often comes with the best of intentions and inherently focuses on the negative. This goes in both verbal communication and written – in our day of instant and text messaging where some people will just not pick up the phone (whole other lesson there).

Intelivate's Kris Fannin having a debate during a virtual video conference

Negative constructive criticism examples

“I have seen improvements in your performance, but you still have much work to do.”

What they hear: “Gee, thanks. In other words, I kind of suck.”

Although your individual productivity has dramatically improved, overall results still need to move upward.”

What they hear: “Hey, clown, I am doing the best I can. You clearly aren’t going to throw me a bone until you get exactly that number.

Unfortunately, the cross-sell promotion was not a success, but we hit our overall sales targets.”

What they hear: “You confirmed what I was thinking. I am a failure. Thanks.

“I like you, but….(anything can come after this – it does not matter at this point)”

What they hear: “You hate me and think I am fat.

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Negative communication statements emphasize the negative (what you cannot do or what you are not) while skimming over the positive (what you can do and what you are).

Look back at the statements above and actually ‘feel’ the message. These communication strategies make successfully delivering constructive criticism nearly impossible.

Turn the Constructive Feedback Frown Upside Down

To be proficient in developing affirming or positive communication while giving constructive feedback you must first understand the practical use of transition words. Transition words change from one message to another.

The most commonly used transition words include:

• But

• However

• Although

1. Transition words: but and however. Watch your ‘but.’

When the transition words “but” and “however” are used, the recipient of constructive feedback typically processes the word as a signaler to emphasize what is to come. For example, when recipients hear the transition word, “however,” they will unknowingly begin to stress everything said after the transition word.

Think about that and an example.

As soon as you hear ‘however,’ you KNOW there is a shift in tone and messaging coming. It is either transitioning from positive or negative communication. It depends on how the communication started and ‘however’ will determine the tone in which it ends when delivering constructive feedback.

When providing both a negative and positive communication simultaneously, it makes sense to place a transition word BEFORE delivering the positive or affirming message.

In this order, the recipient is more likely to focus on the positive portion of the message.

Communication strategies for transition words ‘but’ and ‘however.’

Let’s transition one of the examples above from negating to affirmative:

Negating communication:

“I have seen improvements in your performance, but you still have much work to do.”

Affirming communication:

“You still have some work to do, but I have seen improvements in your performance.”

Just reading might make the differences in constructive criticism seem inconsequential. However, FEEL the messages if you are receiving them. The feeling is a world of difference.

2. Transition to Positive Communication Strategies is a Simple Math Equation

I know you hate math. I am a math geek. So I do this in mathematical terms. Please don’t use negating constructive feedback towards me because of that. Thank you.

NEGATIVE (–) [but, however] POSITIVE (+)

That is an easy math equation. Start with the negative, use you transition word and then end with a positive. Done. Easy.

It may not seem like much, HOWEVER (see how I’m doing this), when you realize the number of times a day you make statements like this, it will turn your communication mood around.

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Always use the transition word before the part of the constructive feedback you want to emphasize. You want to try and emphasize the positive, so put the positive component of the message at the end of the statement and use the transition word before this element.

3. Transition Word ‘Although’ Communication Strategies

The transition word “although” acts as a cliffhanger.

When people hear “although,” they instinctively wait for a shift from a negative to a positive communication or vice versa. Therefore, it makes sense to start with the negative and end with a positive when delivering constructive criticism.

intelivate conflict management strategies for successful persuasion

Transition word ‘although’ example

Negating: “Although we nailed cross-sale promotion targets, we missed the overall goal.”

Affirming: “Although we did not hit overall goals, we nailed that cross-promotion sale target.”

4. Transition Word: Unfortunately. Just Don’t Do It.

There’s nothing positive about the word ‘unfortunately.’ If used at the beginning of a statement, NOTHING else is heard when giving constructive criticism. It is a no, nope, negative, see you, bye-bye.

That’s it. Done.

People are hearing a denial message and will likely not process anything substantial after they hear ‘unfortunately.’ They got their answer. The goal of your constructive criticism is S-U-N-K.

How do you get past it?

Just don’t use the word, ‘unfortunately.’ The only time I use it is when I strategically want to emphasize a negative message to ensure understanding or make a very clear – negative -point.

5. Never Negate Empathy!

Unless you are looking to punch someone verbally in the stomach, NEVER negate an empathy statement – especially when giving constructive criticism. We’ve all done it a million times.

You know exactly what I mean:

Negating Empathy: “I am sorry to hear about your situation, but…”

Nothing after the ‘but’ matters. Nothing. It is the loudest record screech ever heard on the planet.

Guess what?

I use it – rarely – and only when I want to make a very politically correct statement of “I do not care.” That is rare, especially as a leader. When someone hears it, he or she genuinely knows I do not care, however.

There you have them. Some quick strategies to begin turning your constructive criticism from ‘Negative Nancy’ to powerfully affirmative.

Just remember that it takes a conscious effort to make it a habit.

Be consistent and keep at it, you constructive criticism rising rock star!

Keep Reading: 9 Communication Barriers Killing Your Career & Relationships →

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