Language that wins at work

Language that wins at work

By Julianna Cantwell

Communication in the modern era can easily be misunderstood, especially when provided over email or text messaging. Yet, it’s through the use of words, tone, and body language that we convey and receive messages with one another.

While spoken words can be impactful, body language can also speak volumes. So, it is important not to underestimate the non-verbal messages we send through facial expressions, body posture, gestures, and eye movement. Read on for tips on how to incorporate positive, proactive, and collaborative language into everyday communications with colleagues and others. You’ll find that simply changing a few words in your communications can go a long way towards improving relationship building, and ultimately, helping you to be more effective.

Professional use of language can make the difference between someone:

  • feeling criticized or attacked by your questions and comments VS hearing you and understanding your intended message
  • thinking you lack tact and judging you VS  believing you are trying to help
  • dismissing your contributions VS being open to receiving your input

Use positive instead of negative words in your sentences:

Instead of this Say this
I think that is a bad idea There may be other options that can yield better results
You don’t understand… Let me try explaining that in a different way…
Do I HAVE to attend that meeting? What value will I bring or get by attending the meeting?

Incorporate proactive language in your statements and response:

Reactive language Proactive language
Sorry, I can’t help you Let’s see what options there are…
The policy is…(some version of “no”) Although the policy says we can’t, let’s explore some other ways for you to get your needs met
That’s a dumb idea; it’ll never work I’ve never heard that idea before. I’m not sure how that will play out; can you explain?
No, I won’t be able to finish it by then Thank you for asking. I will need a bit more time to complete it so that it’s done well. How about changing the deadline to____?

Use words that are team-oriented instead of self-oriented.

Individualistic Collaborative
I would like to… If we did it this way…
Thanks, but I’m not interested I appreciate you asking me, but I’m going to pass on this one


A Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR), Julianna Cantwell is the President of JUNA Consulting Inc., a strategic human resources consulting practice that helps organizations improve individual and group performance. Specializing in learning and development for 20 years, and communications for more than 15 years, Julianna logs over 100 days a year speaking and facilitating learning.

Note: This article orignally appeared in CPA Alberta’s Capitalize magazine, which is distributed to high school and post-secondary students. Read the full article in the Fall 2019 issue of Capitalize (page 42) on CPA Alberta’s website.