Business Writing Style Top Tip: Positive Language

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published October 7, 2020, updated October 19, 2020
Business Writing Style Top Tip: Positive Language


Bestselling author and management consultant Tom Peters lauded the value of decency and grace in business communication at the American Express Open Business Forum. I so agree with him when he stated, “the business place should care precisely about the words we use.”

Business writing carries power. For example, the all-too-common phrase "no problem" is now often tossed off. Why deflect thanks with a negative response? 

Imagine how your reader would feel if you used these alternative positive and gracious replies, instead of "no problem:"

  • You are welcome.
  • My pleasure.
  • It was my pleasure.
  • We're here to help!
  • You're welcome.
  • Thank you!
  • Thanks for asking about our ...
  • Thanks for the question, which helped me update our instructions.
  • Enjoy!
  • Certainly!
  • Of course!
  • I'm glad to hear I helped.
  • Thanks for letting me know I was helpful.
  • Nice to know I helped.
  • We appreciate your business.
  • We appreciate your business, and I'm here to help.

Business Writing Style Positivity Checklist

  1. State what you can do, instead of what you can't.

    Positive: I'm open tomorrow at 2pm to review the proposal.

    Negative: I'm booked tomorrow morning, so can't review the proposal until 2pm.

  2. State your desired action, instead of the negative action.

    Positive: Please leave the supply closet unlocked.

    Negative: Please do not lock the supply closet.

  3. Use the precise word "yes" in a response, rather than the imprecise "sure," "okay," or "yeah." (When I hear these words, I often anticipate a long-suffering sigh to follow.)

    Positive: May I take next Wednesday off as a personal day? "Yes, a personal day on Wednesday fits the schedule well." For extra credit, add "Enjoy your day off!"

    Negative: May I take next Wednesday off as a personal day? The response "okay" or other imprecise response can easily feel a bit begrudging.

  4. Choose positive framing instead of negative.

    Positive: Thank you for your request.

    Negative: I received your request.

  5. Focus on solutions instead of blame.

    Positive: To complete your request, I will need...

    Negative: You neglected to include xx in your request.

The implications are significant:

  • Consultants will enjoy better client engagement.
  • Sales people will gain trust and likeability.
  • Customer service representatives will soothe agitated customers.
  • Freelancers will better connect with clients.
  • Business analysts will identify opportunities and gaps in a manner that fosters collaboration and improvement.

Managers and senior executives: you set the tone in your organization. If you want the benefits of positive business writing communication in your company, be sure to model this.

Maya Angelou beautifully summarizes the emotional impact of communication:

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

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Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published October 7, 2020, updated October 19, 2020
Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.