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The Dictionary of Non-Communication A Guide for the Impotent, Defensive, Whiny, Unsuccessful Communicator (or, a personal style analysis for those who truly want to communicate strategically) By James E. Lukaszewski, APR, Fellow PRSA As Published in PBI Media LLC's PR News, January 29, 2001 Copyright © 2001, James E. Lukaszewski. All rights reserved. This is a personal study every communicator, coach, and counselor can participate in to achieve more powerful, effective, positive speech and writing. The goal is to recognize, counteract, and eliminate non-communication. The language of non-communication is negative and can be devastating. Identifying and correcting your own style shortcomings is essential to achieving leadership in verbal and written goals. First, we have to acknowledge certain realities about negative language. Let's call them Axioms of Non-communication: Axiom #1: Negative language is non-communication. If I say to you, "That's not how we do it," or, "That's meaningless," how have you been helped? I've probably put you off because my response is somewhat accusatory, like you should have known more than you did. Negative language teaches nothing. Axiom #2: Negative language is destructive. If I say to you, "You're wrong," or, "That's not true," you are now a victim. I haven't provided information that would help you know what is right. Even if I follow that comment with some useful, positive information, chances are that you'll have difficulty hearing it because I have seriously insulted or hurt you. You are licking your wounds, not listening to me. Negative language makes people mad. Axiom #3: Negative language causes defensiveness (yours). I've told you, "That's not the way we do it," or, "It won't work." Well, if I care about you at all, I know I haven't communicated, I know it's not what you wanted to hear, therefore I feel that I must now do something to overcompensate for my non-communication. This is what defensiveness is - a feeling of inadequacy brought on primarily by incomplete, negative, stupid, erroneous, or mindless communication. When you hear negative language, it's the principal reason why you stop listening. Axiom #4: Negative language drives communication out of control. As soon as I say, "That's not the way we think," what are your options as a victim responder? You'll ask me why not, why isn't it, and why won't we? These are all negative responses, which drive communication even further off any positive, productive track. Your situation is now sliding into the verbal ditch. Everyone knows why, but no one knows what to do about it. Negative language can cause permanent misunderstandings. Axiom #5: Negative language causes a kind of intellectual deafness. Reporters, protestors, activists, and angry opponents seem to need negative language. In fact, the fulfillment of their mission revolves around the use of it. When they get negative reaction and language in response, communication becomes driven by it and conflict expands. It may be impossible to be positive enough to punch through the negative shield, once it has formed. Those on the attack can't or won't hear what you say. But if your message is negative, they will hear you. The news media especially use negative language as a means of balancing almost any positive news or information. Modern media practice requires a negative perspective rather than facts or data to validate their objectivity. Here's a sample of what I mean: • Man Lands on the Moon, Cost Overruns Mar the Achievement • Life-Saving Medication Introduced Today in Cleveland, 17 Deaths During Clinical Trials Raise Questions • Religious Icon Rises From the Dead, Relationship With Prostitute in Previous Life Under Investigation Axiom #6: Negative language never brings closure. Negative language is used in the mistaken belief that a negative response somehow stops allegations, assertions, and negative questions. The actual affect is just the opposite. Lawyers believe that a robust denial is a strong communications position. It may well be in the courtroom, where there are judges, other lawyers, process, procedures, and rules. Outside the courtroom, a denial is fundamentally assumed by everyone to be an admission of guilt. "No comment," for example, has been heavily studied. These words invariably create an audience perception of guilt. In short, negative language is inconclusive and always assailable. Axiom #7: Negative language never achieves victory. Victory is supposed to be a positive event. If you haven't defined victory, there is no language strategy that will get you there. Or, to say it positively, define victory and you'll be able to structure a verbal and written strategy to achieve it. John F. Kennedy said, "We will put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and return him safely to earth." He did not say, "Despite unbelievable obstacles, no scientific basis, and unwillingness on the part of the Congress to fund such a unprecedented, unusual, and doubtful endeavor, we will . . ." Negative language is the language of losers. Positive language is the language of leadership and candor. SIDEBAR: YOUR JOURNAL OF NON-COMMUNICATION Let me suggest that you seriously begin a personal journal to help discover your own non- communication styles. Simply note every negative phrase and translate it into an effective positive. Double negatives are more corrosive than single negatives. Triple negatives always create victims. To begin your analysis, ask yourself these questions about every non-communication entry: 1. What is communicated? 2. How is the recipient helped? 3. What can be learned? 4. What is the next question? 5. What headline does this response create? Some examples of negative vs. positive communication: Negative: "I don't doubt it." Negative: "Do not hesitate to call." Positive: "I believe it." Positive: "Please call." Negative: "I don't like this." Negative: "Don't be afraid to fail." Positive: "I'd prefer something else." Positive: "Learn from your failures." Negative: "I meant no disrespect." Negative: "Don't let me mislead you." Positive: "I am respectful." Positive: "Here's what I mean." Negative: "I see no reason to disagree." Negative: "I can't express it in words." Positive: "It's okay with me." Positive: "I'll try my best to explain it." Negative: "It couldn't get any worse." Positive: "This is about as bad as it gets." Try your hand at creating your own positive equivalents. "It doesn't matter that it won't happen." "It doesn't mean you're not finished." "It will not be inexpensive." "It's not necessarily bad." "It's not without limits." "It's virtually impossible to make a mistake." "Just because it wasn't said doesn't mean . . . " "Let's not kid ourselves." "My failure to act is not to be construed as acquiescence." "Neither side is incompatible." "No one denies it's true." "No problem." "No, it wouldn't be a bad idea." "Not for the uninitiated." "Not without a struggle." "Nothing can discount its value." "Nothing less than success." "Please don't hesitate to ask." "That is not unheard of." "That's not a bad idea." "The foregoing is without prejudice to our rights, none of which is waived." "The journey will not be without some obstacles." "The situation is by no means lost." "There is no reason why we cannot cooperate." "There is no right way." "There is nothing you cannot achieve." "We are not unmindful." "We can no longer fail to disclose what we did." "We can't do it without you." "What we did will not jeopardize the future." "You don't have to abandon your principles."

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