How Word Choice and Tone Matters in Your Communciation


January 3, 2018

*From the dusty archives…

Today, I’m thinking about not just the words I use, but the WAY I use those words.  Am I being direct?  Am I passive?  It all boils down to whether or not I use more denotative or connotative language.  As we know, denotative language is the more literal interpretation of words.  It takes the emotion out of it.  Connotative language is using words where the emotion actually determines the definition of the word.

Take the following sentence:  The man was a good friend.  By subsittuting synomyms for the word good, it can change the tone.

The man was an able friend.

The man was a proper friend.

The man was a suitable friend.

Each one’s connotation can significantly change the meaning of the sentence even though all those words are synonyms for the word good.

Business Application

When you think about your role as a leader and the tone and word choice you use, the impact can be tremendous.  Think for a moment about a situation with a team member who has let you down on an important project.  Do you say:

  • I am angry that you did not complete the project on time and on budget.
  • I am disappointed that you did not complete the project on time and on budget.
  • I’m concerned that you did not complete the project on time and on budget.
  • The project was not completed on time and on budget.  What happened?  What were the barriers?
  • You dropped the ball once again and the project was not complete on time or on budget.

Each of the statements address the project completion but the tone of each makes the employee aware that their is either a boss willing to work with them on this or not.

When you think about your team, do you tend to speak with them using more denotative or connotative language?   It does make a difference.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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