I recently ran a webinar called Getting To The Point Without Being Blunt which included a Q&A time for the participants. One of the great questions that came out was about the use of emotion in business communication. Download this and the other five Q&As here, or read on.

I made the point that emotion is not necessarily our friend. Too much intensity, particularly negative intensity, can come off as rude in person and worse in formal communication. this has actually been a topic in two recent coaching sessions of mine too.

Webinar participant, Bea, rightly asked whether emotion should have a role in business communication, particularly positive communication.

She is right: there are very good reasons to use emotion to engage our audiences, and here are three tips for doing so:

  1. Be positively contagious
  2. Focus on solutions rather than problems
  3. Be negative only with care

I'll flesh these points out here one by one.

Be positively contagious

If you think about the people you know, and whom you LIKE to spend time with, you will probably agree they offer something positive to you. They engage in topics you like to talk about, smile and show interest. They seem to like you.

Work is a social context, so to this extent, social rules apply to both interpersonal and formal communication. So, use positive emotions to your advantage and draw people in so they are more likely to listen to you and not be turned off by negativity, or a sharp tone.

Focus on solutions rather than problems

It is much easier to ‘say it as it is' than think diplomatically about how to handle difficult situations.

However, I see many younger execs, particularly those from technical disciplines, struggle in this area.

For example, last week I was helping a data analyst in her mid 30s who was frustrated that she was not getting the instructions she needed to do her job. She was inclined to say “I can't do this because your instructions don't make sense” rather than something like: “If I receive XYZ in the next couple of days I can finish the task you have asked me to do”.

This can be difficult when you are close to a problem that is driving you nuts, but is worth the effort. This particular client changed her tone, involved her direct manager and got what she needed while building rather than damaging her relationships.

Be negative only with care

Sometimes it is not only hard to be positive, but it comes off as insincere or does not grab the attention you need. I do encourage you, however, to use ‘the negative' judiciously. If you can get the job done in a positive way: do it. If you can't, then do so with your eyes open and save it for real crises so that it has the effect you need.

Download the rest of the Q&As here, and click here to watch the webinar recording. It will be available until 10 March. If you are reading this after the 10th, sign up to hear about future webinars here.




Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.