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. 

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.




I love what I do.

I help senior leaders and their teams prepare high-quality papers and presentations in a fraction of the time.

This involves 'nailing' the message that will quickly engage decision makers in the required outcome.

I leverage 25+ years' experience including

  • learning structured thinking techniques at McKinsey in Hong Kong in the mid 1990s before coaching and training their teams globally as a freelancer for a further 15 years
  • being approved to teach the Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto in 2009
  • helping CEOs, C-suite leaders and their reports deeply understand their stakeholder needs and communicate accordingly
  • seeing leaders cut the number of times they review major papers by ~30% and teams cut the amount of time they take to prepare major papers by ~20%*
  • watching senior meetings focus on substantive discussions and better decisions rather than trying to clarify the issue

My approach helps anyone who needs to engage senior leaders and Boards.

Recent clients include 7Eleven, KPMG, Mercer, Meta, Woolworths.

Learn more at www.clarityfirstprogram.com


(*) Numbers are based on 2023 client benchmarking results.