Effective Use of Language The Importance of Language

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Constructive Language

Constructive language phrases a potentially negative message in a positive way, whereas destructive language directs blame and criticism toward the reader, creating defensiveness. Readers are likely to become defensive when the writer's language expresses any or all of the following: 

  • Superiority over the reader

  • Indifference or apathy about an issue of importance to the reader

  • Negative evaluation or judgment of the reader (as opposed to neutral descriptions or observations)

  • Command or control over the reader

  • Skepticism or doubt about the reader's credibility or the legitimacy of their claims

Consider the following examples.

(1) Boss to employee: "Your job performance recently has been unacceptable and there are no excuses for it. You have claimed that you are having some serious personal problems, but even if this is true, you cannot allow it to affect the quality of your work. If your work doesn't improve, I'll have to replace you with someone else."

(2) Student to instructor: "You have confused me so badly with your lectures that I don't know what to do. I am considering dropping out and taking the class next quarter from Dr. Johnstone, who can explain the information much more clearly. I don't want to drop out, but I have never been so frustrated with an instructor in my whole life."
(3) Instructor to student: "I have never had a student who was so confused with this material. Perhaps you should take an easier course from an easier professor. It makes no difference to me."

Why would these examples create defensiveness in the reader? How could you change the use of language to make these examples more constructive?

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