Accentuate the positive, but own up to the negative

Long before Norman Vincent Peale penned the book that uncovered the power of positive thinking, advocates of similar philosophies promoted positive attitudes and messages as a critical component of success. As the Second World War drew to a close, Johnny Mercer’s “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” dominated the airwaves and jukeboxes. Even today, you’ll hear people urge others to focus on the sunny side and place a positive spin on things. The example that drives me to distraction is the people who insist on saying “don’t call it a problem … it’s a challenge!”

Generally, staying upbeat is a great philosophy. But over-ac-cent-tchu-ate-ing the positive can backfire, particularly when it’s in response to legitimate concerns. Many companies have a bad tendency to take customer complaints and concerns and simply make them go away by switching to more positive language. Sometimes, they even go beyond positive and enter the realm of what marketers call “weasel-wording,” in which the truth is twisted to the point where it becomes unrecognizable.

Consumers of all stripes have less tolerance for spin and fluff these days. They want companies to take them seriously, and they want to be treated with honesty and candor. When they bring you a complaint, they don’t want a response that’s full of feel-good language crafted to distract them. They want you to acknowledge that yes, there’s a problem, and here’s how we’re going to address that for you.

By all means, go through life and run your business with a positive attitude, But that philosophy doesn’t mean you should automatically try to deflect the negative. When something goes wrong, own up to it, and then work on finding the happier course of action. You’ll soon discover that customers will trust you like never before — and that’s a positive development.