Tuesday, August 23, 2011


A couple of days ago, I began a little experiment in linguistics. I began tracking the polarity of verbalizations, i.e., were statements and questions articulated as affirmations (positive) or oppositions (negative). Verbalizations with phrases such as "You should never…" or "We can't…" or "Why doesn't someone…", would tip the scale to the negative side. Phrases such as "You should always…" or "We can…" or "Would you please…" tipped the scale to the positive side.

Although I might have measured the degree of positivity and negativity, I opted simply to count instances. A more lengthy and better funded study would no doubt include weighting factors for amplifiers like "never" and "really" and "absolutely".

My theory was that I would find a relatively even split between the two polarities; however, I was amazed to find that, in a set of 137 verbalizations, the negative outweighed the positive, four-to-one, i.e., 80% were negatively charged and only 20% positively charged phrases (note, I discarded neutral phrases.)

Although I didn't track attribution (I simply counted phrases regardless of who said them), I did notice a pattern that I'd like to go back and test. The relative composition of phraseology among productive and upbeat people seemed to be significantly skewed to the positive side. Of course, the percentage of productive and upbeat people is relatively low, so positive weighting had little effect on the overall average. Nonetheless, it would seem that there may be a path to greater productivity and upbeatness simply through changes to verbalization.

So, I'm inviting you to participate in a Phase II experiment. Over the next four days (today through Friday), monitor your statements and questions looking for negatively and positively charged phrases. 1) Keep a count of each category. 2) Whenever you find yourself making a negative statement, see if you can rephrase in the positive, e.g., "Don't look left!" would become "Look right!"

Ideally, we'd have a control group, one set of folks who didn't change their phrasing and one that did. Actually, we'd have three groups: no change, negative-to-positive, and positive-to-negative. For now, let's just try negative-to-positive polarity switching.

One more thing, keep track the number of phrases that you can't successfully convert from negative to positive. In addition to them being completely useless in-and-of-themselves, they will be wonderful to explore.

OK, that's it. Get out there and track your charges. Let me know what your polarity is.

Happy Tuesday,

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