Many business owners and managers suffer from a common allergy. When they review copy for a website, blog post, or newsletter and seen something they perceive as negative, they break out in hives.

On one level, that’s understandable. We’ve long been urged to accentuate the positive and emphasize the good things. Mentioning something that’s negative is … well, negative, isn’t it? And negativity is inherently bad, right?

Sometimes something that’s perceived as negative can be bad, yes, but most of the time, mentioning something that’s less than glowing can serve a positive purpose. (Plus, far too many people have become conditioned to see negatives where they really don’t exist, with a sort of paranoia that others might perceive them as negative.)

Let’s take the most topical example: that pandemic we’ve all endured for the past couple years. It’s amazing to me how many business leaders choose to present messages that speak as though Covid never happened. The shutdowns, the fears, the forced overnight reengineering of the way nearly all of us do business? If you read messages from a lot of company leaders, it appears as though those things never happened.

That’s a universal example, but the same thing happens frequently at the individual company level. A company teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, but manages to recover. A highly publicized product failure sends the stock price reeling for weeks. A key executive moves from a grand suburban home into a much smaller space in a federally managed facility. Maybe if we don’t say anything, nobody will notice.

Few companies make it through a decade without facing some kind of significant setback, whether it reflects an internal misstep or a change in the marketplace. And yet, when you read the messages those companies present, you’d be hard-pressed to find any evidence those things actually happened. Why? Because they’re “negative” and there’s no benefit to bringing up “negative” things.

Actually, there’s quite a bit of benefit to owning up to the negatives. Speaking candidly about the negatives generally won’t hurt a company’s image. Instead, it can enhance it by building credibility and trust. Many of the people your company is communicating with are already well aware of whatever happened, so when you fail to address it or try to sidestep, it looks like you’re hiding something. Which, in fact, you are.

That’s especially true when there’s a big elephant in the room and you try to pretend it doesn’t exist. Do you really think nobody notices it? It’s an elephant, after all. Even if people can’t see it, they’re bound to smell it or notice what it leaves behind.

Another reason it’s a good idea to own up to negatives? If your company has been through a struggle, your employees have traveled through it along with you. In fact, they’re probably a big part of how you survived, whether that was by working extra, forgoing raises, or offering new ideas. They know the struggle happened, and when you pretend it never took place, you essentially devalue their contributions and the pride they took in making things better. When the CEO gives the rah-rah speech at the company holiday party and neglects to mention whatever almost put everyone in the room out of a job just six months earlier, it’s not being positive. It’s being deceitful. Whether you’re a local insurance agent or head up a Fortune 1000 enterprise, your employees have something in common: they appreciate candor.

Negatives are an inevitable part of life and an inevitable part of business, and all the pretending in the world won’t make them disappear. How can you make them go away? Owning up to them and addressing them frankly is one of the most effective ways to eliminate their power.

Once you do that, you don’t need to keep bringing them up. If you still remember them, so does everyone else. But once you’ve admitted they’re there and moved on to whatever’s next, they’ll fade away. Choose to dance around them or act like they don’t exist, and whether or not they go away, one thing will remain: your reputation as someone who can’t be trusted.

Scott Flood creates effective copy for companies and other organizations. His guide to evaluating freelance creative talent, The Smarter Strategy for Selecting Suppliers, can be downloaded at http://sfwriting.com.

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