Positive Communication: It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it – plus what, when, why, who…

Positive Organisational Psychology / Positive Psychology / Psychology in Education & Training

When we consider the importance of communication, we have to understand just how fundamental language has been to the development of human intelligence. I pose the following question:

Can we think entirely in Pictures?

I posit that whilst it may be possible, it is extremely one dimensional.

An interesting exercise

For example, think of an elephant without the word elephant.

You will notice that great effort is required to remove narrative, but it is possible. It also feels like a weight in your mind!

Now think of the reason why elephants have a trunk and attempt the same thing…

You will notice words such as drink, touch and so on creeping into your head…

Now think about how elephants experience love and indeed, if they actually do…

You will notice that once we start to debate, gain insight, attribute meaning and so on – it becomes impossible not to use words. Perhaps if we could only think in Pictures – we would be much more like animals… Perhaps language is fundamental to humanity!

What the scholars have said so far:

While every act of communication can count as an example of discourse, some scholars have broken discourse down into four primary types: argument, narration, description, and exposition. Many acts of communicate include more than one of these types in quick succession.

Argument: A form of communication meant to convince an audience that the writer or speaker is correct, using evidence and reason.

Narration: This form of communication tells a story, often with emotion and empathy involved.

Description: A form of communication that relies on the five senses to help the audience visualize something.

Exposition: Exposition is used to inform the audience of something with relatively neutral language, i.e., it’s not meant to persuade or evoke emotion.

Other literary scholars have divided types of discourse into three categories: expressive, poetic, and transactional.

Expressive: Expressive discourse comprises those acts of literary writing that is creative, yet non-fiction. This could include memoirs, letters, or online blogs.

Poetic: Poetic discourse comprises creative, fictional writing. Poetic discourse includes novels, poems, and drama. These types of work often prioritize emotion, imagery, theme, and character development, as well as the use of literary devices like metaphor and symbolism.

Transactional: Transactional discourse is used to propel something into action, such as advertising motivating a customer to buy, or showing a customer how to use a product via a manual. This type of discourse generally does not rely so much on literary devices.

The above, and indeed the study into discourse doesn’t yet go deep enough into the methods used, nor the states that precede the chosen verbal discourse pathways (VDP’s). This term is one that is original to the Positive Psychology Network, and is explained below.



The above are the main states that will fuel our chosen communication need and the resulting VDP.

Before communication starts, we will be in a state psychologically. This state will impact on the method that we choose / use, and the VDP(Verbal Discourse Path) that we choose.


Our intent is the fundamental information that we are looking to share. We will encode this message using words.





Verbal Discourse Pathways  (VDP)

Apologetic discourse
This will usually precede or antecede a statement of intent, meaning or judgement

This is a neutral information exchange not designed to illicit a particular response nor evoke emotion

Small talk
This is usually coming from a place of fear. There is an element of being uncomfortable with silence, not knowing how to start. There will be many social norms attributed to politeness. These social norms can lead to apologetic and justificational VDP’s.

Message giving
There is a specific message that needs to be imparted.

Manipulation (Covert and Overt)
A desired response is required Emotionally, Cognitively or Kinesthetically (ECK) There is a neutral connotation attached to this VDP, inasmuch as manipulation  can be used – positively or negatively. The passive aggressive approach sits within this VDP.

This form of message is designed to impart the meaning behind something. This can be closely linked to it’s why, but not necessarily the moral component in isolation. There is a link to the judgement VDP.

This VDP is used to justify an ECK response (Emotion, Thought, Kinesthetic). The resulting statement will precede a justificational assertion.
Quite often this VDP will involve an apologetic or blaming VDP in some way.

Blame / Guilt
This VDP is exclusively about attributing blame. It will link strongly to the justification VDP

The diversionary VDP is used when dissonance is created, or often to avoid the conversation uncovering something which we are frightened of or uncomfortable with.

This VDP relates to a moral assesment of meaning, intention, or worth in some way. There is a link to meaning, but within judgement the emphasis is moral. Often the apologetic VDP follows this when we realise that we have been judgemental – or called out for being so…

Descriptions come under this VDP. We want to share and either evoke empathy or show it in ourselves. This VDP can link strongly to manipulation, but can also be used without the want / need to illicit an ECK response. The reality is that it probably will, but the intent may not be explicit.


Where we feel attacked – we will adopt a defensive VDP. We may start to blame others, or blame circumstances. This VDP often leads to justification VDP’s.

Let us consider verbal precision

The more we understand what we want to say, the context and the reason behind the communication, the more we can strip away superfluous words. These words and sentences can act as white noise which hides the clarity of the message. Depending on the VDP chosen and the reason, we may want to strip the white noise right back.

An example:

“I feel insecure and need compliments from my friend”!

Chosen VDP: Manipulation
Statement used: “I am so rubbish at Drawing (as she shows her drawing to her friend). The desired response is “Oh no, that’s brilliant, you are better than you realise”. The actual response “that’s not too bad at all”. It’s a compliment but it’s not enough. The reply is jokingly “not TOO” bad, just bad – ha ha”. This is a second effort at manipulation. The response “sorry, no, I didn’t mean that. It’s really good. You are talented”…

The result is that we have achieved what we wanted, but we have made our friend feel guilty. The friend used the word too which created a guilt trap. The friend will walk away feeling uncomfortable and energy drained. They may even avoid this friend in future. If we knew that we had chosen manipulation, and what this meant – would we have chosen it?

A suggested response to a covert manipulation attempt:

“Why do you think this is rubbish”?

It’s simple, forces the subject into the open and starts what can now be a positive discussion.

A precise and positive communication example below:

“I really love to draw but i feel a little insecure about whether I am any good”. What do you think of this drawing?

Response: “I like the feeling I get and the level of detail”. Respondent digs: “What do you think of it / what would you do to make better”?

The above is a strong basis for a healthy conversation. The friend will feel that they have helped in some way and supported their artist friend. This will further bond the friendship.

When you look at the above, there is an admission that we are insecure. This gives our friend the context and they know how important the subject is to us. Their response is measured, from a place of interest, attention to the subject and caring. There is still a manipulation VDP, but it is overt and mixed with an empathy VDP.

Next time you have a conversation, consider it in-line with the above states, intent, context and VDP’s. If you can master verbal precision, you could transform your ability as a positive communicator…

If you want to find out more or study this subject, the Positive Psychology Network runs CPD training covering the subject, which is also covered as part of our Positive Leadership CPD course.

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