Emotive language in business communication

Dunja Jovanovic

Last updated on: February 10, 2022

According to you, what’s the most important part of communication?

A lot of people would say that the most important part is the message — the core idea or information being communicated.

I would agree only partially. 

In many cases, the key is not what is said, but how it is said. Some people are aware of this more than others — such as writers, PRs, or public speakers.
But even if you’re not any of those, you can still benefit from paying attention to the way the message is delivered. 

Emotive language is one such tool that can help you get your message across and make it stand out.

In this article, we’ll learn what emotive language is, when to use it, and how to appropriately show emotion in business communication.

Emotive language in business communication - cover

What is emotive language in communication?

Emotive language is a rhetoric used to influence the audience in a certain way. We choose words with the aim to evoke an emotional response. Those emotions can be positive, such as:

  • Joy
  • Pride
  • Interest
  • Hope
  • Gratitude

Such language can also evoke negative emotions, like:

  • Fear
  • Disgust 
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Annoyance

Emotive language is mostly used in literature, but we can often see it in advertising and tabloid journalism, too.
For example, take a look at how journalist Piers Morgan paints a positive picture of Duchess Camilla, associating her with words and expressions such as “real royal”, “grace”, and “incredibly down-to-earth”. On the other hand, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are described as “pathetically self-serving”. He used such language to influence readers to see the situation from his perspective and take the same side he’s on.

An example of emotive language in tabloid journalism - Piers Morgan's article for The Sun
An example of emotive language in tabloid journalism: Piers Morgan’s article for The Sun tabloid

Word choice can greatly influence how the readers receive the message. Take a look at these two sentences:

He criticized her.”

This sentence describes what objectively happened. We don’t know any details — was the criticism justified? In what way did he communicate it? What was her reaction?

He harshly criticized her, making her deeply hurt.”

Even though the two sentences describe the same event, this one evokes an emotional response. We may feel bad for her or angry at him and his ill-mannered behavior — he could have said it in a nicer, more constructive way.

As you can see, emotive language uses descriptive words to transform an objective sentence into a biased one that suggests to the readers what opinion they should form.

But, not all words count as good tools for emotional manipulation — let’s take a look at which ones are sure to captivate an audience.

What kind of words are used in emotive language?

Emotive language can be really persuasive, as it exploits the tendency of human nature to act immediately based on emotional response. 

Notice that I used the word exploit

How did that make you feel? 

Do you have positive or negative associations with that word?

There are certain words — often used in emotive language — that are called loaded terms. They have a secondary, emotive meaning that carries a positive or negative connotation, beyond their primary meaning.

For instance, exploit makes us think of something negative — taking advantage of someone or something. Other associations can be exploitation of labor, exploitation of women, overexploitation of natural resources, and so on.

Here are some examples of other loaded words:

  • Freedom
  • Brainwash(ed)
  • Courage
  • Fat
  • Safe 

Some words can have almost the same primary meaning, but completely different connotations attached to them. For example, group is a quite neutral term.

Clique has a negative connotation, as it’s associated with an unfriendly attitude towards the people outside the circle.

On the other hand, team typically has a positive connotation, and people consider being a team player a great character trait.

If you think about it, all of these 3 words essentially mean a group of people — but they cannot be used interchangeably, as they carry different secondary meanings.

Now, let’s see how emotive language looks in business communication.

What are emotive language examples in business communication?

Emotive language can be used in a workplace in many different ways.

For instance, it can be a way to show passion for what you’re working on. As such, it’s a great tool to motivate your team and inspire them to do their best.

You should give it a try if you want to improve employee engagement.

In the example below, Katie uses expressions such as “I’m thrilled”, “incredible job”, and “we will continue to do more amazing things” to emphasize how proud she is of her team and to motivate them to keep up the good work. If you got a similar message from your team leader, wouldn’t you feel happy and valued too?

An example of using emotive language to motivate your team on Pumble, business messaging app
An example of using emotive language to motivate your team on Pumble, business messaging app

It’s also commonly used in PR, which comes as no surprise. According to British authors Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy, “Public Relations is the planned persuasion of people to behave in ways that further its sponsor’s objectives.”
They use words that trigger emotions such as anticipation or sadness, as well as words that help the audience envision what they’re talking about. 

For example, “Sorry that I’m organizing this press conference so early in the morning, but I was anxious to share this huge news.” or “I’m heartbroken to announce that…

On the flip side, emotive language can be used in much sneakier, more manipulative ways — such as using euphemisms and ambiguous wording to:

  • Make difficult tasks sound easier and more desirable to do,
  • Get others to do what’s beneficial for you (but not necessarily for them), or
  • Write a job listing in a way that makes a position sound much better than it actually is. 

Pro tip: If a job listing contains phrases such as “we wear a lot of hats”, “our ideal candidate doesn’t rattle easily”, or “you have to be able to work in a dynamic environment”, that probably means you’ll be stressed and overworked.

Is the use of emotive language at work positive or negative?

Before emotive language itself becomes a loaded term, we should note that its usage is not inherently positive or negative. 

Again, the key is how it’s used. 

Some people use it to vividly describe something, some use it to push their agenda onto others. 

Emotive language in the workplace

Emotive language can be used in the workplace both positively and negatively — as Ayesha Gallion, communications consultant and editor and owner of I’m Speaking Now, said:

It is positive when it is not patronizing and is used genuinely. It is negative when it is used to manipulate or coerce listeners to believe information that is ultimately not in their best interest.”

We’ve already mentioned a couple of negative workplace examples, such as convincing your team members to take up a difficult task by making it seem it’s much easier than it really is.
Emotive language can also be used in many positive ways:

  • When acknowledging collective improvements and efforts during a difficult time, i.e., the pandemic’s effect on labor or the health of staff (or their family members).
  • When meeting new colleagues after or during an acquisition or merger, to reassure and encourage normalcy in sustaining operations and abiding by policies until changes are implemented (if they are to be in the future). Compassion and humanization of colleagues make transitions and change easier.
  • When acknowledging the death of a staff member.
  • When breaking news of reduced hours available to staff or announcements of layoffs.

Emotive language in marketing

Advertising is a good example to show how emotive language can be used positively and negatively. 

Remember when we said that it’s in human nature to act immediately based upon emotional response? 

Marketing experts know this very well — they also know how to evoke the right emotional response that will sell their product.

CEO Brand Strategist and Founder of FreshSage Brand Agency, Emma Weise, told us a little more about this:

“People buy based on emotions. So when you’re building a brand [especially one that’s online], emotions are used to connect with potential clients, create a clear picture, and build trust. When used properly, emotive language is powerful. 

We see it playing out on web pages, company brand collateral, and social media.

That being said, there is danger in using emotive language in a disingenuous way — as it could easily break trust or manipulate the audience, and needs to be used wisely.”

Emotive language used by Nike

For example, Nike used expressions such as “gear up for your next personal best”, “greatest energy return”, and “propulsive feel through the finish line” in their Facebook ad to make the audience feel like a world-class athlete, or at least the best version of themselves. As a result, they will connect that feeling and Nike’s shoes, making them more likely to buy Nike’s products over another brand’s.

An example of emotive language in marketing Nike’s Facebook ad
An example of emotive language in marketing Nike’s Facebook ad

Some brands go down the route of controversial ads, as they tend to evoke strong emotional responses. Again, that’s no accident — when people feel strongly about something, it’s more likely they will comment on it and share it, giving the brand free promotion.

Is that positive or negative? 

It’s up to you to decide.

Emotive language used by Nivea

In the example below, two out of three words Nivea used in their campaign are loaded words (“white” and “purity”), which caused accusations of racial insensitivity.

An example of a controversial ad containing loaded words NIVEA’s White is Purity campaign (2017)
An example of a controversial ad containing loaded words: NIVEA’s White is Purity campaign (2017)

It’s paramount that you use emotive language in moderation — if you overdo it, its usage can quickly become negative. Your audience can see right through it and sense the dishonesty.

It’s a thin line between connecting to potential clients and being too salesy, and you have to learn not to cross it.

It’s also important to choose the right circumstances for emotive language to be effective.

Is emotive language appropriate in all circumstances?

Not really. 

Business communication sometimes has to be concise and straight to the point. 

We talked with Doug Noll, a lawyer and a professional mediator with decades of experience, who explained:

“The emotionally competent person will use discernment when to express emotions. The emotionally incompetent person will have little discernment.”

There’s a time and place for everything, which is why emotional intelligence is one of the key interpersonal skills to have. You have to be able to read the room and determine what kind of communication is appropriate for a particular situation you’re in.

How best to show emotion in business communication?

Business communication doesn’t have to be emotionless to be professional. 

You just have to be aware of when and how to appropriately communicate emotions in a workplace.

Here are a couple of tips to help you navigate emotions in business settings.

Know the difference between “I” statements and “You” statements

How to express your emotions in the most appropriate way in the workplace?

Doug Noll answered our question:

“Appropriately expressing emotions requires knowledge of the difference between “I” statements and “You” statements. “I” statements are used to express one’s emotions, such as “I am disappointed and frustrated that this report is not what I expected.” “You” statements are used to reflect the emotions of others, such as “You are frustrated and disappointed that the report is not what you expected.” These are skills that must be taught and mastered and are not innate.

“You” statements imply that the listener is responsible for something, which can cause hostility and defensiveness on their part. On the other hand, when using “I” statements, you take responsibility for your feelings and it sounds less hostile.

Use emojis when appropriate

Even though remote work has numerous benefits, it has some disadvantages too — one of them being that it can be hard to show your personality through a computer screen. 

When you’re chatting with your team, don’t be afraid to sprinkle a few emojis here and there. According to Statistics on emoji use in internal communication, emojis positively impact likeability (71%) and credibility (62%), as well as make positive news more sincere (74%). The same statistics reveal that 88% of survey respondents are more likely to empathize with a person if they use an emoji.

They can be used to show friendliness, express approval, laugh, and celebrate the team’s successes.

However, there are a few don’ts when using emojis:

  • Don’t overuse them — your work messages shouldn’t look like middle schoolers’ texts.
  • Don’t use emojis in serious situations.
  • Don’t use them when you’re communicating with serious, older coworkers — unless you know for sure they’re fans of emojis themselves.
  • Don’t use ambiguous emojis, to avoid misunderstandings. 
The most and least acceptable emojis to use at work infographic
The most and least acceptable emojis to use at work

💡 Pumble pro tip

Unsure if using emojis is appropriate in business communication? Check out this blog post:

Be solution-oriented

When you’re dealing with negative emotions, such as stress or frustration, you should be very aware of the way you express them. 

Being passive-aggressive with your coworkers or making snarky remarks is not how a professional should behave. 

Instead, try to be solution-oriented:

  • Identify what made you feel that way and if there’s a way to remove the stressor.
  • Analyze the situation and think if there’s something you should’ve done differently.
  • Seek advice or help if needed.
  • Think about what you can do to de-stress.

Regulate your emotions before responding

You shouldn’t bottle up your emotions, it’s very unhealthy. You can’t escape from them — even if you repress emotions in your conscious mind, they may appear in your dreams. Bottling up your feelings can also make you more aggressive, according to a study from the University of Texas.

The same study also states that not acknowledging your emotions actually makes them stronger.

However, you should try to regulate them before you respond. Elizabeth Suárez, director of the HERS (Higher Education Resource Services) Institute, recommended the CURE tactic in her article for The Business Insider:

🔸 C: Calm your body. The best way to do this is to take deep breaths, as it enables more air to flow into your body, releasing tension and reducing stress.

🔸 U: Use positive nonverbal cues. Have open body language, maintain eye contact, and use a calm and pleasant tone of voice. 

🔸 R: Respond by restating what the other person said and asking for clarification. In the heat of a moment, a speaker can say something they didn’t actually mean, or a listener may misunderstand the speaker.

🔸 E: Engage the other person in conversation by being the first one to admit your mistakes, if you were in the wrong. You can also propose a solution or ask them to help you come up with one that will benefit both of you.

Conclusion: Emotive language can be a great tool — but be careful

Emotive language is a great communication tool to:

  • Make others see your point of view,
  • Motivate others,
  • Connect to others, and
  • Be persuasive.

For those reasons, it’s especially useful in marketing and PR — but it can also come in handy in daily communication with your team. 

However, emotive language also has a dark side — it can be used to manipulate others and push an agenda. For that reason, you should be aware of it and learn to recognize it. Make sure you think critically and check multiple sources before you make a conclusion!

Author: DunjaJovanovic

Dunja Jovanovic is a writer and researcher passionate about communication and psychology, especially in a professional setting. As she's no stranger to working remotely, she likes helping others survive in a virtual work environment and communicate as effectively as possible. When she's not writing, she's probably trying out the communication improvement strategies she stumbled upon during her never-ending research.

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