Skip to content

Speak directly and simply for impact – avoid double negatives

All too often, we slip into communication, in writing or in speaking, that do not communicate as directly a meaning we intend. In a world where attention span is short and hearing is bad (figuratively especially), speaking and writing directly certainly has merits, if we want our audiences to actually respond.

Punching directly

Double negatives are literary devices that work in perhaps literary works, but not quite effective in speeches that are meant to evoke emotion and influence, or conversations that are supposed to gain closer relationships, or in writing to communicate clearly for a digital generation.

Speak or write directly, and your language gains impact and punch. Here are examples:

Instead of “I cannot help but wonder”, say “I wonder.”

Instead of “you ain’t nothing but a silly kid”, say “you are a silly kid.”

Instead of “I don’t want nothing”, say “I want something.”

In short, the straighter the path of an arrow, the more likely you will hit the target. The more direct your words, the more authentic and honest your communication, and the more receptive your audience may be.

How the greats spoke directly from the heart

When Spain wanted to invade Britain in 1588, some of Queen Elizabeth I’s words were direct and to the point:

“I myself will take up arms. I myself will be your general.”

And when Mahatma Gandhi was asking the British to leave India in August 1942, he said famously some punchy direct words:

“In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master.”

Closer to our timeframe, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1963:

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Authenticity and being direct

Speaking directly from the heart is about authenticity. It is not about being rude. A distinction must be made to speak directly and honestly, but also gracefully and humbly. Respect is mutual, and everyone deserves a voice. Speaking authentically without convolution or jargon, is about honoring the recipient with expedience and hoping for reciprocal answers, and then a volleying exchange continues and it becomes a meaningful and fruitful conversation. It is DIalog, not monolog.

Writing is also communication that can benefit from a direct style, especially doing away with double or triple negatives that convolute meanings and create miscommunication, especially in an Internet and social media speed world where people speed read materials.

Practice speaking and writing with more direct words and phrases now. See how many words you can remove, and how your sentences can be rewritten to convey the full meaning with the least words.