Positive communication is communication which elicits a positive response from the person you are talking to. Using positive communication, you can even communicate negative messages in a positive way. It can help us change the way we feel about certain situations and the way others feel about them. It can also help us to create a more positive view of ourselves. With enough practice, you can make thinking, being and doing positive a well-engrained habit.
This piece is written not with the intent of changing who anyone is innately, but to help bring out the best in everyone. By communicating positively, we are also more likely to be able to communicate effectively and be communicated with positively.
Notice your body language
When we think of communication, we think of a dialogue of words going back and forth between two or more people. Actually, communication is a lot more than the words that are said. The majority is made up through tone of voice and body language (see figure 1). Body language is what we communicate through the positioning of our body. This includes facial expressions and eye-contact. Research has shown that a smile is associated with positive intentions and increased sociability, whereas a lack of facial expression gives the impression of a lack of interest or rejection. For most people, body language can give information on how someone is feeling, their intentions and their motivations at any one time.
Activity: Have a look at the emojis on your phone or computer. Pick a random one and try and do that face yourself. You can do this in the mirror, or you can ask a loved one to help you and see if they can guess the emoji you are trying to mimic.
Being autistic can impact your ability to read body language, making it tricky to know how someone is feeling. You can say a lot without saying any words at all. That is, your body language can give positive and negative messages to other people. The first step to ensuring your body language is communicating what you want it to is to be aware of your own body/facial expressions, and trying to regulate them intentionally.
Try and practice ‘open’ body language as much as you can when trying to positively communicate:
|Body Language||Positive/ open Communication||Closed communication|
|Eye contact||Looking at the person you are communicating with in the eye, with natural fluctuations||Not looking the person you are speaking with in the eyes, or looking intently at someone’s eyes without fluctuations|
|Eyebrow movement||Relaxed brow||Wrinkling your eyebrows together|
|Facial expression||A genuine smile||A frown or bored expression|
|Body direction||Turned towards the person you are communicating with||Turned away from the person you are communicating with|
|Arm positioning||Open and relaxed by your sides (Unless you feel more comfortable stimming)||Crossed over your chest, covering your body|
|Movement||Staying still when someone is speaking to you||Walking around/ moving around when someone is speaking to you|
Figure 2. Open vs. closed body language
Activity: Asked a loved one if you can do an experiment with them. First have a conversation with them using closed communication (ideas in table above) and then have another conversation using open communication. Ask them how they found each experience, and which made them feel more positive. How did they feel when you smiled at them?
Try and replace the negative with the positive
This can be difficult to do as in society we hear negative things every day and see them all over the media. Trying to be mindful of the words you say in conversations can help increase positivity. Try and replace some of those negative words or phrases with positive ones. Without trying, your thoughts will then follow suit and become more positive, resulting in positive actions. This is what we call positive bias, as we will be more focused on the positive.
Activity: Try and monitor your bias for a day, are your thoughts more negative or positive?
It is important to still communicate negative emotions though, if you are experiencing them to ensure you get the support you need. Often, in close relationships, communicating your negative emotions can bring you closer and can be the first step in ensuring the support you need. Try and communicate this in a positive way, for example, if you are feeling angry, say that you are feeling angry rather than shouting. This can be hard as you may not know when you are feeling angry. Instead, you know that you often shout when you feel like this. This could be another way to communicate to your loved one that you are feeling negative emotions, by saying that you want to shout (but trying not to shout it!). This is important when developing positive relationships, where someone can accept your past, support your present and encourage your future.
Activity: Next time you feel a negative feeling, try and communicate it in a positive way with a loved one. What was their reaction? How was this different to how you would normally communicate a negative emotion, or would you normally not communicate it?
Another way to be positive: instead of telling someone something is not right or that you don’t like it, try and suggest an alternative. If you can come up with a solution to a problem, it is more likely to come across as positive than if you were simply to reject it.
Focus on the positive
When bad things happen, it can be very difficult to not focus on the negative. Try and make the best of each situations. For example: You had a difficult time finishing your dinner and you are feeling negative about it, the positive could be that you achieved something challenging and that you a fuelling your brain and your body. Sometimes, when things are really bad it can feel like there are no positives. Try asking someone you care about if they can help you find a positive in a situation.
Activity: When you are struggling to find a positive in a situation, ask a loved one for their insight. They might be able to help you think of something positive. You could offer to do the same for them when they have a difficult situation.
Another way to help yourself focus on all the positives around you is to start a gratitude journal. This does not need to be a real journal; you can even just make a note each day on your phone. The idea with this is to write down each day what you are grateful for. To start with pick one time of the day and write down three things you are grateful for that day each day. Adding it to your bedtime routine can be helpful as it is at the end of the day. Things to be grateful for can be anything as simple as “I got out of bed this morning” or “I left the house”. You can even do this with someone else, which can be a nice opportunity to show your gratitude to them.
Activity: Try and write down three things you are grateful for each day for a week. How did that make you feel? Was it hard to think of three things? Luckily, this gets easier with practice. If you enjoyed this activity why not try and carry on for more than a week.
Remember: “Everyday may not be good, but there is some good in everyday”
Another way to focus on the positive, is to create a positivity ‘cloud’. This can be done easily with a large piece of paper/white board, a pen and some post-it notes. On your piece of paper, draw a large cloud shape. Write some positive messages on the post-it notes and stick them in your cloud.
Activity: Try to make a positive cloud with a loved one of other people. This is a good activity if you are in a treatment setting to build positive relationships.
Respect the feelings and opinions of others
Being autistic, it can be difficult to predict how others might react to something you say. Some autistic people lack ‘theory of mind’ which is essentially being able to imagine what someone else is thinking or feeling. This can make it difficult to know when someone might respond badly to something we say and when we might offend someone, when we don’t mean it to upset them. Below are some tips on how to respect other people:
Offer to help other people
When you offer to do kind, helpful things for other people, they will look on it positively. They might even offer to help you one day when you are in need. A little help goes a long way and people will remember your kind gesture. Doing something kind for someone else not only will make them happy but it will also boost your mood as you have been helpful.
Be sure that you are able to do what is being asked, that what you are being asked does not upset other people, that it does not put you at risk and that you are available. If the offer of help is for a future date, it might be a good idea to set a reminder. This ensures you will not forget as someone may be relying on you.
Activity: Next time someone you know looks like they could use some help with something that you are able to do, offer to help them. Make sure you know how they would like it done and that you are able to do that before offering. For example: offering to take the bins out or walk their dog. How did they respond to your offer?
Types of conversations
As mentioned above, it can be easy to talk about what we want to speak about, but it is also important to think about what others might want or not want to speak about. Sometimes, to keep things positive, you have to take into account context when having conversations. Think about where you are and decide if that is an appropriate place for the conversations. For example: you might want to talk about a good thing that has happened to you when someone else is upset. In this context, it might be more appropriate to ask if the other person is alright and then tell them your good news after they have cheered up a bit.
Activity: Today, ask someone else about their day or what makes them happy.
Another context to be mindful of is with around other people with eating disorders. This can be particularly important If you are receiving treatment for your eating disorder and see other people who are also unwell regularly. Unless in a supported group, there are some conversations which may not be appropriate to share with other patients and may upset them such as your weight, exercise and food.
Be kind to yourself
There is a lot of information on this page and it would be very hard to get it all right every day. Try not to be critical on yourself when you do use negative words, try and keep your thoughts positive and be kind to yourself. Trying to ‘think, be and do’ positive takes time and practice and you will get there! After some time and some work you will not even have to try anymore, positivity will come to you naturally. Remember to praise yourself when you are positive and to let yourself off when you are not.
You can also try and make yourself a positive resource to use when you are feeling negative. This can be a jar or a box and you can fill it with pieces of paper with different positive activities on it. Try and think of activities that make you feel relaxed or happy. For example: a nice bath, watching films, painting your nails, writing a letter to a friend, telling a loved one a good thing that has happened recently. You could also add some pieces of paper with positive messages or notes from loved ones. When you are struggling to feel positive go to your jar and pull out a positive activity to complete and see if your mood becomes more positive.
Activity: Create your own positive box/jar. It can be helpful to do this with a loved one and for them also to encourage you to use it when you are feeling negative.
1) Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity. Harmony.
2) Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American psychologist, 56(3), 218.
3) Tchanturia, K., Dapelo, M. A. M., Harrison, A., & Hambrook, D. (2015). Why study positive emotions in the context of eating disorders?. Current psychiatry reports, 17(1), 537.
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