The Impact of Negative Trigger Words

George TorokCommunication skills, Insights, Intended Message Leave a Comment


What’s a negative trigger word?

That’s a word or phrase that derails your message by sending your audience off on a tangent. That might be an intellectual tangent or an emotional tangent.

It’s the emotional tangents that are most destructive because it’s almost impossible to get your audience back after you trigger their emotional tangent.

Let’s examine how disruptive this can be.

I understand this concept, I teach my clients to recognize and avoid it – yet I recently fell victim to this trap.

After delivering what I felt was a successful Zoom presentation for a client, I received an email. Attached to the email was the feedback from participants. It looked positive. There was one questionable and vague comment.

(Can you identify the trigger word in this phrase?)

The email started with this phrase…

“Overall, it looks like participants were very happy.”

Read it again. What word stuck in your mind?  How might you feel? Might you wonder about the next line?


The negative trigger word was “overall”.

Why? Because that sets up the expectation that it was’t overall. The next word that you are waiting for is “but”. And then an explanation of why it wasn’t overall.

In other words – overall it wasn’t great because there were some flaws that I’m about to tell you about. The point is not that you did a good job. The point is that overall, you messed up.

I admit. I understand this concept. I coach my clients to avoid it. Yet, when I was targeted, I succumbed to the emotional tangent. My excuse is that I’m simply human.


That’s the power of negative trigger words and the emotions that they evoke.

If you use the word “overall” – you might want to stop because it sends mixed messages.

In this case, the word “overall” was a “stab in the back” comment.


Negative trigger words

Negative Trigger Words

If you’re still wondering if “overall” is a negative trigger word, consider these phrases…

Doctor to patient: Overall, the operation was a success.

Interviewer to job candidate: Overall, you look good for the position.

Spouse to spouse: Overall, I love you.


Are you using negative trigger words when you speak or write? Are you sure?

If so, don’t be surprised by the emotional reactions you receive.

Overall, was this post helpful or….?


George Torok coaches executives and business leaders to deliver Superior Presentations


The Impact of Negative Trigger Words

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