There's a particular four-letter word that we've done our best to banish from our offices and encouraged our clients to do the same. It's crude, cold, and highfalutin; and not a word we ever want to fall upon the tender ears of our Associates. That word--(earmuffs kids!)--is BUSY. And it all has to do with the way your brain works.

Positive psychology is having a heyday right now, but the impact on your brain by both positive and negative words is really nothing new. Negative words, such as busy, create neural changes in your brain and can make a person highly anxious or depressed. The chemicals released in response to a negative word interrupt your brain's normal functions, impair logic, reason, language processing, and communication.

Ok, that's enough neuroscience. When you think about it, busy is the posterchild for negativity. Imagine a child asking a parent to read a bedtime story only to be met with an "I'm busy". Ouch. A high school student getting up the courage to ask someone on a date and then crushed with an "I'm busy". Remember land lines, pre-call waiting? We were all helpless against the abrasive tone of the busy signal. And let's face it, if you need something--anything--from someone--anyone--the very last words you want to hear are "I'm busy."

Busy work, busybody. Negative. "How've you been?" you ask. "Really busy" he replies. "As if I'm not?" you think. I really can't think of one usage of the word that does not at least hint of negativity. Unfortunately, even though "busy" is a word nobody ever wants to hear, that doesn't stop many of us from using it.

So how do we avoid using that four letter word, and how does it help us? We explain the negativity of the word with our team members and that, when it comes down to it, "busy" is a cop out. By eliminating that escape hatch from our vocabulary we encourage people to thoughtfully consider the situation rather than dismissing a request out of hand.

Here's what I mean--Angie had an hour long meeting at 2:00 and another meeting at 4:00. Maleka needed 10 minutes of Angie's time at 3:30. With "busy" in her toolbox, Angie could have shot this request down with a simple "Sorry, I'm busy with meetings." Without "busy", though, Angie might really think about it; she might now say "I have a meeting until 3:00 and my next one doesn't start until 4:00." Just hearing yourself say that out loud, I honestly believe, makes it tougher to support your case that you can't lend someone 10 minutes of your time in between meetings.

And when you really are up to your ears in it, up against deadlines and feeling the stress? When you're what you heretofore considered busy and are asked for something that you honestly do not have time to tackle? Be honest about it- but you can still do so without saying busy. A simple, "I'm sorry, I am actively working on several projects with pending deadlines. Let's aim for tomorrow." The requester will appreciate knowing what you are up against at the very least, and may even be able to offer you help.

We all know someone who is perpetually "busy". When we need help on a project or even just to hang out socially, it's always the same. And what happens? That person becomes known for being busy and we stop asking if we can help.

In my organization we are constantly striving to maintain our own positive culture while helping our clients do the same. So where we can accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, we do it wholeheartedly! If we ever feel the need to say busy instead we'll say we are "actively pursuing our goals". Nixing busy from our vocabulary was any easy decision. Now that you've read this, I guarantee you'll flinch the next time you hear that four-letter word and be hesitant to use it yourself.

Published on: Sep 2, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.