I’m working to eliminate negative statements. I pay pretty close attention to the way people talk—and this is one area where I can use some work. I’ve witnessed too many miscommunications over the years because someone missed a “not” or forgot a “don’t.” I’m training myself to lead with positives, end with positives, and use positives in the middle. Especially when giving directions. When I’m giving directions, I’m working to stay focused on what should be done and to communicate it often.
Using a couple of TV clichés as examples—”Don’t touch that dial!” and it’s close cousin, “Stay tuned!”—here’s why I’m working to save the “don’t's” for the Q&A:
When I say “Don’t touch that dial!”…
- Only some of you are actually paying attention. The rest of you hear “… touch that dial!” or “… dial!”
- All of you, regardless of how closely you were paying attention, are now focused on the dial.
- Human beings lack impulse control. If you’re focused on that dial, you’re going to touch that dial.
- On some level, that “don’t” is causing you to equate me with negativity. Negativity is bad.
(Have you ever even seen a TV with a dial, BTW?)
When I say, “Stay tuned!”…
- I’ve got you focused on the right stuff even if you’re only partially listening.
- Positive statements are simpler. A “don’t” message requires you to invert it to figure out it’s true meaning. I know from emails I’ve received from readers of How to Self-Destruct that there is a sizable minority of people who are apt to misread negative language. Sometimes entirely.
- Positive statements sound more declarative. So maybe a few of you will stay tuned simply because I sound authoritative. Bonus!
Pay attention to how people speak and I think you’ll find the same thing I have about negative communication leading to problems.
This is my next stop on my quest to become a better communicator. What are you working on?
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.