Life can be full of don’ts.
- Don’t treat the client like that, or I will have to write you up.
- Don’t talk back to me again, or I will ground you for a whole week.
- Don’t eat that crap. It’ll make you sick.
- Don’t leave a messy kitchen. I work hard, too, and I’m tired of cleaning up after you.
Often, a “don’t” precedes an order, a warning, or even a threat. And it almost always comes with a negative connotation. And that’s why I consider “don’t” a four letter word. It’s an ugly one, but it’s also one that can easily be changed into a positive statement.
Don’t get me wrong–yeah, that one was intentional. 🙂 There are times a don’t is in order. But many times a more positive statement will have far more impact, and with much more pleasing results.
How often have you been on the receiving end of a don’t statement? It puts you on the defensive, doesn’t it? It makes you react. You ball your fists, or tense your shoulders, or clench your stomach. And as soon as the don’t statement comes at you, you’re already thinking of how to fight back. And then an argument follows. And after that? Often, the offending behavior that you’ve been accused of doesn’t disappear, or it worsens just for spite.
Not a good situation, is it?
Now switch roles, and imagine what the other person feels like when you throw out a don’t. Trust me. It won’t be much different than your own reaction.
So how do you turn a don’t into a do? It’s easy, really. When someone does something that you find offensive or just plain wrong, take a deep breath and a few moments to listen to the mind chatter inside your head. Odds are you’re already forming your fighting words without realizing it, most of which will start with the don’t. But if you take that breath, that moment, that time to not react, you can turn the don’t into the do. Using my the examples above, here’s how the new statement would look:
- When you treat the client like that, it can make them feel as if they’re not important. How about next time you first ask them what the issue is, and then figure out a solution together? What do you think?
- When you talk to me like that, it seems like you’re not listening to me. And this message I’m trying to give you is very important. Can we sit for a bit and calm down, and try this conversation again?
- I noticed that when you eat that cereal, you usually feel sick afterward. Have you noticed that, too?
- I know we both had a busy day, so how about we clean up the kitchen together and get this mess out of the way faster? That way, we can have the whole evening ahead of us to just sit back and relax.
See what happened? The don’t became a positive suggestion within a series of questions, and turned the ultimate power over to the “offender” to make the ultimate decision. Instead of putting them into a reactive situation with a don’t, they’re now in the driver’s seat and given the personal power to hear your statement and probably have a dialogue over it. And it’s in that dialogue that positive change happens.
Go ahead. Try it. Take one instance today where you’re about to throw out a don’t, take a few seconds to reconsider your reaction, then give the “offender” a positive statement that puts them in a position to effect change, maybe even with you. And see what happens.
My guess is that you’ll be very pleasantly surprised.
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You’re right, Terri, especially for clients, students, kids, and my new 7-year-old “puppy” rescued from a horrid puppy mill. Moreover, it’s been said to never use a negative in a book title. But any number of positive titles that I beta-tested sounded like all the other writing books on the market. So that 4-letter word worked for me in Don’t Murder Your Mystery. Later, to build on that stab at branding, it worked again for Don’t Sabotage Your Submission. Probably because writers are sharper than clients, students, kids, and dogs, and writers nominated each book for awards that I am grateful for.
Indeed, there are times a don’t is in order! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Great post, Terri! I especially like the before and after examples. 🙂
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