Communication – Why we should be careful about using “DON’T”

Email by John Giffney (CEO of ACS NSW Branch)

Hopefully this week you removed inappropriate use of “BUT” from your vocabulary with a resultant massive improvement in your interpersonal relationships.

Whilst I am beating up on the use of language I thought I might as well assonate another word – “Don’t”.  Unlike “but” that nullifies everything that was said before it “don’t” focuses attention on everything that comes after it.  Consider “don’t touch”, “don’t be naughty”, “don’t be late”, “don’t miss out”, “don’t worry” and my personal all-time  favourite “don’t forget”.  As soon as “Don’t …..” is heard the focus is almost instantly drawn to the action that follows which people then start to do.  How hard is it not to touch something when the sign says “Wet Paint – Don’t Touch”?  I cannot remember how many times have I forgotten the thing that I was specifically told “don’t forget ….” (I am a mere male and sometimes the side effects of the onset of O L D syndrome catch me up, so reminders are generally considered useful but still this does not help me).  This happens because the mind ignores or does not process the instruction “don’t”, it skips over the word so “Don’t forget” becomes “forget”.

There is a very simple way to ensure people do what you want – tell them what you really want, as opposed to what you do not want.  Using the above examples “keep your hands by your side”, “Be good”, Be early or on-time”, “get it now”, “the plan is working out, it is all OK” and “remember ……”.

This may seem a bit simplistic, the reality is that what happens in our lives is a direct result of our primary focus.  Helping other people and ourselves change the outcomes is as simple as changing what we focus upon.  Just be a little careful the focus needs to be on having/achieving as opposed to not having/not achieving because that is what the outcome will be.  Try this on your kids they are so much more acceptable to this approach than adults and results can be great fun.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.