Don’t forget the ice!

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I just got an email from a certified Nonviolent Communication (NVC) trainer, that closed with, “Don’t hesitate to get in touch”. It got me thinking about a language pattern that I frequently see, like on the ice coolers in grocery stores that say, “Don’t forget the ice!”

Do you see the pattern? Do you see the problem with it? (Hint, there are two problems!)

The first problem I see is that “don’t” language tells people what you don’t want them to do. Okay, sure, you don’t want me to do that, but what do you want me to do? That’s not clear. Have you ever heard the classic parenting command, telling a kid, “Don’t draw on the walls”. Okay, but what do you want the kid to do? It’s like starting a mental loop, but leaving it unfinished. It’s confusing. It’s much more effective to tell people what you want them to do than what you don’t want them to do. Like, “Draw on this paper.” Now you’ve given them an alternative to what you don’t want that they can follow.

It’s much more effective to tell people what you want them to do than what you don’t want them to do.

The second problem is that there is an embedded command. In the “Don’t draw on the walls” example, most of the command says, “draw on the walls”. Four out of the five words commands them to do exactly what you don’t want. I think that confusing to hear for adults, and especially confusing for kids, or people where English is a second language. With the kids, if they don’t hear the first word because they’re focused on drawing, all they hear is the command to draw on the walls! Okay!

In speaking consciously, I recommend being clear about what you want people to do and to avoid embedding commands that get them doing the opposite of what you want. So, don’t say “don’t.” 😉

Do you notice this pattern in your writing and speaking? What you really want people to do? Do you want them to get in touch, or do you want them to hesitate to get in touch? I recommend replacing these phrases with more positive, action-oriented language that tell them what you want.

Instead of subconsciously telling people to “forget the ice”, tell people to “remember the ice!”

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John Reel

Want better relationships? Get in touch for coaching on how to connect on a deeper, life-affirming level. I’m trained in Nonviolent Communication mediation, and on the path to NVC trainer certification. I'm also a coach, currently training to specialize in relationships.