I gave an evening workshop a little while ago on communcation and someone asked me what skill or strategy should they work on if they were going to focus on just one. My clever answer was: the one you most want to develop. My second, less clever and perhaps more useful response was: when communicating, to focus on what you want (rather than what you don’t want) and then to express this specifically. So simply put, for example rather than saying: ‘Don’t be late.’ Say: ‘Be on time.” And to be a little more specific say: ‘Come at 9am.’ (Or whatever ‘on time’ is.)
At the time I wondered if my response really indicated what I thought was the most important aspect of communication. And although I do think the above is hugely important, and surprisingly, often seemingly ignored, perhaps there are several other guidelines which precede it. Like:
First, decide what you want to have happen and then chose words that are most likely to make this happen.
And what really goes hand in hand with this is:
Use whatever words you most want to be in the person’s mind.
We all know how this works. A child stands up in their high chair and waves a plate of food about. Do we want that food on the floor or in the bowl and back on the tray? If we say: ‘don’t you drop that now!’ I think we just increase the chances of the food hitting the floor. ‘Sit down slowly now sweetheart’ might get a better result.
Down at the ice-skating rink if we want that show-off to go over (and maybe we do) then say: ‘Don’t slip on that ice will ya!’ Or: ‘Don’t go doing anything fancy on those skates!’
Okay so we all know this. The following sign is on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and is an interesting example, not so much of saying something positive and focussing on what you want, but is a strong example of the words that you really do want to be in someone’s head if they are considering jumping
‘Fatal and tragic.’ There is no coming back from this decision is what the sign says. My guess and hope is that it may well encourage someone to pause and rethink.