010 : Positives rather than negatives

I went to the swimming pool with my kids.

There were lots of signs telling me what I couldn’t and mustn’t do. No running. No shouting. No diving in the shallows. No entry. No sitting on the side. No more than three people here… I didn’t see signs telling me what I could do. Nor any instruction or information so I could get the best out the experience either… mmmmmm

It’s the same with your signage on a project or a training. Emphasis ought to be on the ‘what you want people to feel, think and do’ and not on ‘what you want them to avoid’. We process negatives differently than positives. This is a neuro-linguistic thing (technical) but our brains dismiss negatives and focus goes into what immediately follows. A bit like the pub trick “don’t think about a packet of crisps”.

The same is true for physical instruction. “Don’t run!” exclaim all parents, just before their children trip over in the playground. “Don’t go too fast” would plea my fellow ski-instructor to an over eager teenage group at the top of a mountain.

We ignore negatives.

At teacher training, when it came to using tools in the design workshop, I was told not to demonstrate to a class the behaviour you didn’t want to see. (Oops, see what I did there?) For example, “Don’t hold it like this”, should be replaced instead with, “Hold it like this.” Likewise, “Don’t forget…” is better expressed as, “Remember to…”. These have proven to be great pieces of instruction for adult facilitation. “Work in pairs” is a clear positive instruction rather than, “Don’t work alone” which is negative and lacking any instruction.

Look through your notes for your project briefing and spot the bullet points of instruction you’ll be giving.

Spot where you’re being specific about an activity and write out and say out loud the positive re-expressions of that instruction.

You’ll be coaching yourself to be a positive instructor; someone who gives positive instructions.

It’s a lovely way to build trust and to show you love your participants.