How to Eliminate Negative Speech

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. I’ve experienced and observed a lot of insanity in family relationships. Some of the ways we communicate don’t change anything. It goes in one ear and out the other. Yet we say the same things the same way over and over expecting different results. Guess what? It’s not going to happen! In fact, there are certain phrases that guarantee a negative reaction. I used to say them a lot in my family when my kids were young. It rarely got me the response I was looking for. Now, I try to measure my words and monitor my tone when I talk. I’ve learned that negative speech will guarantee a negative reaction. [Tweet “Negative speech will guarantee a negative reaction.”] Let me share with you 3 things you always say that never work.
Three words that never work – “You need to…”
“You need to get a grip on your emotions.” “You need to stop being such a jerk.” “You need to spend more time playing with your kids than playing video games.” “You need to get your homework done.” “You need to pick up more around the house.” “You need to stop wasting money.” “You need to…” Sound familiar? Yeah, I’ve said the said the same things too. “You need to” makes the person less than enthusiastic to do what you say. If they do comply it’s done with a bad attitude. Is that the end game you seek? Me neither. Let’s look at one of the statements and see if we can fix it. “You need to spend more time playing with your kids than playing video games.” Here are 3 reasons why “you need to” doesn’t work.
  1. It’s a complaint delivered in a negative tone.
  2. It’s a directive, not a dialog. Comes across controlling. Doesn’t respect the person’s autonomy.
  3. It often sounds like a “put down”.
3 Tips on how to say it better.
  1. Respect the person’s autonomy. “I know you like to wind down after work by playing video games…”
  2. Turn the complaint into a request. “…but, can you also carve out some time to play with the kids?”
  3. Highlight the benefit. “They have been excited about you coming home and spending some time playing with them.”
Notice how this modified approach shows respect while making an important request. I now want to draw your attention to two more things you say that never work.
Twin statements that never work. “You always…” “You never…”
“You never help in the kitchen.” “You always say stupid stuff.” “You never admit you’re wrong.” “You always have something to complain about.” “You never anything nice to say about me.” “You always have to have it your way.” If you want to draw an immediate negative reaction these dichotomous statements always work. Arm yourself for a battle, you just fired the first shot. Here are three reasons why the twin statements never work.
  1. They are not factual. Really, never? Always? I’m sure evidence does not support your claim.
  2. They negate times when the action is performed.
  3. The statement is negative and will generate a negative reaction.
3 tips on how to say it better.
  1. Start positive. “I know you are a busy person…”
  2. Share your need. “…and I also have a lot on my plate and can use some help…”
  3. State your request. “…so can you give me a few minutes of help in the kitchen?”
3 benefits you can expect when you eliminate negative speech
  1. The person will likely perform the action you seek.
  2. You respect the person’s autonomy.
  3. You avoid “locking horns” and draining your batteries.
One final piece of advice I’d like to leave for you. Instead of making “you” statements, start with “I”.

Now it’s your turn

Think of one person with whom you can work on eliminating negative speech. Try rehearsing how to turn your complaint into a request. Practice this approach. Give it time. You may be surprised by how well it works!