Dropping the Don’ts, Doubling the Do’s.

As I’ve written in the past, saying what you want gets you there much faster than saying what you don’t want. In the same vein, saying things clearly and positively make it much easier to be heard. And your partner’s more likely to respond in kind – with a clear, affirming response, even if it presents a different opinion or preference. The ‘don’t wants’ are part of what make Negative Nancys so hard to be around – it’s easy to know what they don’t like, and it’s frustratingly tough to find out what they’re after.

Every ‘don’t want’ disguises the real message – what you’re after – and betrays your partner’s chance at hearing your desire and being able to accommodate. In a way, they set you up for failure right from the start. Negative statements spew negative energy. They also give a false invitation to fix a problem: “I knew we’d get stuck in these broken seats again.” It begs for your partner to fix it, but there’s really no good solution. And, as a conversation starter, it’s a non-starter; it only invites responses born of negativity – be it quiet resentment, defensive anger, or inauthentic sympathy. An alternative statement might be, “Next time, I’d like to be here early enough to get good seats.”

The work comes in nipping them in the bud, and replacing them with a clear, positive statement that shares candidly, explicitly what your goal is, what your preference is. One of the games from the Power of Two gives a short, fun exercise on identifying problematic statements that are negative and counter-productive and those that are positive and accessible. When our language becomes more straight-forward and collaborative, our partnerships follow suit – conversations stay in the positive, are warmer and more mutual. And the pattern becomes a habit, which in turn shapes the path of the relationship.

Give the game a try. Play it more than once, get the hang of it, and see how easy it becomes to identify the trigger words of the negative phrases, and notice how much warmer and easier to ‘hear’ the positive statements feel. I’d love to hear your comments on the game and how you can and do apply this in your own experience.

Power of Two: Pass the Popcorn Game