Emphasize the positive

Focusing on what needs to be done and not what doesn’t need to be done is the best way to achieve the desired outcome.

Emphasize the positive by Nancy Knowlton

One summer a young niece came to stay with us. She was a lovely girl, very engaging and fun to have around. She was eager to spend time with both Dave and me, and she actively participated in our home life. One day I was cooking and was missing an ingredient. Our niece quickly offered to go the market at the end of our street. The market was an interesting place with lots of bins for bulk products.

Easy instructions

I carefully explained to her that the market had three sizes of bulgur – small, medium and large. I wanted the medium bulgur. Just as our niece walked out the door, I emphasized that I needed medium, not the large bulgur.

I should have been able to predict it – she came back with the large bulgur, and I learned a lesson. Our niece had heard multiple instructions from me, but the last thing that she had heard was about the large bulgur. Never having purchased bulgur before, she had carefully looked over the bins and was quite pleased with her purchase as she scooped out the desired quantity of large bulgur.

Positive outcome

That experience helped me appreciate that positive instructions are more likely to get the desired result. Negative instructions are confusing to some, as I learned. While needed in certain situations (imminent danger and impending accidents being two circumstances that quickly come to mind), over the years I have concluded that it is far more effective and satisfying for all involved to have a positive communication – a directive to do something.

It comes down to clarity around expectations to allow people to perform and do their best.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.