We all know someone who drains the energy right out of us. The thought of a brief conversation with a certain friend gives you the shakes. A feeling of dread bubbles up when you see a particular family member’s name on your phone. To this day, you fear that mean math teacher. Or you suddenly come down with a case of swine flu after reading a coworker’s name on the meeting agenda.
After years working in consulting, education, and as a parent, I’ve observed one specific behavior these people all have in common: a negative communication style. Everything they say comes across as critical or condescending. The Debbie Downer is a nag, drag, and a total wet rag.
You’ve been guilty of doing this at times, and it’s likely unintentional. Still, the way you come across when communicating with colleagues, peers, friends, and children will have a lasting effect on your relationships. It will either positively or negatively affect the desired outcome.
The secret to becoming a more positive communicator is simple:
FOCUS ON START BEHAVIORS
What’s a START behavior? It’s something you want the person you’re talking with to start doing. By contrast, a STOP behavior is something you want the person to stop doing.
Most people, without realizing it, focus on STOP behaviors when engaging with others. Consider these examples:
A manager says to his subordinate, “You’ve gotta stop being late to meetings.”
A teacher says to her students, “Stop blurting out!”
A coach says to her team, “You’re loafing on defense!”
A friend says to another, “I never hear from you anymore.”
A parent says to a child, “Stop running around, you’re not listening!”
All of these statements come across with a negative tone of accusation.
Now consider these alternatives:
“It contributes to the team’s success when you’re on time to meetings.”
“Raise your hand, please.”
“You need to want the ball more than the other team!”
“I’d love to get together for coffee. I miss you!”
“It’s time to sit down and do homework.”
See the subtle differences? One set of statements sends the receiver of the message a bad feeling. The other phrases send the same message in a more positive, respectful way. The first set assumes the worst about the person you’re addressing. The second set assumes the best in them.
It takes practice, but focusing on START behaviors when communicating with the people in your life will not only increase the likelihood of a better response, it will improve the overall health of your relationships.
What are some ways you try to be a more positive communicator?