The Power of Instead
If we want to change our response in a given circumstance, it’s not enough to say what we won’t do. We have to say what we will do instead.
I first learned about this idea while learning how to train my dog. The trainer said that when you want to correct a dog’s behavior, you have to not only catch them in the act and say “No!”, but you have to offer them an alternative behavior, like sitting. This makes sense, I thought, and when I tried it, it worked!
Now, I’m not saying anyone should train themselves like a dog. In fact, avoid it if you can! Or at least avoid admitting it because it’s hard to live down the ridicule from family and friends 😕
Instead here is another credible source that echoes the same idea. Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication, and the main reason why my family and I don’t fight anymore, describes “positive action language” as follows (watching for 1 minute is enough to get the point).
Here he describes how to make clear actionable requests of others, like I would to my dog, but it also works when applied to oneself. In his book Nonviolent Communication, he says (and I paraphrase),
“I was asked to debate the Vietnam war issue with a man with a different opinion than mine on a recorded program. When I saw the tape I was disturbed by how I was communicating. After watching the tape, I made clear three things I didn’t want to do again. ‘I won’t get defensive. I won’t…’ Two weeks later, I was invited back to continue the debate. All the way to the studio, I repeated the 3 things to myself. When the show started, he came at me the same way he did before, and I didn’t do what I said I wouldn’t do… for about 10 seconds until I finally opened my mouth and then I did it all even worse than before!”
It can be relieving to know that even a master nonviolent communicator can make the same mistake 😌
Theory in Action
Here’s an example of how it works for me. As pointed out to me in my last job performance review, I have a tendency to stop listening to others when I want to make a point. So I remembered the last time I did this to a coworker in a meeting, and I noticed three signs that I was getting worked up and subsequently stopped listening. I would either stand up during the seated meeting, talk faster or louder, or pay more attention to my own thoughts than my coworker’s words. So I made clear my own three things I wanted to do instead. They were…
- If I stand up during the meeting, I will sit back down instead.
- If I start talking faster or louder, I will slow down or lower my voice instead.
- If I notice I’m paying most of my attention to my own thoughts, I will block them out and pay attention to other person instead.
Soon I had another meeting to practice in. I caught myself on all three counts and swiftly implemented my alternate strategies. After the meeting my boss told me, “I noticed you’re listening more!” That feedback is the final piece of the puzzle. Getting feedback, whether from someone else or by reflecting on an experience ourselves, is how we know whether our strategy worked or if we need to revisit the drawing board.
If you give this method a try, or have your own way of adapting your behavior, please share below! We love to get feedback how our posts help you 🙂