I must confess to a sin.
When I was a child, one of the things that I hated most was my mother’s nagging. I promised myself then that when I become a parent I will not nag my child.
Did I stick to my declaration? Not really, but I thought I was doing a good job being aware of my nagging habit and biting my tongue quite often.
However, following a path described in What Can You Do To Be A Better …? post, some time ago I asked my son what I could do to be a better father. To my surprise, his number one hit was “Stop nagging.”
Is it a good advice?
Nagging (or NAGative communication) is a “tool” we try to use to change people.
We want to shift their mindset, vision, habits and skills. So that, under our influence, they behave in a different way.
Sometimes they do – then you don’t need to nag.
Sometimes they don’t – when nagging proves to be useless.
And not only useless, but also harmful check here.
As much as it does not add value (in terms of change), it does build negative emotions on both sides. Yourself – when you feel ineffective and ignored – and them – when they feel pushed.
And what happens then is that the effect of nagging is no more the right rational point of becoming better, but the wrong emotional tension between the two.
Nagging is a habit to change
Nagging, by definition, is a repeated (and futile) action. As Albert Einstein said, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity. Therefore if your nagging does not work (as in many cases it does not), it’s a habit worth changing.
A habit consists of four elements.
- TRIGGER is a stimulus that starts a habit. It is something that makes you do something.
- PROGRAM is what you actually do as the habit. It’s what happens.
- REWARD is something that you receive (or generate) as a result of the action (program) that you take. Reward is the reason WHY you do your habits.
- Finally, RESULT is the (very often) long-term effect or outcome of repetitive application of the habit program.
If you want to change any habit, you must shift at least one of them. The more, the better.
Let’s see what it looks like with nagging.
In my case, I observed that I am more prone to nag (my child, my wife or even myself) when two triggers happen. It’s either negative emotions that take over myself or time pressure.
There is of course a milder form of a trigger, when I simply see a behavior I do not like.
Apparently, when I avoid or manage better those triggers, the nagging program will not be launched.
Solution? Focus on the positive (What Do You Think About, Focus On And Feel Inside?) and organize yourself better (Tame Time – 7 time taming tools, tips and tricks that can get you at least one extra hour a day).
And, if you don’t like a behavior, change either what you think about it (after all it might be OK for some reasons) or what you do about it (try another strategy than nagging).
I noticed that I find some “masochistic pleasure” in nagging. I wouldn’t like to do it (that’s what I declare), but once I start, it is difficult to stop. I happen to repeat the same arguments over and over again and I even make reference to that (“how many times did I tell you …?”).
Apparently, if this habit program does not work, I must delete it and install a new and better one.
The strategy I started to apply is to ask questions.
By nature, questions are more engaging (both mentally and emotionally), as well as allow the other person to arrive themselves at the conclusions I tried to persuade with nagging. By answering questions, the other person takes also more ownership of their answers and then keeps the resolutions better.
- Change “I want you to eat your breakfast faster.” to “If you ate your breakfast faster, how would you use the extra time?”
- Change “You always surprise me with this kind of information.” to “What can we do to know it earlier?”
- Change “Doing homework is important.” to “If you learn this, what will it make possible?”
Is it hard? Yes.
Does it work? Yes
The anti-reward in the nagging habit is that you not only don’t reach your objectives, but you often strain the emotional bonds.
Questions (if they are not manipulated) are emotionally neutral (they do not impose your opinion) or even positive (when you show respect to the other person’s feelings and opinions).
They invite to find a workable solution that lead to a better short-and long-term results. The reward here is the actual qualitative and positive response to your request.
If the intended result of nagging is someone’s change in thinking and behavior, it is easier to achieve through asking questions than nagging. And that’s the point of the whole case.
The intended result will be reinforced by understanding and motivation, rather than inhibited by the shield of emotionally negative nagging platform.
You can find out more about how habits work and how you can manage them in my book HABITS – 9 Steps To Your Personal Change.
I have presented nagging in the family concept. But you are well aware that it can do harm at work, too.
For example, nagging is at foundation of many of the bad leadership habits that Marshall Goldsmith describes in his “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” book (you can read my post on the book here).
Beware of nagging as it does not add value. Inverse it to questions that will help you influence and lead others better.
Make a fabulous day 🙂
PS. If you found this post interesting and valuable, please share it using the social media buttons below. This way you will contribute value to other people. They might need your action. You can make their day. Thank you.