Words matter. Positive words matter more.

I'm sitting home watching this epic Wimbledon semi-final that simply won't end.   (Currently 24-24 in the 5th set.)   You know what I'm noticing the most?   The chair umpire, who quiets the enthusiastic crowd down by saying "Thank you", rather than something more directly aggressive like "Quiet, please".   

It's probably something distinctly British.   But it's also an interesting pattern of using a positive statement instead of a negative one to achieve a purpose.   

I've read this before in a number of contexts.   I remember knowing about this even in college, when I was tasked to write a statement about email etiquette for a group in which I was a member, and took pains to write statements positively rather than negatively.   But I've been reminded of this more lately.

  • In the video of The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch recounts the story of talking with one of his advisors, who said to him "It's a shame that people perceive you as arrogant; it's going to hurt your ability to achieve your goals."   Pausch's remark after-the-fact: "Wow, what a nice way to tell someone that they're a jerk!".
  • Staying with The Last Lecture: in the book, Pausch recounts a story that he learned from his time working for Disney.   If you ask a cast member at Disney what time the park closes, they'll tell you that "the park is open until 9pm" (or whenever).   Note the switch: it's not that the park closes at 9pm, it's that the park is open until 9pm.
  • I saw an article come across my newsfeed awhile ago that points out that people who are perpetually apologizing can, instead, say "thank you", and achieve a better purpose.

Can politeness and courtesy and positive affirmation achieve more than criticism?


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