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Eliminate ‘don’t’ from your vocabulary

Flip it to the positive instead

Photo by MARK ADRIANE on Unsplash

For the last seven years, I have lived in the world of children as an elementary school counselor. It’s a world where I have learned so much, but the most important lesson so far has been in the words we use with children on a daily basis.

Kids hear the words ‘no’ and ‘don’t’ far too much. Some of it is for their own safety, as in, “Don’t touch the stove or you will burn your hand.”

However, in the school setting, it’s more like, “Don’t run in the hallway,” “Don’t talk to your neighbor,” “Don’t share your food,” and the list goes on.

Don’t, Don’t, Don’t!

After awhile kids are exhausted from being “don’t-ed” to death.

I daresay adults are the same way. We get tired of hearing it as well. 

“Don’t you realize the deadline is tomorrow?!”

“Don’t come back into this office until you have something promising to show me.”

“Don’t leave yet. We have a meeting in 15 minutes.”

While the word ‘don’t’ is well-intentioned in some instances, it’s a word that should be eliminated from the workplace, whether we are surrounded by 5-10 year-olds or adults.

And here’s how: flip it to the positive.

If you want to say, “Don’t run in the hallway,” say instead, “Make sure you walk in the hallway so everyone stays safe.”

If you want to say, “Don’t you realize the deadline is tomorrow,” say instead, “Remember, the deadline on your project is tomorrow.”

It comes across in a way that doesn’t put the receiver of your communication on the defensive. It doesn’t make that person feel negative or like you’re nagging. 

Rephrasing our words to create good vibes invites better relationships between people. It creates a work culture that people want to be a part of.

However, it takes work. 

Words such as ‘don’t’ become a habit. We have to put in the effort to reframe the habit. In the case of our school climate, we took a look at our matrices that identify behavior expectations throughout our school and classroom expectations. We saw how often the word ‘don’t’ was used and it was stunning. We changed the signage throughout our building, because our students and staff would see it on a daily basis.

We did an overhaul in our weekly community lessons that emphasize behavior expectations to use the positive on what we wanted kids to do rather than what we didn’t want them to do.

Those few changes have had an enormous impact on the culture, not only for students but for the staff as well. 


How does that translate to the workplace?While this example is in the school setting, think about your workplace where you spend roughly 1/3 of each day. How can the employee handbook be changed to reflect a more positive environment? 

Look at your meeting expectations. How often is the word ‘don’t’ used? Do you have such items as “Don’t use your cellphone or laptop during the meeting,” or “Don’t be late to the meeting.”

What if you said instead:

*We realize you may need to take a call or send a text because you are away from your regular work responsibilities. Please step into the hallway to do so.

*Please feel free to use your laptop for notes concerning the meeting topics.

*Being on time to the meeting allows us to finish in a timely manner.

Simple changes in wording paint an entirely different picture in your work environment. Make this the “Year of Don’t,” and see how your world changes for the better.

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