It can feel really frustrating when someone isn’t doing what they ought to, yet nagging them to do it just seems to make it worse. No one likes being nagged!

Nagging will usually come across as a form of verbal attack. Phrases like “Why haven’t you?”, or even just “When will you…?” are likely to feel like an attack from the other person’s point of view. Think about what happens when someone is attacked. Imagine they’re being attacked with a big stick, just to make the point! How will they react? It would provoke the ‘fight or flight’ response and they’d either fight back or run away. It also creates chemical changes in our body that reduce our ability to think clearly and focuses all our resources on fighting or running – adrenaline flows, the pulse rate rises.

A verbal attack will often create similar responses, but they tend to occur without us realising. You ask someone, in your most reasonable tone, “when can I expect that report to be completed?” and you get an aggressive response along the lines of “How can you expect me to get that done when I’ve got all this other stuff? Do you realise how much I have to do?”. This is the ‘fight’ response.

Alternatively, you might get someone defending with blame, excuses and denial.

People rarely run away from a verbal attack, but the defence response is pretty common. The way you phrase things can increase the chances that you’ll get a defensive response.

If you ask “Why?” then you’re inviting them to give you some excuses. If you ask “Who?” then you’re inviting them to blame someone or deny responsibility.

“Nagging” is this kind of blunt questioning, often on a repeated basis. The more you nag, the better the other person gets at finding plausible excuses. Nagging very rarely gets a job done, and even more rarely does it get a job done well. So what’s the alternative?

Why aren’t they doing it?

In most cases, people do want to get their tasks completed. So why aren’t they doing it? Consider some common and likely possibilities:

  • Don’t know how
  • Don’t know where to start
  • Feel the need to concentrate for a longer period than available
  • Don’t like doing it
  • Know that if they don’t do it, you’ll do it for them!

Most of these translate into finding it hard to make a start. If instead of nagging you can inspire someone to make a start, they’ll probably thank you.

A good way to start is to sow seeds to get them thinking about the task. For example, “What would be the first thing you’d need to do to get started on that task?”. As soon as you ask that question, in a positive tone, they start thinking about what they’d need to do first. If they respond with barriers, then confront that positively too: “What could you do to work around that?”.

By getting a dialogue going around starting the task, and the next steps involved in it – they get interested and will typically want to get started. You can provide further encouragement by suggesting, for example, “If you spent just ten minutes now on getting it started, you’d probably feel good about having made progress”.

At this point, you’ve moved to the next stage – building their vision and helping them get a sense of how much better they’ll feel to have completed it. Depending upon how receptive the person is, you could move fully into that position by asking “How would it feel if you could get started now and by the end of the week have it all completed?”.

If they’re really stuck

If you get someone who’s really stuck, or really negative, they might give you an endless stream of excuses and reasons why they can’t progress. It can feel really frustrating and it’s easy to lose your cool and end the conversation. Instead, be sure to end on a positive and something that makes the task feel achievable and enjoyable.

You can acknowledge that the task seems hard or unpleasant – but rather than saying “I know this is a horrible task”, change your language subtly to “I know this seems like a horrible task…” because you avoid subconsciously defining it as a horrible task! “Seems like” or “Feels like” instead implies that it isn’t actually a horrible task, it’s just a temporary feeling. And that helps. Focus on the outcome – how they will feel to get it done. Note that it would be even better to not even mention “horrible task” because it raises that thought.

This kind of inspirational and motivational conversation can take time and practice to feel natural and for it to work effectively. You may not find it works so well the first few times, but keep practicing and after a while, you’ll find that by inspiring others… you inspire yourself.

What would be a good way to start having a go at this? How about starting today? You’ll be amazed at how well it works!

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