Telling People What to Do Prompts Stress

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Telling people what to do prompts stress. No one likes to be TOLD what to do. Think of a time when someone told you what to do or told you that you had to do something. Notice how it conjured up a negative emotion and may even promoted stress.

Although most people like telling others what to do, very few people enjoy being told what to do.

The reason that no one likes to be told is that telling carries an inference. The unstated message is that “What you are doing is not good enough and you need to change.”

No one likes to hear this message.

I grew up with a friend who, when told what to do by a parent, would find an excuse NOT to do it. Even if it was something he wanted to do, such as going outside to play. He would find an excuse to stay indoors just because he was TOLD. Depending upon the other person’s mental frame at the time, when we tell a person what to do—regardless of how admirable our intentions—the message is often PERCEIVED either as an attempt to control or as a criticism that what the person is doing is not good enough.

The underlying reason that telling—in contrast to sharing—is not successful can be answered by finishing the following sentence: If I have told you once, I have told you . . . times!

If telling worked you would not have to repeat yourself and people would do exactly what you tell them to do.

The underling concept is referred to as “counterwill,” the natural human reaction to resist a feeling of being controlled.

You can see this readily in the the “terrible twos” and in “teenage rebellion.” In these instances the young are attempting to assert their independence and naturally resist any attempt for being controlled. In essence, the parents have entered into a power struggle. The stress from power struggles can be totally bypassed when people share or ask questions. Telling prompts stress—often on the part of all parties.

Next time you have an urge to tell somebody what that person should do, reflect on whether the person may take it as feedback or criticism. A safe approach is to start with a question such as, “Would you like a suggestion?”

Tip: Stress can be reduced by the questions you ask.

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