The Best Way to Help People Succeed

We all want the best for those we love. Whether it’s by giving advice, providing necessities, or gifting our time, our goal is often to help people succeed. Unfortunately, sometimes our best-efforts backfire, especially when giving others verbal instructions, warnings, or assistance.

Before I continue, it’s important to point out that the human brain thinks in pictures, not words. Think back to the last sleeping dream you remember. Are you visualizing the dream you had in words—as you are reading now—or are you visualizing it in pictures (images)? If you’re like the majority of people, you will conclude that you dreamt in visuals. (Remember that in human history reading is a relevantly recent development. Only in very recent times has the printed word become available to the “common folk.”)

Being aware that people think in pictures—that they construct visuals in their minds—can help you become more effective as you try to help people succeed.

Here’s an example of how our best verbal intentions can backfire. I recall being at an airport a few years back. I overhead a gate agent say to a young boy, “Don’t go down the ramp.” I immediately knew what would happen next. Just a few minutes after the airport official finished his sentence, I saw him chase after the youngster down the ramp.

Can you picture “Don’t”? Of course not. No one can.

Think of the parent who has a challenge with the child who wets his bed. After tucking him in, the parent says, “Don’t wet your bed tonight.” What will the child visualize upon falling asleep? A much better statement would be: “Let’s see if you can keep your bed dry tonight.”

Which statement conjures up the image the parent wants?

Focus on the Positive to Help People Succeed

Chances are the airline gate agent would have had less stress and more success saying to the youngster who was curious to go down the ramp something like, “You need a special pass to go there.”

When I visit schools, I often see rules prominently posted in classrooms and hallways. Most of the rules are phrased in negative terms of what not to do. My mental exercise is to immediately rephrase them in positive terms. The process is easy once you become conscious of it and practice changing negative pictures into positive ones.

Tip: My experiences have taught me that people do better with positive images rather than with negative ones. Let’s not forget that we adults are grown-up kids in this regard. We also communicate and process information best in picture form. Therefore, communicate your message by painting the picture you WANT to have created, not the one you don’t want.