Reverberations of Positive Action Language

When I started this reflective blog, my hope was that readers would question what I wrote, and through this questioning, we would create a new understanding of the original idea. The point of reflective practice, after all, is learning and growth, and in my experience this is enhanced when the reflective process becomes collaborative.

Fortunately, my hope has been validated on many occasions, but the effectiveness of reflective blogging really made an impression on me after I posted Stop Blaming: Develop Emotional Literacy. As usual, I linked my post to Facebook. The next day, this comment was waiting for me in my message box:

I thought I would share a bit about how my brain worked after reading your post today: Yesterday I watched a television segment from “Positive Living.” A doctor was explaining (can’t remember his name) that a suggestion “Don’t spill your milk” activates the brain to imagine spilling milk which actually INCREASES the possibility of accidents. Instead the doctor suggested the mother to say, “take a sip and place the glass carefully back on the table.” When I read your post today I thought about “Stop Blaming” in the same way. Might a similar result to a milk incident be that someone who blames becomes blamed for blaming? Might it be better to suggest “When emotions are activated, recognize them, own them, and … [detach from the trigger].”

By beginning the collaborative process, this reader helped me remember something that had slipped my attention: the impact of negative language. I am fully aware that if we want to encourage someone to do something, the use of negatives such as don’t, never, no, and stop will probably encourage someone to do the opposite. This concept was first made clear to me when I read about positive action language in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. One of the quotes he uses, really brings this point home:

lyrics by Ruth Bebermeyer

We’ve discussed the concept of positive action language on many occasions in our NVC practice group. I’ve also taught this concept during the classroom management courses I designed for our training program. For example, when helping students design classroom norms, instead of using, “don’t speak Korean” it’s more effective to use, “Please speak English”. Yet despite my awareness and knowledge, I still went ahead and used stop as the heading of my title!

So through this Facebook collaboration, I was reminded that reflection isn’t only about deepening one’s understanding to the realm of new ideas. Reflection is also about revisiting beliefs you may not have even realized you lost.

6 thoughts on “Reverberations of Positive Action Language

  1. I love this post, Josette! I had been thinking about something similar to this in attitude. One of my favorite quotes is (paraphrased for length) “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable—if there is any virtue or praise—think on these things.” And yet, last week, I found myself cursing my husband and children to myself when I was picking up. Not big things, but little things, like “Doggone it, child!” when I would pick up half a cookie left on the couch and things like that. But it struck me that I knew better and that the key was refraining from judgment on the small things and praising them in my heart for what they had done correctly. And the results were nearly immediate! I was reminded about what you had said Susan had told you about working through NVC in your mind, that even if you never actually said the phrases aloud, just thinking through them would change your attitude. Not only do I see the good in them, but they, feeling the appreciation, aspire to be even better–in their own ways. It’s nice to see it written here as well!


    1. Thank you so much for your in depth reflection of this post! Hearing your process helped me connect to the different ways this type of intention can affect our lives. Thank you for reminding me of what Katherine (I think that is who you were referring to, not Susan) told me about holding these thoughts in my mind. I remember she told me that if I could connect to what someone’s needs are, not having to say them out loud, that my connection to them would take hold. The power if intention amazes me. I think there is a new blog post in this concept alone! Thank you for the inspiration Elizabeth and your willingness to share your process!


  2. How ’bout this for a “positively negative” statement: DON’T ever STOP “throwing back tokens”! There is a wealth of insight, inspiration and goodness in them.


    1. Bienvenue Nic! I’m curious, as a parent have you seen this concept in action? I mean, can you remember a time when you used “negative language” and it did the opposite, or when you used “positive language” and you got the results you wanted?


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