Commands are less reliable than you might think

I've been developing two courses at the same time. One is our new course on Hypnotic Language and the other is the Business Communications courses I teach at Sheridan College. Theoretically, teachers fall into the class (joke!) of people who can tell other people what to do. Teaching is a great way to find the limits of that theory.

Here are three ways I make it more likely that my students will do what I tell them to do:
  1. When I really need compliance, I use a tone of voice that lets them know it's time to do what I say. This is a voice that rings out with my determination to get an outcome. It's not really about them: it's about presenting an outcome so clearly and compellingly that they are likely to do what I've asked before they notice that they have started or stopped.
  2. When I don't really need compliance, I suggest or offer or encourage or give permission. I frame - which means I tell stories or give explanations that put people into a mood (or state, in NLP terms) that shapes their response when we move to an activity. 
  3. I insist that my students show respect for one another. This is a combination of using the compliance voice with framing. Of course the result is that students will also show respect for me. If they thought that was the point, this frame would not work. Because the frame is built up over several repetitions and made explicit at appropriate times, they know that I really do expect that they show respect for each other. And that makes all the difference.
I wonder how many workplaces would benefit from meetings where people only asked for compliance when it was absolutely necessary, encouraged collaboration through verbal and non-verbal framing, and insisted that peers show respect for one another. It is deceptively easy to substitute commands: to say I have the authority to tell you what to do. Sometimes it even works. 

No one learns on command. No one can be commanded to be engaged and curious. No one can be commanded to understand what you say in the way that you understand it. Commands do have value. There are times when timely compliance is necessary to everyone's well-being and a well-voiced command will get results. Those times are just less frequent than we think.


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