Stop Telling People What to Do: Try This Game-Changing Strategy Instead

Stop telling me what to do!

How many arguments grow out of this rebellious sentiment? Nobody likes to be bossed around. Most of us want to defy any finger-wagging, self-appointed, self-righteous authority. For the record, nagging and barking orders doesn’t actually work.

So, if you cannot change someone’s behavior by telling them what do, what can you do to change their behavior? A study spanning 40 years of research offers a game-changing solution: Ask them a question.

Asking people about performing a certain behavior influences whether they will do it in the future. The effect is powerful—it has been shown to last more than six months after the initial questioning.

The phenomenon is known as the “question-behavior effect.” For example, asking, “Will you exercise?” instead of saying, “You should exercise today” is far more effective.

The recycling example below explains the psychology behind the technique:

The basic idea is that when people are asked ‘Will you recycle?’ it causes a psychological response that can influence their behavior when they get a chance to recycle. The question reminds them that recycling is good for the environment but may also make them feel uncomfortable if they are not recycling. Thus, they become motivated to recycle to alleviate their feelings of discomfort.

Research shows this technique works across a variety of domains including exercising, volunteering, reducing cheating in college and recycling.

The effect is strongest when the questions are simple, requiring a “yes” or “no” response. The researchers also suggest inquiring about positive behaviors. Avoid asking about vices because it can backfire and make them more likely to do it. In other words, don’t ask your teenage children, “Are you going to skip class?”

On that note,

Will you share Positive Prescription with a friend?

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman