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Thanks For That

Last week, I was on a flight when the standard safety demonstration began just before take-off. I zoned out for the standard ‘life jackets are under the seat, masks will drop, put your mask on before helping others and know where the exits are’ spiel. I’ve always thought the ‘helping yourself, before helping others’ expectation was a little counterintuitive, but I understand.

It was the next part of the announcement where my ears pricked up….the hostess announced in a calm and friendly voice ‘whilst we know that wearing a face mask can be an inconvenience, we would like to thank you for wearing yours correctly.’

At that moment, I looked around and couldn’t help but notice the number of people who pulled their masks up or made a slight adjustment to ensure they were wearing them correctly.

It got me thinking about that one simple statement:

  1. She acknowledged the challenge and inconvenience – that’s empathy.
  2. She thanked people for doing the right thing and talked to the majority of people doing the right thing, rather than the minority of rule breakers – that made you feel appreciated.
  3. She used ‘thank-you’ rather than ‘please’. Although both respectful and considerate word choices, ‘thank-you’ takes’ the choice away and becomes a statement of expectation. Please implies that you have a choice; it’s a question with options.
  4. There was no opportunity for confrontation and conflict.

Our choice of words can be powerful and can influence the behaviour of others around us. Even better, we can influence individuals without them being aware. This is what happened on the plane. The term for this magic trick is called Priming.

Priming can be a very useful strategy to deploy in the classroom. It lifts your spirits as the teacher, it’s a pat on the back for those students doing the right thing and it may just be the subtle reminder for the young person doing the wrong thing to modify their behaviour. Talking to the behaviours you want to see more of can be rewarding for everyone.

Furthermore, making a statement with a ‘thanks’ implies an expectation. It may be something like ‘pop that piece of paper in the bin and get your book out, thanks.’ It’s more effective than ‘can you please pop that piece of paper in the bin and get your book out? There is a choice here, and the answer could simply be ‘no’. Then where do you go?

Choosing the right words won’t solve all your challenges, but it will tilt the odds in your favour.

Check out other articles Simon has written here.