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what ever you do, don’t use a negative!

July 28, 2010

The reason that I haven’t written anything for a while is that life got a bit too hectic. Work, family and directing a production of Hat Tricks with the Sunnybank Theatre Group meant that I either didn’t have the time or I just didn’t have the energy to put anything down on paper.

They say that life is not a rehearsal and I for one am glad of it. The rehearsal process can be many things but when you are doing it at night and on the weekends it takes not only your time but a great deal of your energy. As the director it is your job to worry about everything – particularly when you are working in community theatre.

Before you say anything, I know I need to get better at asking for help, but this time around was my first full length production. So I ended up doing the set design, a lot of set construction and dressing, props, furniture sourcing and repair, coordinating with the wonderful milliners at MSIT who made our hats, getting a stage crew together, lighting cues set up, figuring out how to use the sound software, searching for music and the sound of a toilet flushing… all on top of the main business of helping the actors prepare their pieces!

The hats are a key part of the show so after one rehearsal when one of my cast came on without her hat I think it was understandable that my feedback would include “Please don’t forget the hat next time – it is kind of important!

Now I have been blessed with a wonderful cast and crew who are very gentle and understanding of me so her response was to simply nod and then smile and say “I remember my hat each time I go on stage.

For me it was a timely and generous reminder of the importance of avoiding the use of the negative. I know this stuff, I have taught it in my workshops – the brain isn’t very good at processing negatives like “don’t” when it is under pressure.  We work in pictures so the command “Don’t put the knife in the toaster!” will automatically bring up an image in your mind of a knife in a toaster.  If we are under pressure we respond to that image and hear the commanding tone and end up doing exactly what we have been told not to.

A negative image of a toaster.

I am not sure if you have ever stepped onto a stage as an actor in front of a hundred or so people you may or may not know, but I think it counts as a high pressure situation. So saying “Please don’t forget the hat next time – it is kind of important!” was likely to result in an actor walking on stage sans headwear!

Since then I have tried to stay aware of how often I use negatives in both my family life and in my work life. It is surprising how often I do use them and how easy it is to do:

“Please don’t forget to complete your timesheet/expense claim before the end of the month.”

“I know you are in a hurry but please don’t forget to pick up some milk and bread on the way home.”

“Peter, don’t let me forget to email that report to you!”

“Don’t forget to call your sister for her birthday!”

In the fast paced and busy lives we all lead that usually ends up with us getting reminder emails about our timesheets, apologising for missing a birthday and hearing our exasperated spouse or parent wonder aloud why they bother even asking.

Try it for yourself. Be aware of how often you make negative requests and see how often you and those around you do it. I think you will be surprised.

As for me, once I publish this I will be sure to remember to call my sister for her birthday. Happy Birthday Natalie!!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Gavin m permalink
    July 28, 2010 2:42 pm

    I find myself tripping over the positive ways to phrase statements or requests. In particular, I have been heard saying, instead of “Don’t spill your drink!” to my five year old, “Please keep all the liquid in the cup……..”. In spite of this she has enough sense to still drink the liquid without spilling any! How difficult is it to break our own ingrained thought processes but I must admit it becomes quite challenging and rewarding when one statement finally pops out the right way and you actually realise “I said that!”
    Keep smiling (or don’t frown)

  2. January 11, 2011 10:10 am

    It’s surprising how often we talk negatively, I’m going to try to watch what I say and ensure I remember to talk positively!

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