To say not or not to say not, that’s the question

In two of my previous blog posts I have written about the power of some 3-letter words. The word “but“ in a sentence has got the power to undo what came before. The word “yet“ has got the power to add possibilities and options when put at the end of a negative sentence. Today, I’d like to discuss the power of the word “not“ and how to make the best use of it.

What are you thinking of if I tell you NOT to think of a yellow train?

Say it the way you want it

The word “not” is an interesting word to use, or not to use in your communication. That’s because the part of our brain where our learning takes place does not process negatives. Or, in other words: it does not like to process words like “not”. It prefers to ignore them. That means that a different message than the one you intended to bring across is received when you use the word “not” in your communication. Let me give you some examples to illustrate this.

Imagine your own children or some pupils in your classroom being too loud. If you would tell them to “not shout“, the part of their brains where learning takes place  will remember just half of your instruction and that is “shout“.  Mmmm, that is exactly the part of your instruction you’d like them to forget, right? And I am sure you can imagine what happens with an instruction like this: they just keep shouting!

It’s better to say what you want than to say what you don’t want. So, saying “be quiet“ will be a far more effective instruction. Whenever you hear yourself using the word “not“, take your time to reflect if you are saying what you want to say or whether you’d better rephrase your message. Listening critically to yourself and adapting your phrasing will soon make your communication much more effective.

I bet you were thinking about a yellow train at the beginning of this blogpost, despite me writing NOT to do so!

How to use the word “not”

Of course you can use the word “not“ in a clever way too. How about the following sentence from a sales person? „Now, I am not saying that this is the best washing machine there is….“. Again, the “not“ gets easily ignored and we are left with a strong message from the sales person to buy this specific washing machine, since it is simply the best!

Enjoy listening to yourself and enjoy rephrasing your messages. Above all: enjoy the positive change in your communication. I’d be happy to read about it.



Outfit details: Trousers: Tally Weijl, Ankle Boots: Hobbs, Anorak: Chicorée (all previous seasons)

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    1. Fantastic Nancy. I am sure you will like playing with your language and seeing what it does to your communication. By the way, I had to smile when I read the word ‘try’ in your reaction. It’s another very interesting 3-letter word…….Enjoy your weekend! Love, Lieske

  1. This is so interesting Lieske!

    I thought it was just my brain that seems to not want to listen to that word! Lol!
    Yes, I think it is always more effective to speak in the affirmative, and give instructions in that way..more clear.

    Clever use of the word when the salesman used it..

    1. Hi Elle. Yeah, as a mum you will recognise that it’s more effective to give affirmative and clear instructions. As for the salesman…they are right in using their language in a clever way and it’s practical for buyers to be aware of this, don’t you think so too? Have a great week. Love, Lieske

    1. Hi Lizzy. Good to know that you like my posts 😉. There will be more like this in the coming months, since I just love languages and playing with words. And I also love many other things, so my blog is a mix of things that matter to me and that I think may inspire others. Love, Lieske

    1. Thanks for all your lovely comments this weekend Greetje. I am sure you will love my posts about the other 3 letter-words too. You can use this analysis (and the others) for the Dutch language too! It’s good to stretch your way of thinking about language now and then, since it does have a huge impact on your communication and on how you feel. Enjoy your reads and your weekend! Love, Lieske

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