Are Your Instructions Creating Your Employees’ Problems

Are Your Instructions Creating Your Employees’ Problems?
By Susan Ford Collins

Years ago I was a consultant to a government organization struggling to create a now-familiar sign. They were considering two choices: 1- In case of fire don’t take the elevator… leaving people frightened and undirected. Or 2- In case of fire don’t take the elevator; use the stairs and post directions to nearby stairwells. After numerous tests it was clear which choice worked better to quickly and calmly move people out of danger.

Keep this in mind: We have a Positive Command Brain…
to the brain, all statements are positive!

Understanding not statements involves two vital steps.

  • First- To make sense of the words, our brain automatically and unconsciously removes the not. So don’t use the elevator immediately becomes do use the elevator in the brain.
  • Second- We must remember the “not” and provide positive instructions… use the stairs.

Unfortunately we frequently forget to take that essential second step! 

Don’t play with matches

A sales manager at Kimberly-Clark told a story in one of my seminars that tragically reinforces the danger of using not instructions, especially with kids. Three months before, Kevin and his wife left their son with a sitter. As they pulled on their coats, Kevin heard her say, “Bobby, don’t play with matches while we’re out. Promise me you won’t.” Kevin thought it was strange because Bobby was afraid of matches, but they were running late so he let it go.

In the car, Barbara said that afternoon she had seen a TV show about kids who set fires while they were staying with sitters. Scenes of badly-burned children kept playing in her mind so she felt that she had to say something to protect their son. They enjoyed dinner and headed home.

When they turned onto their street, they saw fire trucks on their lawn. Their son had followed her not instruction. He had played with matches and set fire to the drapes. The sitter called 911 who rushed him to the hospital where he was treated for life-threatening burns.

What could that concerned mom have done if she wanted their son to be safe while they were gone?

She could have created an action plan… leaving specific TV shows and games… and then carefully explained it to the sitter and Bobby. Plus silently remembering to put all the matches out of reach of course.


Afterward Kevin added, “As tragic as it was, thinking about it now, I know this experience will help me at work too. I’ve been making the same mistakes with my employees! I tell them what I don’t want instead of what I do want. Then when they do that, I yell. Susan, thanks to you explanation, I realize that I was the one creating their problems! From now on I’m going to think my instructions all the way through and tell them what I do want in detail.

* For more on the 10 Success and Leadership Skills, read The Joy of Success. 

Caroline Dowd-Higgins interviews Susan Ford Collins:
Are You Using All 10 Success Skills?


Susan Ford Collins is “America’s Premier Success and Leadership Coach”-CNN.
She is the creator of THE TECHNOLOGY of SUCCESS,
the powerful leadership system used in more than 3,000 training programs in major corporations and organizations, turnarounds and startups.

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