Always nag with a smile

Go on then. Hands up. Who actually *enjoys* being nagged? Exactly. Not only is nagging really annoying for the person being nagged, it is also really frustrating for whomever is doing the nagging. Because, fundamentally, it doesn’t work.

Nagging is not an effective strategy for behaviour change.

Got kids? A partner? Housemate? Give me one example of when nagging them changed anything. We are a social species. We have an evolutionary need to be in a group. We hook up with people who appreciate our “unique gifts” (read: annoying habits) because it makes us feel safe. Being nagged makes us feel unsafe because the people we thought loved us anyway are now unhappy with us. This might threaten the continuation of the group. Behaviour change is hard, and scary, and takes us into the unknown. It is not the sort of thing we would choose to attempt when we feel unsafe.

Nagging does not improve your relationships.

In my first job (a retail bank, since you ask) we were told to smile when we answered the phone. It was supposed to make us sound more friendly and approachable, which in turn would help to diffuse any potential frustrations the customer might be experiencing. (Consumer annoyance with bankers? Surely not!). Well, it worked. That is to say, when for whatever reason I DIDN’T smile on the phone (you try smiling non-stop when you’re trapped in an office with no windows counting beans), the conversation inevitably did not go so well. I probably sounded disinterested, the faceless customer remained irritated and I’m pretty sure we both got off the phone in a bad mood. Which did not improve the day for anyone. When I DID smile, we could have the exact same conversation with the exact same outcome, except that generally the customer left more satisfied. This helped me keep my job, which should probably have been something to smile about. (I left). But smiling worked. Even though the other person could not see my face, when you smile your voice changes and you sound interested, willing and enthusiastic. The encounter has a happy ending.

Nagging does not make you smile.

Well does it? Next time you find yourself mid-nag, check if you’re smiling. Stop. Smile. (No, not through gritted teeth – REALLY smile!) Now repeat the exact last request you made. Watch the response of the poor unfortunate person who was on the receiving end of your nag. I bet they stop “ignoring” you and look up. There it is. Connection. Communication. You stopped complaining that they hadn’t ALREADY done whatever it is, and just asked them to do it now. Add in an inducement (please tidy up and then we’ll go to the park / shops / pub) and you also have compliance (your inducement needs to be relevant for that to work). I can’t tell you how many times I have stood in the park and watched a poor, frustrated dog owner nag, nag, nag their dog because it’s lagging behind or not coming back to them. Irritation creeps in to the owner’s voice. The dog *stops* listening (of course it doesn’t – the poor unfortunate dog with its exquisitely sensitive ears has no chance of not hearing the owner going on and on and on…) and, surprise, surprise, the dog’s behaviour does not alter. Is this you? Of course it is, we’ve all been there. We’re rushed, having a crappy day, it’s raining… Whatever the reason, the outcome is the same.

Nagging doesn’t work.

Stop. Smile. Call your dog again. The minute your dog shows any sign of moving toward you, start encouraging. Maybe even crouch down and fling your arms wide in that classic welcoming gesture. You don’t have to act completely bonkers (jumping up and down, squeaking, waving my arms around have all been highly effective strategies for my dogs) but at least show your dog that you are delighted with what is happening. Introduce an inducement when your dog makes it back to you – be it treats, a short game, or even some attention, whatever is most relevant for your dog – just make the effort to actually thank your dog for doing what you asked.

I don’t imagine for a moment that you’re going to read this, stand up, resolve never to nag again, and go forth into the world to uphold your new resolution. Seriously. Life. But, next time you inevitably find yourself slipping into that old habitual pattern of nagging your dog, at least do it with a smile.





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