Writer Bob Selden is in the hot seat today. We’re chatting about his communication/self-help book, Don’t: How Using the Right Words Will Change Your Life.
Bob Selden has coached many sporting teams and coaches over the last 30 years, and has taught leadership at the prestigious International Institute for Management Development, Lausanne Switzerland and the Australian Graduate School of Management, Sydney.
Bob has a degree in psychology and qualifications in management and organizational psychology. He is the author the best-selling book What to Do When You Become the Boss, which has sold over 55,000 copies and been published in four languages.
Welcome, Bob. Please tell us about your current release, Don’t: How Using the Right Words Will Change Your Life.
Why do some people seem to have all the luck? The answer is simple: people with a more positive outlook can recognise opportunities that others miss. How? By converting negativity into a powerfully positive working and personal life.
DON’T answers the question ‘can the words we use in general conversation actually impact our relationships?’ The answer is yes, we do behave according to the words we hear and use. For example, recent studies show young male drivers increase their speed when they hear male-type words like “beard”, ‘tough’ and ‘rough’ – yet female-sounding words like “lipstick”, ‘pink’ and ‘gentle’ make them slow down. We are surrounded and misled by thousands of negative messages every day.
Using multiple how-to examples, scientific studies and stories from real-life, DON’T is packed with practical insights into what makes us who we are. Discover how to transform your working and personal life into positive successes which flows from a new understanding of positive action and perception.
What makes some people more successful and dynamic than others? Is it luck, upbringing, training? Or could it be something as simple and powerful as the words we use? I invite you to find the answers in my new book DON’T and take a new path.
What inspired you to write this book?
I remember standing in a gift store in Canberra, Australia some years ago when a mother with two young boys entered the shop. At their age of about three or four the only thing children want to do is to touch and feel things – to explore. The store was stacked full of open shelves with many delicate and breakable items such as glass and chinaware. If you were the boys’ parent, what would be your natural instruction to your children?
By using an instruction such as “Don’t touch anything” the only visual image the boys receive is ‘touch anything’. Although we put the word ‘don’t’ in front of ‘touch anything’, there is absolutely no visual image for the word ‘don’t’. The boys are left with the image of the act of touching anything (and knowing boys of that age, probably touching everything).
Not only is there no image for ‘don’t’, it creates a further problem. People, and particularly children, have to double-process. The child has to think “What does she NOT want me to do?” as well as “What does she want me TO DO instead?” This can be very confusing, especially for young children as they may not know or understand the ‘to do’ part or have difficulty accessing it in memory.
Those of you who are parents will probably remember the many necessary corrective actions or commands which have to follow the instruction of “Don’t touch anything” (it rarely works).
You could surmise that this is simply ‘children being children’, or ‘boys will be boys’. I believe there’s another reason.
Let’s return to the mother and her boys. Instead of saying “Don’t touch anything” to my surprise she actually said “Boys, keep your hands in your pockets until we get back outside this shop”. Here the image is of ‘putting hands in pockets’ – there is no mention of touching anything. Not only has she given them a positive instruction of what to do, she’s also put a finish-time on it, “until we get back outside this shop”. Brilliant! That experience has stayed with me for many years.
The impact of giving positive instructions with an image of what you want the child to do rather than putting ‘don’t’ in front of what you want them not to do can be seen immediately. If you’re a parent, try it out sometime.
And that’s what got me started on the impact words have on our behavior.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m still thinking about that. I’ve discussed co-authoring a book on “How to successfully run a family business: with a colleague of mine who is an expert in that field – it could be a good partnership as he’s the expert and I’m the writer.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s a very good question. Until recently, I’ve always considered myself a management consultant with the aim of helping managers become better managers. Then I wrote my first book What to Do When You Become the Boss: How New Managers Become Successful Managers which has currently sold 55,000 copies and been published in four languages. At this point I started thinking “Perhaps I am a writer after all”. And recently when my wife suggested I work on the messages in “Don’t” (which has been an integral part of who I am for the last 30+ years), I’m now just (a little embarrassingly) starting to call myself a writer.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I write a number of short articles and like to work early morning when I’m fresh. I get ideas from the media that take my fancy and which relate to a topic of interest for me (there are plenty at the moment with all the negativity in the world being described with negative words – war – politics – sport – instead of solutions).
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I like to listen to people having conversations in coffee shops. For example, with my current interest in the impact of negative words I heard one person last week saying to his partner “You know, that’s not a bad idea. Why wouldn’t that work?” Whereas I would suggest “That’s a very good idea. I believe it will work”. And today I heard at my local coffee shop, another (male) saying to his partner “Don’t worry about it”, whereas I would suggest “That will be OK” or “This will work out well”.
Funnily, I seem not to have had any really great ambitions to be anything when I was younger, except to do everything I do to the best of my ability. I am a very high-achiever and set myself tough goals, so I’m always looking for a new challenge.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’m now just recovering from lymphoma which I contracted in April and am in full remission. I believe part of my successful outcome (in addition to the specialist treatment) has been the positive approach I’ve been able to display. If readers would like to hear the short story it’s here and the short YouTube (5 mins) I was able to complete while still on chemo.
Thanks for being here today, Bob!