I once conducted a marketing training to a group of business professionals. During the training I shared that repetition is critical for audiences to retain messages, and that an individual needs to hear a message at least six times for them to understand and act on it. I advised these professionals to “repeat, repeat, repeat” their key messages to their customers.
As I was talking, one of the training participants popped his hand up to ask a question. I called on him and he said, “I feel like my wife is always repeating the same thing over and over and over again to me. But, the more she repeats, the more I don’t want to listen or do what she says. Is there ever a time when repeating gets to be too much? And, more so…how do I stop my wife from nagging me?”
After the chuckles in the room died down and he gave his obligatory disclaimer that he really does adore his wife, but he just has a hard time with the nagging, I told him that she will stop when she receives a response from him. If she continues to say the same thing or ask the same question, it’s because he’s not responding in a manner that she’s satisfied with or confident that he has understood and will act on the message.
For example, if she continues to ask him to clean the windows, he should respond and give her a concrete answer on if and when he will be able to do it. No response or an ambiguous, noncommittal response, such as “I’ll do it soon” will not stop the so-called nagging. Moreover, if his response is the not “right” one, meaning it isn’t answer that his wife was fishing for (e.g, “I will wash the windows as soon as I get home from work today!”), he must give her an equitable alternative. He can’t just say, “No. I don’t feel like cleaning windows.” At that point, he will have a larger problem on his hands than just having to endure more nagging. An equitable alternative is an equally-pleasing option to solve the problem. In this case, the husband could say, “I will call the window cleaners and get an estimate for their services. If the price is reasonable, let’s have them do the job next weekend. Either way, I’ll take care of it. No worries,” *kiss on wife’s cheek*
In a nutshell, to stop repeat questioning or messaging, a response must be:
- Thoughtful – It shows that you have carefully considered the request
- Definitive – Provide clear, committed answers (date, time, etc.)
- Solution-oriented – It must solve the problem at hand or bring a satisfying close to the conversation
Putting the shoe on the other foot, as communicators in business or just everyday life, we want our messages to be acted upon in the manner that we prefer. Therefore, if I were to give advice to this man’s wife, I would tell her to clearly request a response from her husband. Her messaging should:
- Include a call-to-action with a deadline – You must ask for what you want to receive it. Putting a deadline on the response influences individuals to provide the answer within your timeframe.
- Use a variety methods – Ask in different ways. If verbal requests are not productive, ask in writing (email, text, etc.).
- Provide incentives – Whenever possible, provide incentives to make it easier for the response to be “Yes!” Businesses offer discounts or free gifts to encourage sales. In the window cleaning example, the wife could offer to help her husband do the job on any day that he’s available or she could reward him with his favorite meal once the job is done.
- Be respectful – Tone is critical in communication. Respectful tone receives favorable response.
- Be direct – Get straight to point in a concise manner. Don’t beat around the bush and say “the windows are looking a bit dirty…” and expect that another person will eagerly volunteer to clean them.
In general, to have people act on your communications, you need to drive them to respond. Once you do this, you eliminate the need to “nag.”