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Communication is a double-edged sword. It works best when you say what you want, not what you don’t want.
I live on a farm in a very picturesque part of the countryside. One of my neighbors raises horses. At weekends people come out from the city to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. Sometimes, they stop and feed my neighbor’s horses.
“They’re driving me nuts,” he told me one Saturday morning. “Horses don’t eat left over hamburgers and pizza: they’re vegetarians, for heavens sake! They just sniff it and drop it right there. Before long it attracts flies and rats and dogs. So, I put up a sign ‘Do Not Feed The Horses,’ but the problem got worse.”
“I’m not surprised,” I said. “Now people who’d never even thought about feeding the horses until they saw your sign thought ‘oh let’s feed the horses.”
“I thought it was because the sign was too pushy. So I changed it to read ‘Please Do Not Feed The Horses,’ but it got even worse.”
“No kidding? Now people drive by and think, ‘Oh what a great idea, let’s stop and let granny and the kids feed the horses. This guy’s polite, he says ‘please,’ he won’t mind.”
“Nick, you’ve got to help me I’m at my wit’s end.”
I scribbled a few words on a scrap of paper. “Try putting this on your sign.”
I didn’t see him again until the end of summer. One evening his truck pulled up in my driveway and he got out smiling.
“Nick, it worked like magic.”
That was three years ago. If you drive by today you can see the sign for yourself. It simply reads, “We only eat apples and carrots.”
Moral of the story: Communication is a double-edged sword. It works best when you say what you want, not what you don’t want.