No More Nots:
Change Your Language. Change Your Business.

By Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC

Recently, I’ve been noticing just how often my clients, and others wanting to get more business or have more impact, use ‘not’ in their sentences. In everyday life, ‘not’ is a common way to find a sense of camaraderie through a common sense of lack or confusion. ‘My kids don’t listen,’ or ‘My husband/wife just doesn’t understand.’ These phrases are so common. They’re the entry point for the other person to nod in agreement and then commiserate about the confusions of life. Many people have learned to bond around things that are negative. I must admit, this sometimes confounds me and, quite honestly, bores me; but I understand its purpose.

I find it so fascinating that in business and leadership, ‘not’ is actually a problematic word. Yes, it’s important to use it where appropriate, but in business, people want to be inspired to see that their life or their problem can be fixed so they can achieve their goal or their dream. It requires that you use the word ‘not’ judiciously to make a point rather than to engage from a position of lack.

Here are some common ‘not phrases’ I’ve heard just this week:

~ ‘I don’t want clients who don’t do their work.’

~ ‘I don’t want to appear full-of-myself because it’s not how I want to be seen in the world.’

~ ‘No one came to the class because it was not promoted, so we’re going to try again tomorrow but we don’t have time to do outreach.’

Next, some quite humorous ones (in a confusing sort of way):

~ ‘My goal? To not work so much so that I don’t have so little time for my family but I can’t imagine that not happening.’

~ ‘I think I can streamline my time by not taking on the projects I don’t want but I can’t imagine how I could do that.’

~ ‘The clients I work with never seem to be not able to get their information to me but it’s impossible to get them not to do that.’

Recently, while talking with one client, we both had to laugh at just how convoluted his speaking was when knotted with ‘nots.’ He realized he used ’not’ to keep his real opinion and insight veiled behind complaints, so that others wouldn’t ‘shoot down’ his idea or reject his input.

In reality though, others stopped listening. His ‘nots’ kept people from turning to him for counsel, because they didn’t want to hear complaints. They wanted to hear insights or new ways to achieve their goals.

Sadly, his story is a common one. Business leaders and owners often wonder why someone else, less talented, gets the business or the leadership opportunities. The reason: People want and need leaders and business owners that can help them see possibility. ‘Not’ denies it.

What to say instead?

To begin: Notice where, and how often, you use ‘nots.’ If you are a ‘not-er,’ be compassionate with yourself. It’s more common than you might think.

Next: Practice using language devoid of ‘not.’ Try it for a day. Get ready to do ‘redos.’ And get ready to talk less and feel the discomfort of saying what you really know, want, believe in. With the client whose language was littered with multiple ‘nots’ in every sentence, we decided to stop him each time he said ‘not’ and then have him reconsider how he could say what he really believed or wanted. The good news: The next day I got an email from him. ‘OMG,’ he said, ‘what a difference in just one day!’

The most important part: Notice any common themes of where you use ‘nots’ to keep you safe from identifying what you really want. Get ready to realize that the big issue may be that you need to take time to get clear on what you want. And again, be easy on yourself. Most people are new to staking a claim for themselves and their vision.

Start naming what you do want. If you notice a particular situation (or situations) where ‘not’ is prevalent, take time to identify:

~ What do you really want? (Get specific.)
~ What are you concerned about happening if you say your truth? (Name what you perceive as the consequences.)
~ What keeps you from asking for it? (This is where the ‘nots’ really want to creep in.)

Find a ‘not, not’ buddy. One of my clients asked a friend to see what it would be like to have a conversation without a single ‘not.’ They both were stunned at how quickly and how many ‘nots’ showed up in their conversation. They found that once they muscled through the initial awkwardness, their discussion became far more curious and sparked far more interest.

Then take a field trip into the world. See if you can go through the day without a single ‘not.’ And then notice what happens when you do. And as you do, please let me know what you discover.