Nix the Nagging

He forgets to take out the trash, leaves the toilet seat up and ignores your reasonable requests to pick up his clothes off the floor. What’s a woman to do … besides nag?

But then when you’ve frustrated yourself to no end, you simply give in and pick up those grimy clothes because it’s just easier to do it yourself than to continually ask to no avail. But once you’ve figured out nagging doesn’t work, you might consider more effective alternatives.

Most of us know nagging is aggravating because we’ve all been nagged. But we often don’t recognize it when we are the ones initiating the nag-fest. To us, we’re just making a sensible request someone is ignoring, so we must repeat ourselves. But surely if we could record ourselves, and replay our persistent badgering, we’d likely be appalled at how irritating we can come across!

Nagging makes others defensive and feel personally attacked. It has a distinct “I know better than you” element able to immediately put people off. It is often perceived as criticism, so “the nagged” may well tune you out making what you are saying ineffective.

Nagging can be described as complaining, criticizing, repeated coaxing, incessantly insisting, nit-picking, being hypercritical, pestering, or being relentlessly unrelenting and overly demanding. Like the annoying drip of a leaky faucet, nagging soon becomes the focus, taking the attention off the actual plea being presented. Nagging is an irritant, which causes the listener to either ignore the grating request or to simply do the opposite just to be defiant.

You may well have a valid request, but until you deliver it in a form other than nagging, your repeated appeal will likely be met with resentment. Whether to a spouse, a child, an employee or a coworker, if you want something done, learn to ask in a strategic, nonthreatening manner to produce the results you need. Otherwise, a simple request to bring the groceries in from the car can turn into an all-out battle able to evolve into an even bigger issue simply because the directive came off as a debasing demand.

The first rule of thumb: Avoid using language that can make others feel stupid. Posing blame or stating a demeaning remark is a sure-fire way to come off as a raving nag. If you want results, you’ll have to learn to prevent the illusion of an attack, which means you should keep criticisms out of your request. Statements like, “Since you never lift a finger around the house, why don’t you do me a favor and take out the trash for once,” won’t motivate anyone to give you a hand. And if a discussion does ensue after a comment like that, it will likely be a debate about who actually does more work around the house, while the trash still sits rotting away.

Positive tactics can motivate others to act. Avoiding ultimatums such as, “So help me, if I have to ask you one more time to pick up your clothes, I’ll put them in the trash as I find them,” is another good policy. Try expressing your feelings or posing a question instead of stating a demand with an attached provocation. Explain to your partner how a pile of clothes on the floor after a long day at work makes you feel overwhelmed and discouraged and then ask if he will give you a hand by being mindful to pick up his clothes. Or, you can respectfully ask, “Honey, I know you’ve worked hard like me and you’re probably just as tired as I am, but would you help me out by hanging up your clothes or putting them away? It would mean a great deal to me.” Using phrases like “would you” or “will you” rather than “could you” or “can you” are more gracious and therefore more effective when making a call for help.

Avoiding long lectures and keeping requests brief can diffuse an attack and keep the spotlight on the task being addressed. If your spouse truly has a pattern of avoidance, you might want to have a rational, problem-solving discussion and come to a conclusion that is suitable for both of you. Acknowledge your divergent perspectives about household chores and expectations.

Don’t wait until you’re completely exasperated to take this on, but when you have the time for a meaningful discussion, you might want to pursue a conversation like this: “I know my need for order might be maddening to you, and I know you don’t throw your clothes on the floor just to test me, but can we explore this subject and see if we can find a solution to satisfy my need for tidiness and your need to unwind without restrictions?” Don’t be cynical or guarded, but have an equitable “give and take” with an aim on finding a working plan about the matter going forward.

Ask your spouse what motivates him and what rubs him the wrong way. It will do you a world of good to know how he’s wired and how he best responds to your needs. And, of course, positive reinforcement goes a long way to affirming how important something is to you. When he finally does pick up his clothes, be sure to express your gratitude that he was sensitive to your need.

While you have a right to make a reasonable request for help at home or at work, always keep in mind nagging is a communication “don’t.” Those who feel harassed want to avoid you, not come to your aid. But learn how to courteously ask for what you want and state it in a manner that describes your desire for someone’s help and you’ll get results.

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