Do words affect our thoughts, feelings, and responsive actions?

If I “cue” you to sit in a chair, what is your reaction? What is the language that suggests a cue? What relationship might we build from there?

If I “direct” you to sit in a chair, what is your reaction? What is the language of direction? What relationship might we build from there?

And if I “command” or “order” you to sit in a chair, what is your reaction? What is the language and emotion behind a command or an order? What relationship might we build from there?

In all cases you are now sitting in a chair (or not) but…how do you feel about it? How do you feel about me?  How do I feel about you, and my ability (or power) to make you do things?

And if you opt not to sit in the chair for any reason, what do each of these words suggest will happen next?

In the year 2018, I’d really like to think that most of us have removed the word “command” or “order” from our vocabulary under the vast majority of circumstances. At best, the implication is that failure to respond may well be met with some type of force or negative consequence and at worst, it poisons our thinking vis a vis the other.

Does it matter what we say? What we call these words that we generate in our thoughts and express from our mouths?

Yes, it absolutely does.

“Command” comes from a military model of the world.  It assumes both a hierarchy and a punishment based system. One being has authority over another and a system of punishing consequences is well established to deal with those who fail to comply.

I cannot remember the last time I commanded anyone to do anything.  Not even when I worked with inmates in a locked facility (7 years!).  I didn’t command people to do things. I directed them. “Commanding” obedience would have been a good way to end up on the wrong side of a very angry group of individuals, and the general consensus among both staff and management was that avoiding adversarial interactions was an excellent idea.  My position power was enough to either get the job done or to provide me with excellent leverage should I have needed it.

And when I fired people for a living (3 years!)?  I often advised managers of challenging employees to “order” an employee to do something that was currently not happening.  I did this because it was a legal requirement before termination, not because I thought it was a good idea.

And what happened after orders were given?  Well, the “ordered” individual either did or did not comply, but they sure turned into a sullen mess from that day forward, pretty much ensuring the misery of everyone around them even as they managed to stay on the “right” side of employment.  No surprise there.   Commanding and ordering others is surely one of the ugliest forms of interaction.  No one thrives on being powerless, and no healthy relationship thrives that way either.

Language matters.

There’s no reason for a person to command another person.  If you are a teacher, judge, or evaluator, go ahead and direct others.  There is no reason to “command” your dog either.  Cue him and take your decision making from there as well.

Maybe it’s time to stop thinking in terms of having your “commands” obeyed or disobeyed and start thinking in terms of creating circumstances that allow for a win/win.  To get there, choose words which align with the relationship you’d like to have.

Next week I’ll give you some ideas about training in a manner that avoids forward creep in the new Cue Discrimination Exercise in AKC Open Obedience.


Note: Late registration at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy wraps up on Thursday the 15th, so pick your class and get registered if you’ve been procrastinating!