9.1 2019

No “please.”

“Please” and Other Ways of Gaining Cooperation
by Margaret Berge, Friends Center Social Work Intern

It is ingrained in us by society to use a polite “please” when asking for cooperation. The problem with this is that “please” isn’t honest or correct. It conveys a choice when there isn’t one. This can be confusing to young children, and even to adults.
Over the last few months, I’ve been exploring being purposeful with my language choices. The exact way that we phrase things makes a huge impact on how our messages are received.

For example, rather than saying, “Please go hang up that coat,” we can say, “Let’s go hang up the coat. I’ll go with you.” This is more direct and cooperative. Also, using contractions when appropriate helps make the communication more relaxed.

The attached pdf demonstrates my process toward being mindful and intentional about my phrasing choices.

For me, the exploration started with an interaction I recorded with a child in December 2018. Upon reviewing it, I became aware that I said, “please” a lot. A LOT. This started me on an exploration of what the word means, and what it implies. “Please” is certainly intended to be polite, modeling good manners. And it does these things. It also conveys the idea to the person you are talking to that your message is a request — one that they can either comply with, or not.

This awareness led me to consider phrases that I could use instead of please, which could convey the message I wanted to send without the ambiguity. I began to notice all the times I said “please” to friends and what we were doing in that moment. I thought about how I could reword it, and wrote a list of what I actually said, and ways I thought I could have said it better. I then went over that list with a fine tooth comb and refined it again, really digging deep into each word and message: what was intended, and what a child might hear. Did they really get the message? What was confusing? What was simple? What was difficult? And then I refined it again.

I’m still practicing applying these phrases, and finding that they are sometimes successful and sometimes not. But as I practice, this way of communicating becomes more naturally and consistently. And I say “please” far less often than when I started, with better results.

I’ve learned that when I change the ways that I frame the interactions with children, I am also changing the nature of my relationships. I started out in a place that was directive, yet passive. I was an adult asking them to comply with my wishes. By changing the ways that I phrase my words, I am able to be direct and keep the interaction calm, relaxed, and natural. In the end, the child cooperates, usually. This often can diffuse a situation with a child before it gets to a point where they feel stressed. My more mindful choices also allow space for the child to feel fully seen and understood. This helps a more meaningful relationship to develop between us.