Nouns vs. Verbs to Motivate

Got a question from the Peanut Gallery. Stacey in New Mexico asked:

I just read this: “Use nouns rather than verbs to get people to change their behavior.” I cannot wrap my mind around that. Could you please give me examples?

My answer:

I think they mean that using verbs makes you sound bossy, like you are telling them what to do.

Example: Don’t drink and drive.

People tend to rebel or look for loopholes when they hear commands like that, human nature being what it is.

On the other hand, look at what my company, Occidental Petroleum, has as our core principles:

Integrity, Investment, Innovation

Those are nouns, and when they are set before people as goals, people strive to achieve these things, doing whatever it takes.

So your troubling statement suggests that the latter is more effective than giving commands in getting people to change their behavior.

Here’s what behavioral psychologist Susan Weinschenk, who wrote the book How To Get People To Do Stuff, says on the subject:

“People need to belong….  If you use nouns when making a request, rather than verbs – for example: ‘Be a donor’ versus ‘Donate now’ –  it results in more people taking action. That’s because nouns invoke group identity.”

So that goes along with my thoughts. Try it and tell me if it works, and I will do the same.




One Response to “Nouns vs. Verbs to Motivate”

  1. MelHopkinsdotcom Says:

    Yes – it makes sense. Sort of like feedback loops in technology. For example : those radar detectors that post the speed limit then show you how fast you’re going. Studies have shown they decrease speeding in the area -more than police giving tickets. Great observation.

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