Content marketing: Telling Meaningful Stories

Why to be careful with directive language 

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“Do this…”

“Here’s how you should do ….”

Directive language – aka being bossy – hardly ever works. People don’t have to have to listen to it anyway. Short-term compliance won’t help us reach long-term goals.

I once had a boss say to me: 

“… And we have no choice but to do this. Go do it.”

There’s always a choice. Always. Maybe you’ll get fired by not attending a meeting, doing a  specific task or whatever  – so you might have to live with the consequences – but there’s a choice in how we want to continue forward in our story most of the time. 

And then once the meeting is over, without buy-in nothing from the meeting will be moved forward. I once did a training for a borderline hostile group that was required to attend. They did fullfil that requirement and then hat was that. The boss bought in. They didn’t. So the project won’t work. 

People change by choice and through buy-in. Bossyness hardly ever breeds longterm change and never buy-in.

Ask managers how much they can acrually accomplish with people who aren’t actually bought in, whether they can officially direct them or not often makes little difference. Complicance without buy-in is short-term. Output is minimal. 

This also goes all directions. I’ve seen people who have no official power over somebody else try to be directive and guess where that went? Same thing. Nowhere. 

Instead of all this directing, maybe just change up a few words and communicate better:

“Effective immediately” in a memo could become a text  “can we talk about this urgent thing quickly” to main stakeholders.

“You are required to do this….” could become “I need your help with this.”

I want to always help! I’m so glad you asked!

Change “shoulds” to “woulds” as in “could you help me?”

And make recommendations, so:

My recommendation would be to do …. based on ….

As opposed to:

Do this….

Some older school managers and people who grew up in directive environments  will say: “I don’t need to ask for permission.”

Sure, you don’t. Especially if it only affects you. But if you need other people’s help, you’ll need their buy-in.

“And what if I don’t get it?”

Why are they on the team? Ask them! What goal isn’t being shared? Maybe they have a better idea? Yup, the best ideas don’t always come from the fanciest title. 

The other problem with directive language without buy-in is that there are loopholes. My first social media policy – which admittedly was bad – required people to link to the website for more. Many of the reporters in the field didn’t buy into it and tweeted like they always had and added a link. 

Obviously, that wasn’t the point but they followed the directive correctly. I didn’t have their buy-in.

People change or participate because they choose to. Choice is huge and gets people to do things. 

Here’s to collaboration, choice and buy-in toward a shared goal. I hope you choose to participate. 


Christoph Trappe

Hello and thanks for stopping by. I'm Christoph Trappe and I'm the Vice President of Content Marketing Strategy, Americas, at ScribbleLive, which is based in Toronto and is a global content marketing software company. Before I started at ScribbleLive I was VP of Content Marketing and Conversion at MedTouch, a Boston-based company that helps healthcare organizations with digital marketing. I've written two books, speak at conferences around the globe and blog frequently on here. I love sharing my stories and helping organizations share theirs. If you need help, just visit the Contact Me page in the navigation and drop me a note. I'm always happy to chat! Thanks for reading! - Christoph ctrappe@christophtrappe.com 319-389-9853

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