Why Your Reminders Should Be Subtle

When asking others for a favor, or to complete a task, there may come a time to remind them to do the things you’ve asked from them. You may be an office manager trying to get your team on track, or find yourself needing to remind your significant other that they’ve left the water boiling on the stove. Reminding others of things they may, or may not, have forgotten can be a sensitive domain to navigate.

Though it may seem innocent by nature, being reminded of a task tells us that those reminding us assume we’ve forgotten what to do. If not properly delivered, a reminder can be interpreted as an attack on a person’s expertise in the domain and overall time management skills. Your team may be fully aware of the timelines they need to uphold, and your significant other may have only stepped away from the stove for a brief moment in time. Handing out reminders when they’re not deserved can annoy your listener, and lead to the opposite of what you intended the reminder to result in.

For the reasons above, reminders should be voiced with subtlety. You should not assume forgetfulness and incompetence in the listener, and should be sensitive to variances in interpretation of the reminders that you voice. This article aims to suggest two points to remember when reminding people of things they’ve committed to doing.

Separate Reminders and Criticism

It’s best for your reminder to contain no hints of criticism within it. For example, if a team member has forgotten to email you a file important for the completion of your work, don’t say something along the lines of, “hey James, you’ve taken two weeks to get me that file I asked for. Can you please send it over soon?” Side comments such as your displeasure with the length of time it takes for others to complete tasks serve no benefit to your likeness. People will not be motivated to complete your asks faster, and will avoid doing favors for you in the future. Coupling your reminders with criticisms may work to rush your listener out of fear of repercussions, but it lowers their motivation to do good work and learn from their mistakes if they exist.

Ensure that your reminders are free from any side-comments, criticisms, or personal opinions about the effort and timeliness of others’ work. Your reminders should be lean, containing nothing other than what you seek to be completed. If your significant other was supposed to drop by the store after work, your reminder should not assume that they’ve forgotten. You should make your reminders quick and neutral in tone. Be sure to only voice them once. As soon as you receive confirmation from your listener that they’ve heard what you’ve reminded them of, do not stay on the subject.

Criticism can be assumed by your listener from the words that you use, not just the statements that you make. For example, saying, “don’t forget to stop by the store,” is more critical in tone than saying, “Are you going to stop by the store?” The words, “don’t forget,” make a subtle reference to the fact that you expected your listener to forget. They’ll feel like you expect them to fail, and that you find it necessary to keep them on the right track. Subtle references to their poor performance can result in effects you don’t anticipate. These nuances are what make reminders a slippery slope should they be wrongly interpreted. It’s difficult to save yourself from an emotional response to a reminder that you make, and it can put an even bigger wrench in the plans you aimed to place back on track.

Questions Hurt Less Than Statements

Another point to remember is that questions leading to a realization of a reminder are more effective than statements with the same goal. Asking a series of questions which lead to your listener remembering to do what’s needed will muddy the waters of critique, and will make it seem like they had a stake in reminding themselves of what needs to be done. To take the example of reminding your significant other to go to the store, ask “How is traffic looking on the way to the store?” A question like that will either be answered at once, indicating that they remember about going to the store, or will lead to a chain of thoughts that lead to remembering to do so. Questions leading to a realization serve to cover the first point of not criticizing the listener, as well as allowing them to have ownership of the reminder itself.

Allowing them to have ownership of the reminder will take attention away from you. It will serve to motivate them to complete the task at hand rather than feel disdain for being reminded to do it by someone else.

In summary, navigate the realm of reminders carefully in your quest to control behavior. Try to limit emotional responses to your reminders by not criticizing and by posing questions which serve to lead to the reminders themselves. Be subtle in your approach of reminding others, and move on from them quickly. Once you’ve achieved the task of reminding others, do not repeat yourself or stay on the subject. Become smooth and clean in your efforts to keep others on track, and make them feel motivated to do what serves to benefit both themselves as well as you.

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