“Not Bad”; Why Say Something You’re Not..?

A 5-year-old Callan in thought

One day when my son Callan (who was about 5 years old at the time) I were out I ran into someone I’d known back when I’d owned a bar and was in the music scene. We say hi, shake hands and chat superficially, which included my asking; “How have you been?” They answered; “Not bad,” We chatted for about half a minute before I introduced Callan. Callan thrust out his hand and shook it firmly (like he’d been taught) and confidently said; “Hello,” Callan was then asked; “And how are you young man?”, to which Callan replied; “I’m not a car.”

From an early age I’d taught Callan to pay attention, learn to articulate, ask better questions, to listen to what people are actually saying. Needless to say he took me quite literally in this example! It reminds me of when kids need to go to the bathroom and we tell them to “Hold on,” they take that quite literally too. So it shouldn’t have been any surprise to hear Callan’s explanation as to why he just told a stranger that he wasn’t a car.

In a very Yoda-like voice (maybe he’d seen Star Wars recently?)  Callan explained; “Why say something that you’re not?” The person we’d run into chuckled nervously, shook my hands again, and left. It was only later that day that I fully understood exactly what Callan was getting at. Callan saw that most people (in their superficial social exchanges) told each other what they were not – instead of saying what they were. He considered this some kind of lying, likening it to “It wasn’t me [who drew on the wall…etc]”. By saying “I’m not bad” raised questions to Callan as we talked such as; Are people normally bad however right now they’re not?  Has the word “good” become such a non-descriptive word that people avoid using it? Are people not wanting to be honest in a social exchange in order to be polite? It is more honest to say “not bad” than it is to say “good” – if you’re really not feeling great?

Lots are great thoughts came up between us – and we played with it a little. I’d heard of a NZ business that banned the word “good” from being used – and had worked as a mortgage broker in a business that took that on board. Anytime someone used the word “good”, it was 10 press ups – not matter whether you were in a meeting or on the phone. The purchase? To have us pay more attention to what we’re saying, and good doesn’t really say much. So Callan and I took on the challenge (excluding the press ups!). He learnt to roll words off his tongue such as “great, excellent, awesome, fantastic, brilliant…” – much more descriptive and arouses more emotion than good. I don’t remember just when we stopped playing that game.

I think that children are as much teachers to adults as adults are to children – as long as we take the time to stop and listen to them. These little people are filled with such simple wisdom!

About Stu Dunn

Becoming proficient with non verbal communication and teaching what I’ve learnt over the years has become an absolute passion of mine; starting with beginning the SDL Behavioural Science Facebook Page, then set up my first online course in 2011, and my first book on the subject True Lies, A Guide to Reading Faces, Interpreting Body Language & Detecting Deception in the Real World was published in 2013. During this time I’ve helped thousands of people around the world become proficient in reading body language, micro expressions and detecting deception – and I’d love to help you too.
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1 Response to “Not Bad”; Why Say Something You’re Not..?

  1. SDL says:

    Thanks very much, I appreciate your feedback!

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