Interview with writer Bob Selden

Writer Bob Selden is in
the hot seat today. We’re chatting about his communication/self-help book, Don’t: How Using the Right Words Will Change
Your Life.
Bob Selden has coached many sporting teams and
coaches over the last 30 years, and has taught leadership at the prestigious International
Institute for Management Development, Lausanne Switzerland and the Australian
Graduate School of Management, Sydney.
Bob has a degree in psychology
and qualifications in management and organizational psychology. He is the
author the best-selling book What to Do
When You Become the Boss
, which has sold over 55,000 copies and been published
in four languages.
Welcome, Bob. Please tell us about your current
release, Don’t:
How Using the Right Words Will Change Your Life.
Why do some people seem to
have all the luck? The answer is simple: people with a more positive outlook
can recognise opportunities that others miss. How? By converting negativity
into a powerfully positive working and personal life.

My new book DON’T shows
you how to avoid the negativity in your life and your relationships. DON’T
shows you how to filter out negative words and phrases which create both
negative thinking in your brain and negative behaviour in your life. The book
suggests words, phrases and actions to encourage the very opposite of
negativity. You’ll soon learn how positive words can and will activate the positive parts of your mind. 

answers the question
‘can the words we use in general conversation actually impact our
relationships?’ The answer is yes, we do behave according to the words we hear
and use. For example, recent studies show young male drivers increase their
speed when they hear male-type words like “beard”, ‘tough’ and ‘rough’ – yet
female-sounding words like “lipstick”, ‘pink’ and ‘gentle’ make them slow down.
We are surrounded and misled by thousands of negative messages every day.

Using multiple how-to examples,
scientific studies and stories from real-life, DON’T is packed with practical
insights into what makes us who we are. Discover how to transform your working
and personal life into positive successes which flows from a new understanding
of positive action and perception.

What makes some people more successful
and dynamic than others? Is it luck, upbringing, training? Or could it be
something as simple and powerful as the words we use? I invite you to find the
answers in my new book DON’T and take a new path.

What inspired you to write this book?
I remember standing
in a gift store in Canberra, Australia some years ago when a mother with two
young boys entered the shop. At their age of about three or four the only thing
children want to do is to touch and feel things – to explore. The store was stacked
full of open shelves with many delicate and breakable items such as glass and
chinaware. If you were the boys’ parent, what would be your natural instruction
to your children?

In those days my instructions
would probably have been, “Don’t touch anything”. I’m pretty sure your
instructions might have been quite similar.

By using an instruction such as
“Don’t touch anything” the only visual image the boys receive is ‘touch
anything’. Although we put the word ‘don’t’ in front of ‘touch anything’, there
is absolutely no visual image for the word ‘don’t’. The boys are left with the
image of the act of touching anything (and knowing boys of that age, probably
touching everything).

Not only is there no image for
‘don’t’, it creates a further problem. People, and particularly children, have
to double-process. The child has to think “What does she NOT want me to do?” as
well as “What does she want me TO DO instead?” This can be very confusing,
especially for young children as they may not know or understand the ‘to do’
part or have difficulty accessing it in memory.

Those of you who are parents will
probably remember the many necessary corrective actions or commands which have
to follow the instruction of “Don’t touch anything” (it rarely works).

You could surmise that this is
simply ‘children being children’, or ‘boys will be boys’. I believe there’s
another reason.

Let’s return to the mother and
her boys. Instead of saying “Don’t touch anything” to my surprise she actually
said “Boys, keep your hands in your pockets until we get back outside this
shop”. Here the image is of ‘putting hands in pockets’ – there is no mention of
touching anything. Not only has she given them a positive instruction of what
to do, she’s also put a finish-time on it, “until we get back outside this
shop”. Brilliant! That experience has stayed with me for many years.

The impact of giving positive
instructions with an image of what you want the child to do rather than putting
‘don’t’ in front of what you want them not to do can be seen immediately. If
you’re a parent, try it out sometime.

And that’s what got me started on
the impact words have on our behavior.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m still thinking
about that. I’ve discussed co-authoring a book on “How to successfully run a
family business: with a colleague of mine who is an expert in that field – it
could be a good partnership as he’s the expert and I’m the writer.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s a very good
question. Until recently, I’ve always considered myself a management consultant
with the aim of helping managers become better managers. Then I wrote my first
book What to Do When You Become the Boss:
How New Managers Become Successful Managers
which has currently sold 55,000
copies and been published in four languages. At this point I started thinking
“Perhaps I am a writer after all”. And recently when my wife suggested I work
on the messages in “Don’t” (which has been an integral part of who I am for the
last 30+ years), I’m now just (a little embarrassingly) starting to call myself
a writer.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day
like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to
I write a
number of short articles and like to work early morning when I’m fresh. I get
ideas from the media that take my fancy and which relate to a topic of interest
for me (there are plenty at the moment with all the negativity in the world
being described with negative words – war – politics – sport – instead of
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I like to
listen to people having conversations in coffee shops. For example, with my
current interest in the impact of negative words I heard one person last week
saying to his partner “You know, that’s not a bad idea. Why wouldn’t that
work?” Whereas I would suggest “That’s a very good idea. I believe it will
work”. And today I heard at my local coffee shop, another (male) saying to his
partner “Don’t worry about it”, whereas I would suggest “That will be OK” or
“This will work out well”.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I seem not to have had any really great ambitions to be anything when I was
younger, except to do everything I do to the best of my ability. I am a very
high-achiever and set myself tough goals, so I’m always looking for a new
Anything additional you want to share with the
I’m now
just recovering from lymphoma which I contracted in April and am in full
remission. I believe part of my successful outcome (in addition to the
specialist treatment) has been the positive approach I’ve been able to display.
If readers would like to hear the short story it’s here and the short 
(5 mins) 
I was able to complete
while still on chemo.

Thanks for being here
today, Bob!

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