Stop Being a Nag

“You’re such a nag!”

You’ve heard it before, either in conversation with others or said directly to you. Whether it’s the mother trying to teach her child to do this or that. Or the spouse who is tiring of waiting for the other to get something done. Or the coworker/boss whose hanging over the top of someone’s desk making sure they get to that report they need. Whatever the situation, it’s frustrating and annoying for both the nagging one and the one being nagged.

So here are some simple steps to remove nagging from your toolbox to get things done.

  1. Define what needs to be done (be as specific as possible) and focus on the end result and why it is important to you. For example, the dishes need to be clean. How they get there does not matter. Most conflicts occur around unmet expectations, so defining exactly what those expectations are is important. For a brief example, ask a teen to clean their room and don’t be surprised when you open the closet door. Instead you can tell them what it includes, or better yet, make a list. It’s better not to assume that they know what you mean.
  2. Set a time limit for when it will be completed. This is the most important step. “I’ll get to it.” is the most common predecessor to nagging.  Ask questions like “how long will it take?”, “when can I expect it to be done?”. If you wish to reduce worry and conflict, set an exact day and time.  The nag can then let it go and go about their business until that day and time. No need to nag.
  3. Set consequences for yourself and others. If it doesn’t get done, then what?  You can do it yourself and choose to exchange it for some task that they ask for you to do. You can hire it done (works great for plumbing and carpentry tasks). You can wage a bet on it getting done, so the person who doesn’t get it done loses the bet. You can discover that there is no adequate consequence and therefore choose another way to get it done.  And if it gets done, consider consequences for that too.
  4. If you are being nagged: pay attention to how your behavior is affecting others. Find out why they need it done and when. Be honest about your ability to get it done in a certain time frame and explain what is in the way. Follow through on your agreements in order to build trust. And be open to other ways of getting it done. If you are not able to complete the task, perhaps someone else needs to and you may have to pay for it to be done. Accept other’s choices and the consequences that come with your behaviors.
  5. If you are the nag:  understand others’ limitations, lack of knowledge or ability to complete the task. If they say that they can’t do it, or can’t complete it in a certain time-frame, accept it.  I’m betting that you would prefer their honesty to the alternative battle of passive-aggression.  At least you know what you are dealing with and can make decisions accordingly.
  6. Go through the steps again if you find that it doesn’t work the first time. Perhaps it wasn’t defined clearly enough, the time limit wasn’t accurate, limitations weren’t considered. The consequences may still be in effect as external deadlines loom, but you’ve learned valuable lessons along the way.
  7. Now sit back and relax. You have a plan. If you feel the urge to nag, breathe deeply, remember the plan and distract yourself!

So there you have it. Define it. Set a time limit. Set consequences. Accept each other’s perspective. Then relax. Because it will get done, or else (wink).

by Anne Pariseau  – Anne is a licensed mental health therapist with a background in psychology and 25 years of experience in a variety of settings worldwide including the Yale Child Study Center and Trinity College Dublin. Through these experiences, she has developed a passion for bringing the lessons of therapy to the larger community, demonstrating how to shift attitudes and behaviors towards health and wellness.


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