The Last Straw
Last week, I was outside in my bare feet and had come in to use the toilet.
On my way back inside, I inadvertently stepped on a couple of drops of water. My slightly dirty feet got slightly wet, I then got the carpet slightly dirty when I stepped on it.
I didn’t realize my mistake.
But Kim sure did. And she let me know with a nagging barrage of blame and shame.
She was right to be mad, but her nagging pissed me off just as much as my “thoughtlessness, carelessness, selfishness, and messiness” pissed her off.
So I decided then and there to come up with a better way for Kim to get her way without nagging.
Removing Relationship Warts With W.A.R.T.
I dug into my notes from all the books I’d read on habits, psychology, relationships, negotiation, and interpersonal skills. I extracted anything that might apply to how to stop nagging. Then I brought it all together to end up with…
…the W.A.R.T Technique
Four simple steps: Wait, Agree, Remind, and Thank. It just so happened that they spelled out W.A.R.T.
The little things that we nag each other about are just like warts. They aren’t a big deal, but they rightfully bother us, especially if they keep reappearing. Eventually, we get fed up, rip at them with our nagging, and cause a bloody mess that rarely gets rid of the wart and often leaves scars.
But not with the W.A.R.T. Technique. It’s more painless, more subtle, and much more effective.
Is W.A.R.T. Too Much Work?
I’m going to go into a lot of detail on the W.A.R.T. Technique with plenty of examples, but you’ll see it’s not that difficult.
If you think it’s too much work, that’s a good sign your issues aren’t worth nagging about. Suck it up and live with the little warts.
Resist the temptation to nag. Give your emotions time to cool down and yourself time to come up with a sneaky effective strategy to present to your nagee at the right moment later on.
✓ Write It Down
Whatever you’re itching to nag about, write it down instead.
Write it down in private. Passive-aggressively writing down your frustrations in front of your nagee does not help.
Example: “That a**hole Chris f*cked up the carpet again with his goddam grungy feet.”
✓ Set Your Goals
Beside your gripe, write down:
- What you want.
- What you want your offender to do to help make it happen.
Example: “I want to spend less time and money cleaning the floors and carpets. To do so, I want Chris to wash his feet any time he comes in from being barefoot outside.
✓ Make it Win-Win
“The only way to influence people is to talk about what they want and to show them how to get it.”Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
This is the most crucial step of all.
What’s in it for your nagee?
If they don’t get some reward out of doing what you want, they won’t do it. It has to be win-win.
- You do something they want in return. “If you wash your feet like I ask, I’ll make you nachos twice a month.”
- A financial reward. “I had to spend $50 getting a stain removed from the carpet last month. If you keep your feet clean and we can avoid those costs next month, you can use that money on that super-expensive Belgian beer you like.”
- Self-validation. “You’re a rational and thoughtful guy. Don’t you agree it’s more efficient to prevent a mess by proactively washing your feet than it is to clean up floors and carpets after the fact?”
Punishment is not a good motivator. It has to be a positive reward, not something like, “If you don’t do what I say, I will [not put out/take away your video games/not cook for us for a week].”
✓ Wait For The Right Moment
Wait until a moment when your nagee’s most likely to agree to bring up the topic.
- Just after you’ve done something nice for your nagee, when they feel indebted to you. “I’m glad you appreciated the [massage, meal, errand I ran for you]. Speaking of appreciate, I’ve been waiting for the right time so we could talk about something…”
- After you make a concession to them. “Ok, I get why the dinging noise my phone makes every time I get a text annoys you. I’ll turn it off for you. By the way, I wanted to talk about another small annoying thing we could fix…”
- At an agreed-upon time. One of my favorite relationship hacks is to set up a weekly time where you can review the status of your relationship.
Use constructive, collaborative dialogue to agree with your nagee on what you expect from them, what they can expect from you, and the rewards and penalties.
See How to Change Someone’s Mind with Belief Remodeling for related tips.
✓ Start With A Compliment
“Give them a fine reputation to live up to, and they will make prodigious efforts rather than see you disillusioned.”Dale Carnegie
Starting with compliments gets your conversation going in a positive direction.
More importantly, it makes your nagee want to act in ways that prove your compliments are true.
This means you should compliment your nagee for having positive traits you want them to demonstrate more: generosity, unselfishness, thoughtfulness, rationality, etc.
Hopefully they have one or two such qualities. If not, lie. They’ll believe it anyway.
- “You’re a conscientious [kid/partner/spouse] who tries to do what’s best for us. I’d like to ask what you think about… ”
- “You’re a brilliant guy who always acts with good reason and not on impulse. I wanted to talk through something with you…”
✓ Let Them Own the Agreement
Bring up your goal and ask for your nagee’s help to use their problem-solving skills to come up with ideas on how to achieve it.
Propose your win-win approach, focusing on the rewards they’ll reap from it, but be open to their alternatives.
Let them have the final say. That way, they own it and will stick to it.
- Bad: “You’ve been maddening me with your incessant disregard of the cleanliness of our floors and my well-being. I’ve decided you need to wash your feet immediately every time you come in from being barefoot outside. If you do, I’ll reward you with beer. If you don’t, you have to clean it up and make it up to me with a 15-minute massage. Capiche?”
- Good: “I wanted to talk to you about ways you could help us spend less time/money cleaning the carpets/floors. A couple of times, we’ve had to spend extra time and money cleaning the carpet you stained with your dirty bare feet. I know you didn’t mean to. You’re normally tidy and conscientious. Can you help think of ways to prevent it? I thought maybe [your win-win proposal]. Could you help me with some other ideas to solve this?”
Never generalize with statements like, “You always…” and look to replace “you” and “me” with “we” to emphasize that you’re on the same team.
✓ Make a Mutually Beneficial Punishment
This is another of our favorite relationship hacks:
Set a punishment that’s good for your relationship for any time your nagee neglects to comply with your agreement.
The punishment could be having to:
- Give a 15-minute massage.
- Buy a gift.
- Cook a nice meal for you two.
- Write a list of 15 things you love about the other.
Example: “If you forget to wash your feet and dirty the floor, you’ll have to clean it up and give me a 15-minute massage.”
Remember your nagee’s main motivation should be a reward, not avoiding punishment. This punishment just serves as a reminder in case they forget and as a reward for you in case they slip up.
✓ Have Them Say or Write It
Getting an, “I’ll try to remember that in the future,” from your nagee isn’t good enough.
Have them repeat what you’ve agreed upon: the goal, the actions, and the punishments.
This has two benefits:
- It ensures you’re on the same page.
- It increases the odds they’ll comply. People who physically say, or even better write, a commitment are significantly more likely to stick to it.
Make it easy for your nagee to remember and comply with your agreement. They’ll inevitably slip up anyway. When they do, give them the benefit of the doubt and collect your reward.
✓ Make It Easier to Remember and Do
Think of visual cues to put in front of your nagee can so they remember to do what you both agreed. And think of ways you can make it easier for them to do it.
Example: Kim can put a scrubber by the back door or by the sink so that when I go inside I’ll see it and remember to wash my bare feet.
✓ Beat Them to Their Excuse
When you catch your nagee breaking your agreement, they’re guaranteed to come up with some self-justifying excuse. No matter how ridiculous it may sound, that excuse is better than admitting they were selfish or careless.
Your nagee will feel dissonance for making stupid excuses and you’ll get annoyed from hearing that nonsense.
Prevent this negativity with compassion: Give them an excuse before they give one to you.
Example: “You probably forgot to wash your feet this time because you were in a rush to get ready to go out on our date. I understand. Next time, you’ll remember.”
✓ Repeat and Reconfirm
Repeat your agreement’s terms—goal, actions, and punishment—and reconfirm your nagee’s still ok with it.
Example: “Ok, so we agreed that to proactively keep the floors and carpets clean you’d wash your feet any time you came in from being barefoot outside. Since you forgot, we agreed you’d clean it up and give me a 15-minute massage. You’re still ok with this, right?”
Avoid saying, “Don’t you remember what we agreed?” Your nagee’s not an idiot. (Probably.) They remember and won’t appreciate your condescension.
✓ Collect Your Reward
Your nagee’s negligence entitles you to whatever mutually beneficial punishment you had agreed upon. With the right punishment, you may even be happy they slipped up!
Don’t rub it in their face (…too much). Be good-spirited about it, but be quick to collect your reward to show your agreement is serious.
Reinforce all no-nagging-needed behavior by letting them know you notice and are grateful for their efforts.
✓ Drown the Negatives in Positives
“When praise is emphasized and criticism is minimized, the good things people do will be reinforced and the poorer things will atrophy for lack of attention.”Dale Carnegie
In studies of thousands of couples, relationship guru John Gottman has found that healthy relationships have a “magic ratio” of at least five positive interactions for every negative.
Thank yous, hugs, good jobs, compliments, and reciprocal favors all count.
Shower your would-be nagee with these positives instead of stoning them with negative nags and you will barely even need the W.A.R.T. Technique to get your way.
✓ Deliver Your End of the Bargain
If you agreed to return the favor in any way, lead by example and by being quick to deliver.
Example: After I conscientiously clean my feet for a few weeks with nary a nag from Kim, she buys me the Belgian beers she had promised. For extra effect, she wraps them with a ribbon and a thank you card and puts them in the fridge for me to discover.
I’m a shoo-in to continue my good habits after such a surprise.
✓ If All Else Fails, Get Another “T”
Hire a therapist.
Professional, personal guidance will be more effective than some general formula I devised by from best practices I found in the books and papers I’ve read. And maybe you have a bigger issue than nagging that you would be better of going upstream on to deal with.
How to Stop Being Nagged
Here are some quick tips on what to do if you’re the victim of your partner’s nasty nagging habit.
✓ No ‘Buts’
“Never put a ‘but’ in the face of an angry person,” writes Marshall Rosenberg in Nonviolent Communication, my favorite book on how to communicate peacefully when you feel like chopping someone’s head off.
Saying “but” does nothing but aggravate a nagger. It tells them you aren’t listening or empathizing.
✓ Show You Understand
Even if you don’t agree or think they’re overreacting, show you understand their needs and feelings.
If you’re like me, this can feel unnatural. To make it easier, stick to this script: “Are you feeling X because I did Y and you want Z?”
Example: “Are you feeling frustrated and disrespected because I got the stained the carpet with my dirty bare feet again and you want me to be more proactively conscientious about cleanliness?”
✓ Send This Guide on How to Stop Nagging to Them
Do it nicely.
Say something like this:
“I know you nag because want the best for both of us. I want the same. Here’s a really cool guide from the best blog ever, The Zag, on how to stop nagging but still get your way. I think this W.A.R.T. Technique would help us. Can you check it out and let me know what you think?”
Fewer Warts, More W.A.R.T.
Let’s quickly recap the 4-step W.A.R.T. Technique to break the bad habit of nagging and still get what you want:
- Wait. Come up with a win-win goal and present it at the right moment.
- Agree. Make a plan as a team. Give your nagee say and make them say it.
- Remind. Make it easy to remember and do. Be empathetic when they don’t.
- Thank. Show them their new behavior’s worth it.
Give it a try next time you feel the need to nag. It clears up the warts in your relationships a lot cleaner and faster.
You’ll be thankful for it.
So too will the poor soul who’s had to deal with your incessant nagging up until now.