“When you throw mud you get dirty,” Adlai Stephenson once remarked in response to a question about whether he would criticize his opponent who was launching vicious, personal attacks against him in a political campaign.
And you lose ground.
Yet many politicos say negative campaigning and ads are effective in attracting votes so they are forced to run them, and, in this run-up to the mid-term elections, those on-line and on-air attacks abound.
Some are sleazy and real nasty. Watch, for example, Vanderbilt political scientist John Geer discuss the use of negative ads by both parties in a past mid-term election cycle. Yet, some researchers disagree with this conventional wisdom.
Look Good to Others Via Spontaneous Trait Transference
Here is reinforcement for you to praise the part in someone (however small and rarely demonstrated) that you genuinely admire when you are tempted, in the moment, to “go negative.” In discussing David Meyer’s book, Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, Gretchen Rubin writes in The Happiness Project, of this rule of human behavior, it “gave me another reason to stop being so critical.”
“In ‘spontaneous trait transference,’ people spontaneously and unintentionally associate what you say about other people with the qualities they then see in you. So if I tell Jean that Pat is arrogant or stupid, unconsciously Jean will associate that quality with me. On the other hand, if I say that Pat is brilliant or hilarious, I’ll be linked to those qualities.”
“Ever wondered why people want to kill the messenger who brings bad news? Trait transference. So by being more generous and enthusiastic, I’ll be helping my own reputation as well as other people’s.”
Invisibly Nudge Them to Act Nicer When Around You
Here’s what also happens.
Whatever behavior you most remark upon in someone else is the trait that person is most likely to exhibit more of when around you.
Compliment him on his planning that weekend trip (never mind that it is the second time he has done so in years) and he is more likely to plan more.
If he does something that peeves you and you remain silent, rather than commenting, then those irritating behaviors are most likely to dissipate, rather than increase.
Talking or acting against a behavior is akin to underlining a sentence on the page. You give the thought more energy and memorability.
“Underlining” the actions of another with your reactions motivates that person to react to you. That deepens the rut in the memory road for both of you. It reinforces a behavioral script you meant to erase. Such action evokes the Law of Unintended Consequences. ??
Amy Sutherland wrote about a variation of this effect in her New York Times article, “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage. “ For weeks her article remained the most popular one the newspaper ran, then resulted in a book deal for her.
In conducting research for her book, Kicked Bitten and Scratched, she sat watching exotic animals trainers work with wild birds, dolphins – and Shamu. A light bulb went on her mind. Why not try the same successful animal training techniques on her husband?
Wrote Sutherland, “I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don’t. After all, you don’t get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for her American husband. She began using what trainers call “approximations,” “rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior.” (Parents and teachers have been taught to use it with kids, others to overcome phobias – and one person even suggests it for shaping behavior in church.)
Act As If They’re Being Wonderful and They Might Become Wonderful
Even more startling, perhaps, two studies conducted at the University of Wisconsin seven years ago found that when women spoke generally and positively about a trait that their husbands had not exhibited, at least recently (“Thank you for being so thought as I go through this stressful time at work”) the husbands began exhibiting caring behavior, often using the words she used in praising him.
“Honey, want to talk about your day and let go of some of that stress?”
Here’s the funny thing. Even though most of us long to be understood and loved for who we are we instinctively put up barriers to being known. Yet we are constantly revealing our personal operating manual – what makes us work well with other people.
Here is now we display it.
We praise others for traits and behaviors we like in ourselves (whether or not others actually view us the way we see ourselves. And we give others the gifts, experiences and other resources we’d like to receive.
Consider, instead a much more effective way to bring out other’s better side, and to get them to like and support you.
Adopt the Golden Golden Rule: Do unto others as they would have done unto them. Praise the character traits and actions they most like in themselves and support them in the ways that most matter to them.
Result? They will go out of their way to compliment and support you.
Rarely will they also follow the Golden Golden Rule back with you however.
That’s not instinctual.
Simple put, people like people who like them.
And, as you build trust with that person, you can bring up the Golden Golden Rule and describe the traits (temperament and talents) you most like and value in yourself. Ask for that person’s support for you in honing those traits. Describe the kind of verbal and behavioral support that you find most helpful and gratifying.
Now that step represents a golden, golden opportunity for you both to support and enjoy each other more over time. ??I’m not promising that this will be a smooth path towards mutual understanding and appreciation. Yet it seems to be easier and more authentic and rewarding than any other alternative I’ve found thus far. This approach can reduce the misunderstandings that lead to resentment and reaction against others.
It enables you to bring out others’ best side so they are more likely to see and support yours. That’s no small achievement, even if it happens just some of the time. With this approach you are more likely to accomplish something greater with others than you can on your own.
Consider it one more step towards Learned Optimism and to Stumbling on Happiness. In the spirit of Moving From Me to We, consider sharing your related insights with me on Facebook and Twitter and bringing me to speak at your conference or other meeting or receive coaching.