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How Others’ Politics Insults May be Affecting Your Behavior and What You Can Do About it

No you are not imagining it. Political insults are getting increasingly personal, widespread and intense – not just between candidates and their surrogates but amongst almost all of us at this point.

Some friendships are shattering. Reputations smeared. Even formerly apolitical individuals are getting pulled into mudslinging.  To protect yourself and connect rather than conflict in more situations it’s worth understanding two underlying and sometimes opposing instincts that are adding to this rise tide of verbal vitriol.

First, the “fight or flight” brain wiring that enables you to survive also causes you to react sooner, longer and more intensely to what you dislike or fear than to what you like or desire.

Suppose, for example, upon first meeting someone you were impressed by their thoughtful questions about your favorite pasttime, then they offered to introduce you to a helpful contact and evoked three other powerfully positive “yes” triggers. Yet if that person made just one disdainful reference to someone you admired, that hot negative trigger would quickly rise to the top of your mind. In all probability you would neither like nor trust that person.

Beware, that as some of your friends or family members make a disparaging comment about the candidate you favor, you don’t spiral up into counter-insults about their candidate, thus further poisoning the well of your relationship. Here’s a hint for having a candid conversation. Ask if they would like to discuss your differences and, if so, to agree to avoid emotion-laden words, a very difficult thing to do.  Ironically we are more likely to use specific, emotional language when talking about what we don’t like than what we do.

Another effect that is heating up political conversations is the rule of behavioral contagion to the third degree. From how much we eat to whom we hate, we are instinctively imitative creatures to a startling extent. Not only do those who know you emulate your behavior (and vice versa) but their friends do as well.  In fact, according to the co-authors of Connected, we are influenced by the behavior of our friends’ friends’ friends – people we do not even know. Sweeping our country right now is a wild contagion of charge and counter-charges about who should be president and the kind of person you must be if you do not agree with me. Then there are the crowds of people who are angry about the angry discourse. Contagion multiplied.

So, in sharp contrast to this contagion of hostility, let’s talk about way to make friends more easily because, research shows, friendship is especially cherished during volatile, hostile times.

“The best time to make friends is before you need them.” ~Ethel Barrymore

Here are six ways to pull others closer to you

1. Act as if they meant well, especially they didn’t

I met my high school boyfriend when I was upset and swung open my locker door so fast I banged him on the head as he was leaning into his locker. Not everyone can take such a first encounter in stride let alone retort with a grin, “If this is how you treat strangers how do handle enemies?” This unflappable humor made us instant friends and helps in his work now as an ER doctor.

When someone is snide or otherwise rude, thoughtless or difficult in front of others, rather than acting affronted, interpret their words or actions as if they meant well.  That way that person has the opportunity to self-correct and save face rather than feel cornered by your correcting him so he escalates his negative behavior.

I met one of my closest girlfriends at a fundraiser dinner when a major donor at our table made a snide comment to us about … see the rest of the post at Forbes.

Categories: behavior, Book, contagion, decisionmaking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .
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