Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Power of Positive Speaking... Or Something Like That

Yesterday morning I woke up and, for some reason, started to realize why people in the past have referred to me as a "negative" person. People used to tell me all the time how depressing it was to be around me. Of course, back then I would blame them for not telling me this sooner so I could try to change my behavior around them. Hopefully, I'm little better than that now, but I still seem to have this tendency to say negative things. I'll say positive things, as well, but it seems they are typically prefaced by a negative comment. For example, in a discussion about favorite music I might respond to someones preference for country artist Travis Tritt with, "Oh, I don't like Travis Tritt! I've always liked Depeche Mode." And, sometimes I accidentally say things like this in a way that comes off as condescending or just belittling. People don't like this and eventually turn away from me. I probably would have kept a few more friends down through the years if instead of prefacing my comments with a negative, I just spoke the positive comment, "Oh, okay. I've always liked Depeche Mode."

While trying to do a little research for this post I came across a web page for the book The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, by Julie Norem, Ph.D. On the web page for the book there is a description of what the author refers to as "defensive pessimism". According to Dr. Norem, defensive pessimism is sort of a learned coping mechanism where people will think of all the negative things which could possibly happen so that, if the bottom falls out of their plans, they don't get overly anxious about the outcome. According to the little quiz on the website, I qualify as a defensive pessimist, however I'd have to say that for every situation that it helps me cope with, there is another situation where it ends up getting in my way.

For negativity to be more effective than ineffective you have to pick and choose when to use it. It can't be a broad spectrum tactic because, as I eluded to earlier, negativity pushes people away. People don't want to hang around someone who essentially belittles their favorite things. People don't want to be around someone who can't immediately identify where they want to go hang out without giving an extensive list of where they don't want to hang out. And they don't want to have a romantic relationship with someone who is always expecting the worst, and broadcasting those expectations, out of every situation.

This loosely relates to why Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination in early summer. I'm not saying she was inherently negative... that's for more experienced political analysts to judge. However, negative people tend to be very self-centered people. After all, their worries are not about "you" they are about "me". They don't have time to care about what will happen to you, they only have concern for what will happen to themselves. Some will disagree with this assessment, I'm sure, but I've always believed that Hillary Clinton lost because she preferred the words "I" and "Me" where Barack Obama preferred the use of "You" and "We". Her speeches were always filled with "I've done this, I've worked for that, Vote for Me and I'll do this for You." In this context, You is a positive, because people like to hear about themselves, and I or Me are negatives because the speaker is spending more time talking about themselves. So, as Obama once said in a debate, Hillary Clinton was "likable enough", but just not.

So, if you're looking for ways to attract or maintain more friendships and relationships it may serve you well to watch your language. Who knows, it might even make you President one day.

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof!

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