Today I’m offering the third post in a three-part series on conversation-enhancing tips involving the number three. If you haven’t read the first and second posts already, you can find them on my website here. Both have the power to shift your conversation quality immensely.
This post shares three ways to avoid the tempting habit of starting conversations on a negative or awkward note. You’d think this would be no big deal and something we all know. Ah, but think back to all the conversations you’ve had (or started) that were kind of…whiny. It’s not hard to go there these days. Plus, we humans have something within us called our “negativity bias.” This is basically our very human tendency to watch for, focus on, attend to, remember, and then share information, hunches, and experiences that are negative.
Put very simply, tens of thousands of years ago when life was a lot more dangerous, our negativity bias kept us safe from harm. We shared every bit of bad, scary, and dangerous news, rumor, or lore so we could avoid getting hurt or killed. Today life is a lot less deadly, but our tendency to focus on the negative can still grip us if we let it. For example, if you find yourself hooked on watching mainstream media, reading the constant river of snark on Twitter, following a stressful TV show such as “Survivor,” or obsessing over the one negative comment your boss made about your presentation, you can be sure you’re giving in to your own negativity bias.
What to do? Here are three ways to avoid letting your negativity bias take the lead in your conversations.
- Avoid starting a conversation with a guilt-inducing comment. As in: “I never hear from you anymore…” or “I was wondering if I was ever going to see / hear from you again…” or “I thought you’d forgotten about me…” or even this dramatic gem “I thought something terrible had happened to you!” Do you suppose any of these zingers will help launch a friendly or meaningful exchange? Or motivate the other person to want to spend more time with you? Hah! I doubt it! Instead, try something like: “It’s so wonderful to see / hear from you!” or “What a delightful surprise to see you / hear your voice!” Ahhhh. So much warmer and appealing! Simply replace the tone of resentment and negativity with one of joy, warmth, and gratitude!
- Don’t start a conversation with a complaint. It’s true that something unfortunate or frustrating happens nearly every day. And venting with your bestie to stay sane is absolutely allowed. But sprinkling negativity all around to anyone who will listen is not productive and only makes you known for your…negativity. Instead, ask the other person how they are doing or what’s new in their world. To ensure their response is positive try leading with something like this: “Hello! What’s the good word?”
- Don’t start a conversation with the words “I heard…” Yikes! These two seemingly innocent words make it clear you’re about to share information that may or may not be true, kind, or productive. In other words, you’ve just become known as a spreader of bad information or…a gossip. Cross my heart, there was a woman in my neighborhood who, upon spotting me at the grocery store, gas station, or nail salon, would zoom over to me purely to share the latest dirt from the local rumor mill. What’s more, she assumed I was thrilled to hear these tidbits. I was not. Today, if I see her coming, I turn and walk the other way. Quickly.
What if, starting today, we could all vow to stop letting our negativity bias run our lives — and our conversations? Can you imagine how much more positive and pleasant the world would become?
Need more inspiration for how to neutralize the Drainers & Downers in your world – and how to avoid being one yourself? I’ve devoted an entire section in my new book, More Than Just Talk, to this topic! Meanwhile, I’d love to hear some of your ideas and strategies for keeping your negativity bias at bay. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.