Don’t Gossip, and Give Positive Reviews

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There are two ideas from Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project that I don't want to forget:  I hope you'll want to remember them too.

Don't Gossip (pg 156) — When I'm completely fed up with someone or something, I want to vent.  For good reason.  Apart from the emotional release, Rubin explains, “gossip plays an important social role by reinforcing community values:  its makes people feel closer to each other, it unifies people who play by the rules, it helps people get a sense of the values of their community, and it exposes the misbehavior of others….but, it's not kind to do.”

“Another reason”, she writes, “not to say critical things about other people is ‘spontaneous trait transference.'  Because of this psychological phenomenon, people unintentionally transfer to me the traits I ascribe to other people.  If I tell Jean that Pat is arrogant, unconsciously Jean associates that quality with me.  On the other hand, if I say that Pat is brilliant or hilarious, I'm linked to those qualities.  What I say about people sticks to me.”

Sometimes knowing it's unkind to gossip just isn't a strong enough reason not to.  Knowing about spontaneous trait transference pairs nicely with my more abstract and lofty goal of being kind.


Give Positive Reviews (pg 268) — “Studies show,” Rubin writes, “that people who are critical are often perceived to be more discerning…Another study shows that people tend to think that someone who criticizes them is smarter than they are.  Also, when a person disrupts a group's unanimity, he or she lessens its social power.”

She continues, “Although enthusiasm seems easy and undiscriminating, in fact, it's much harder to embrace something than to disdain it.  It's riskier…Enthusiasm is a form of social courage…Giving positive reviews requires humility…A willingness to be pleased requires modesty and even innocence…”

Intuitively I think I knew this, but couldn't articulate that giving negative reviews is a means of gaining power.  Nor did I realize that I sometimes purposely seek out negative reviewers.  I'm not alone.  How many of the contestants on American Idol especially valued praise from Simon “everything-is-a-power-play” Cowell?

Here's a real-life example.  Last year, I worked with Claudyne Wilder on a speech I had to give.  When someone asked if she was good, I started to say – “oh, she's ok.”  Which wasn't true.  She was actually terrific.  Under her “positive reviews” tutelage, I made HUGE strides. Why, then, the initial lukewarm response?  Because she didn't have a need to show me how smart she was by criticizing me.  As the research would have predicted, I almost dinged her for it.

There's so much more I could highlight from The Happiness Project, but these were two of my more important a-has.  It was an inspiring read in the tradition of Sarah Ban Breathnach's Simple Abundance.  (Thanks to Heather Bennion for recommending the book.)

What are your thoughts?

Had you considered that when you say positive/negative things, the hearer transfers that trait to you?

Have you ever secretly derided enthusiasm, like I have, not recognizing it for what it is — a form of social courage?

Why is having the humility to give positive reviews so important in helping others achieve their dreams?

P.S. You'll be hearing a whole lotta “brilliant, witty and beautiful” going forward.  May these words stick to both you and me.

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