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by Paul Kiser [Twitter: ] [Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Skype: kiserrotary or 775.624.5679]

Paul Kiser - CEO of Enterprise Technologies, inc.

You’ve been warned about ‘this person’ and now you’re being introduced to them. You smile and shake his hand and say, “nice to meet you.” Visibly, you are polite and friendly; however, inside your hoping to be able to move on because even though you’ve never met him before you are preconditioned to not like him. The introduction ends and you move on believing that went things went smoothly. He walks away knowing that you dislike him and he begins to form a negative impression of you. In less than five seconds you have cemented a negative relationship…and you didn’t even know it. What happened?

Malcolm Gladwell

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, it is called it thin-slicing and it is based on solid research. Gladwell uses many examples of how the human brain picks up seemingly unseen and unheard clues and can accurately identify what is going on in a given situation. In one example, researcher John Gottman and his team coded conversations between married couples using 14 emotional identifiers (1=contempt, 2=anger, etc.) and found that they could accurately predict whether or not the couple was heading for a divorce by the subtle clues that betrayed the inner thoughts and attitudes of each person. Most of these signals lasted a second or less, but the signal clearly indicated the inner feelings of the person and the pattern of their relationship.

Gladwell argues that in a thin-slice experience we usually do not know what we know, nor why we know it, but the evidence is conclusive, we do know it. It is often described as a ‘feeling’ and people usually cannot explain it to others, so it is usually dismissed as being oversensitive. Gladwell‘s research suggests that the feeling is real and that our unconscious mind is the source of the analysis that creates a tangible, and accurate feeling and/or assessment of the situation.

Conversations Are Never Just Casual

Based on the information in Blink one can conclude that when someone has a dislike for someone, or when people discuss someone else behind their back, the attitudes felt or expressed privately will be exposed in subtle hints the next time we meet the subject of the gossip. We are taught as children to not gossip about others, which was a valuable lesson based on what we now know; however, in the business world people often discuss work performance of subordinates with their peers or superiors. Those discussions then shape our attitudes about the subordinate, which are then revealed in our next interaction with the worker. The same can be said of any relationship, whether it be a superior/subordinate, peer/peer, Club member/member, parent/child, spouse/spouse, or any interaction between two people. Simply put, strong attitudes and opinions about another person can and will be read by that person at the next meeting.

But what is worse is once a negative relationship is formed it is almost impossible to revert it to a positive relationship. Gladwell says that if a person has contempt or other negative attitudes towards someone, even a kind or reconciliatory gesture will be misread as manipulation or motivated by a hidden agenda. That idea is reinforced by the theory of cognitive dissonance, which suggests that once we have an opinion or belief about something we will reject evidence that contradicts our opinion or belief and will even go so far as to manufacture evidence or examples to support our version of the truth.

Do We Have to Like Everyone?
Certainly we don’t have to have a positive relationship with everyone, but negative relationships tend to expend more of our energy and time. This is especially true for people in positions of leadership. Consider the time spent on emails, meetings, phone calls, and emotional stress that involve interactions with people who we have an adversarial relationship versus the support and positive reinforcement we receive through friendly relationships. It is obvious that a negative relationship that is based on our preconditioning to dislike them is not only counterproductive, but also an unnecessary waste of time and emotion.

The first step in avoiding the downward spiral of negative relationships is to recognize that our internal dislike for someone is not hidden from that person. Our actions, behaviors, and responses will be picked up and will, in turn, dictate their response to us. Gossip, whether it is causally done with friends, or professionally sanctioned as part of ‘assessment’ of subordinates is dangerous to our relationship with that person and will ultimately make our life more difficult. Most of us were taught at some point to never say anything about anyone unless you are prepared to say it to their face….it is a good rule in the home, at work, or anywhere else.

Rotary's Four-Way Test

Rotary has a Four-Way Test that is a guide to any relationship. It is meant to take Rotarians to a higher standard in business and in life. The ‘test’ is as follows:

  • First, is it the Truth?
  • Second, is it fair to all concerned?
  • Third, will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  • Fourth, will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Great words that can help us to build great relationships…even when sliced thin.

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