When Bad Events Influence Us More Than Good Ones
Kathleen Kelley Reardon is Professor Emerita of Management at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
She earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude and with distinction at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after receiving her BA degree with honors from University of Connecticut at Storrs. Kathleen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board.
Her primary areas of scholarly interest have been leadership communication, persuasion, politics in the workplace, negotiation and interpersonal communication. Public Opinion Quarterly described her first book, Persuasion in Practice, as a landmark contribution to the field.
Kathleen has taught negotiation, leadership and politics in the MBA, Executive MBA, and International MBA. For 15 years, she served on the USC Preventive Medicine faculty, developing interventions aimed at changing health habits among high-risk populations. She also served as associate director with Warren Bennis of the USC Leadership Institute.
She has authored 10 books and numerous articles, including three for The Harvard Business Review. Her 2001 book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle (Currency, Doubleday) became an Amazon.com nonfiction and business best seller. It was followed by The Skilled Negotiator (Jossey-Bass, 2004), It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency, Doubleday, 2005), Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sage, 2008), and Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation (Harper Business, 2010).
Her first novel, Shadow Campus, is an inside look at the politics of academia, a mystery-thriller and a love story. Forbes described it as a “masterful debut.” The sequel is underway for publication in 2015.
Kathleen was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award by the University of Connecticut Alumni Association based on her contributions to underserved groups, especially in originating and working to develop college prep academies for foster teens (www.firststar.org).
Kathleen is a signature blogger at Huffington Post (since 2005) and also blogs at her website (www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com).
Why do we so often attend to bad news? Network news shows regularly end with a feel-good story about someone who overcame nearly impossible odds or rose above adversity to help others. Usually these are short segments tagged on to numerous negative stories.
It’s partially survival instinct that causes humans to pay attention to bad things. And yet medical research clearly advises that stress can kill us, too. We make poorer decisions when we’re in a negative frame of mind. (This could explain some of the behavior of the U.S. Congress. Members appear to be in one continuous negative frame of mind, always waiting for the next shoe to drop.)
During a recent optometrist appointment, I mentioned that an eye with which I had been having problems hadn’t given me any trouble in months. Immediately, the doctor knocked on wood. I ended up in his office only a week later with that recurrent eye problem. I should have kept my mouth shut.
An unexpected check came in the mail today. My husband and I were delighted, but it wasn’t long before we were dwelling on some negative issue that should have taken a back seat -- at least for a few hours.
Show people positive and negative photos and they’ll focus more on the latter. Research (supporting something newspaper reporters have known for well over a century) indicates that people pay more attention to bad acts over good acts when forming impressions.
Less discussed is the perspective that focusing on the negative keeps us from being too surprised when bad things happen. Unfortunately, the offset isn’t sufficient. Being prepared for the bad doesn't appear to mitigate its effects.
Further evidence suggests that negative events stimulate people to engage in a greater search for meaning and sense-making than do positive events.
With all this tipping of the odds in favor of negativity, how do we protect ourselves from the bad in life, but also enjoy the good? How do we instruct our children, for example, protect them from injury, shape them into the good people we hope they will become, and somehow remember to enjoy them along the way?
One important step is to recognize that we have less control over negative events than we think. What we can control, though, is how much we voluntarily expose ourselves to them – whether or not we will serve as gluttons for punishment.
People are creatures of pattern, yet undoing dysfunctional ones is often within our grasp. Essentially, we can ‘rewire’ our brains. A good start is to take a look at how much we ourselves contribute to negativity in our lives? What things do we take as offense that we could simply let pass? With whom do we spend our time? How much do we expose ourselves to the disappointments of social media – starting with not enough “likes” or “ataboys”? To whom do we give the power to make us miserable? Do they deserve to have less of such power? How much time do we spend with people who make us feel good? Do we too often take such people for granted?
These are some questions that may help turn things around. It’s only natural to expect bad things to happen and to engage in self-protection. What isn’t natural, however, is to give bad things the influence edge by inviting them into our lives as if we have no choice because, most of the time, we actually do.
Is everyone's favorite Thanksgiving centerpiece really to blame for the post-dinner doldrums?
- Americans kill around 45 million turkeys every year in preparation for the Thanksgiving meal, only to blame our favorite centerpiece for the following food comas.
- Rumor has it our after-dinner sleepiness results from the tryptophan found in turkey.
- However, it is the meal's overall nutritional imbalance, not just the tryptophan, that make us want to leave the dishes for tomorrow. Or maybe the next day.
Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.
- Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
- Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
- Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
The famed author headed to the pond thanks to Indian philosophy.
- The famed author was heavily influenced by Indian literature, informing his decision to self-exile on Walden Pond.
- He was introduced to these texts by his good friend's father, William Emerson.
- Yoga philosophy was in America a century before any physical practices were introduced.
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