Understanding the importance of praise in our personal and professional lives means overcoming a blind spot in human psychology that is many tens of thousands of years in the making. Numerous studies have found that across a wide range of topics, humans are more attracted to negativity than positivity: we tend to describe people’s negative attributes before their positive ones; our dreams tend to be more violent than pleasant; we recall traumatic childhood moments more easily than the felicitous ones.
The list goes on, and for good reason, too. Focussing our thoughts on harmful things–think rattle snakes and spoiled food–helped our ancestors survive a nature yet untamed by modern conveniences. But our proclivity for bad feeling is harming our personal and professional relationships. In 1992, for example, psychologist John Gottman found that divorce rates could accurately be predicted based on how frequently couples praised each other. In the office, we tend to put more energy toward avoiding a bad reputation rather than cultivate a positive one.
In his Big Think interview, organizational psychologist George Kohlrieser argues that the fundamental task of leadership is to change mindsets. The best way to do this, he argues, is creating lasting human bonds:
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