Monday, 28 September 2009

How might you reinforce the negative?

On the Training Journal Digest, that has been part of my daily routine for a few years now,( we have been discussing a thread of "reinforcing the negative", prompted by a recent Radio 4 interview with Robert Cialdini.

In part of the programme (as in his book) he explored the influencing effects of reinforcing the negative. For example reporting in GP surgeries the amounts of people who missed appointments does nothing to improve the situation and creates a social proof that it is acceptable and the norm to miss appointments. The press and media create newsworthy stories by accentuating and reinforcing the negatives.

As so often happens, when unconsciously following a theme, I had a gift of an experience one morning last week...

In the ladies changing room in the gym I go to in the mornings, the recent topic of conversation has been the new routines of children starting, changing and returning to school. As I am past that stage with mine, I smile with nostalgia and carry on drying between my toes. This morning I overheard the best of all:

Mother 1 "How is xxx settling in now?"

Mother 2 "Oh, she's OK. She's had a few more wobbles, but this week it's been a bit better. She asks me every day "Mummy, did you worry about me today?" and I say "yes of course darling - all day."

I was left quietly wondering how it might affect the child's "wobble-ometer" if instead of reinforcing the negative, the answer was something along the lines of "I think about you a lot, of course, but I don't worry about you because I believe you to be a clever and competent person who can take good care of themselves".

Developing a robust confidence about our own competence, capability and coping ability in the world is a vital part of the formation of a healthy self concept. In the scientific research that led to the teachings of The Human Element, Will Schutz identified that our feelings about our own competence and subsequent defences against fears of humilation directly impact our behaviour around our self determination and control of ourselves and others.

I walked home pondering how and in what ways I might unknowingly keep other people captive through my own anxieties  - I really hope I don't, but I am planning to live in the question for a few days - without reinforcing the negative of course!
So my question is:
In what ways might you notice yourself reinforcing the negatives today?

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