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  • Writer's pictureNichole Sullivan

We all have that one friend who is negative AF.

I love everything about the study of humans and what makes them tick. Linguistics especially, is an interest of mine. I love how the slightest change in language can change behaviour radically. I demonstrate this in my workshops, bringing a whole team to their knees with the introduction of one word. (You'll have to get me in to see how it works).

Negative language is dominant. Across age demographics, gender and culture. There are 7 consistent words used to describe common emotions. Joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, shame and guilt. 6 out of 7, describe a negative mood state.

We also know that across cultures, peoples vocabulary is made up of 50% negatively charged words, 30% neutral words, and only 20% positive.

It stands to reason, that we are generally very negative. If we don't have a great bandwidth of vocabulary to describe positive stuff, then we're going to default to using what we've got,

Why is this important?

Because what we speak about at home or at work, becomes our experience. If we spend our day, describing negative stuff with negative words, or worse still, describing positive stuff with negative words, then our subjective experience will be negative AF.

We all know a negative Nancy. Always complaining, even about positive stuff. The kinda person who has a good day, perhaps at a work or family event. You see them experiencing what could be a good day, however at the end of the day, they say "it would have been good, but.... the drive was exhausting and long, and the venue was horrifically small and the food was bitterly cold". Subjectively, Nancy has had a terrible time, not because of the actual event, but because of the words she uses to frame it up in her own mind. We call this psychological framing.

This is the negativity bias in action. Not only do we have a biased language, but that comes from our biased brain.

We have 5 times the amount of neurons dedicated to detecting flaws and faults, compared to detecting what is right. You know this because what do we as parents notice first on our child's report cards? Its not all the A's. We might intentionally drag our attention to the positive comments and marks, but I'd bet my house on the fact that you see the negatives first.

If you cant think of a Negative Nancy in your life... maybe you ARE NANCY!!! Overcoming this bias is not easy, but there are ways you can work on it.

1. Keep a log for one day, every time you judge something as negative, put a tally mark on a page. See what happens...

2. Work on using more positive or neutral and descripive language. Expand your vocabulary, one positive word at a time.

3. Whenever you are meeting with your friends or colleagues, or even your partner, take note of the percentage of the conversation that is positive, compared to negative or neutral. I'd love to hear how you go.

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