Thanks for hating me

Let’s be honest. What if, without knowing it, we actually prefer trouble to peace, drama to tranquility? Are we unconsciously looking for problems?

My ex-girlfriend taught me something interesting. Whenever I wrote her a loving email, she would disappear for days… then respond with a short “I’ll get back to you” message. Instead, whenever I wrote her an angry email, she would respond immediately… with a lengthy answer. In hindsight, I think she was simply afraid of intimacy (who isn’t?), but unwittingly…

she was rewarding me for being angry with her.

In business, I’ve often seen a similar dynamic. Sometimes a colleague will offer us encouragement or advice – and be ignored – only to be raked over the coals the next day for not offering to help. We give energy to their bad behavior, but not to their good behavior. Do you see the double-bind at work here? Do you see how confusing this can be?

Whatever we respond to, whatever we give our attention to, we are feeding – and therefore strengthening. By giving more attention to what triggers our pain and anger than to what gives us warmth and gratitude, we are rewarding the wrong things in life.

There’s a way to give constructive criticism called “the sandwich technique,” which means that you “sandwich” the critical comment between two compliments, such as: “I really liked the work you did on the Johnson project, Bill… but next time, please double-check the numbers. That way they’ll know the quality of the work we are providing.”

This works in two ways. First, we are rewarding the good stuff twice as much as the bad stuff for the colleague. And second, we are rewarding the good stuff twice as much as the bad stuff…

for ourselves.

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