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With negativity bias, you risk punishing the RIGHT behavior. Be careful!

With negativity bias, you risk punishing the RIGHT behavior. Be careful!

Be careful about inadvertently punishing the right behavior. Susan was complaining about how dusty the living room was because of the construction going on across the street. Her husband Josh decided to surprise her. He took a leave from work and vacuumed and swept the whole house. He ended up exhausted but excited to surprise Susan.

Late that afternoon, Susan arrives home and walks in the door. Josh excitedly greets her "Surprise!", kisses her, and narrates how he spent the whole day cleaning the house for her. Susan smiles back. Then, she notices that stain on the living room carpet. The living room was clean, except for that ugly stain patch that Josh missed. "Didn't you see that stain?" she expresses in disappointment. That disappointment rubbed Josh in an unintended way. In his eyes, Susan just punished him for the right behavior, that of cleaning the house, by highlighting the stain instead of the cleaning efforts. Her reaction is negativity bias at work, the propensity to be affected more by a negative thing or situation than by a positive one of similar intensity.

When you find yourself in a similar situation, stay aware of negativity bias. Acknowledge it. Counter it with a focus on the positive, in this case, Josh's gesture of spending time to clean the house. Reward good behavior. Show appreciation for the positive. Celebrate that first. There is always a later time to clean up the stain.


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