Words of Wisdom
cards and 15 activities to spark conversations and make sense of learning.
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The Firefly Group helps people make sense of what they learn and experience.
Whether facilitating a group for better decision-making, keynoting a conference, leading a training, or writing an instructional design, we use novel methods that engage, spark creativity, and produce memorable results.
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Your ETR (Estimated Time to Read): 10 minutes
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Read my book
Say It Quick!
can you teach with a eight washers tethered to a string?
Watch my video and find out!
Frozen by Fear
bits of serendipity to inspire and motivate
fuel for your own continuous learning
tips and tricks you can try today
Heartfelt Giving - What it takes to be generous
|Frozen by Fear - A second look at The Influential Mind||
Don't. Stop. No! - A better way to change long-term behavior
|Negative to Positive - Describe the actions you want others to take|
Don't. Stop. No!
These are words we use to limit actions that could be harmful or dangerous. But we also use them to encourage people to change their bad habits. Unfortunately, these negative words have severe limits in their ability to influence behavior over the long term. This month we take a second look at The Influential Mind by Tali Sharot to discuss a more effective way to change actions for the better. Read more beginning with this story in 99 words.
You might assume that Generous Street in Brattleboro, Vermont, would be broad and long with prosperous businesses and large, stately homes. In fact, it's probably the shortest in town, just one block long. Only eight modest houses line this dead-end street.
Some people may think Generous Street is misnamed but I don't agree. Generosity can come from skimming off one's excess wealth. However, it can also come from a big heart, a spirit of abundance, a realization that I have enough for both myself and to share.
We don't have to let our resources dictate our generosity.
The December 2017 issue of the Firefly News Flash introduced Tali Sharot's book, The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others. There are several instructive concepts in the book, but the interaction of two in particular makes a second look worthwhile.
Sharot describes how incentives and state, or stress, can combine to affect our ability to influence others.
Incentives - Our brains are wired to approach a reward but to freeze when encountering a threat or experiencing fear. If you want to prevent someone from doing something, a threat will usually cause them to stop or do nothing. If you want someone to take action, remind them of something positive, an immediate reward.
State - When threated or feeling stressed, people are more likely to take in negative information than when relaxed. Bad news has an even bigger influence than it otherwise would. Under stress, we fixate on identifying and avoiding danger. To be influential, you need to create a match between the opinion you are offering and the mental state of the person you are speaking to.
Our initial reaction to a strong sense of fear is to freeze; to stop, figure out what the threat is and decide how to react to it. And while we are in that frozen state of fear, we are more likely to interpret additional information as also being threatening. This makes it more difficult to recognize positive information that could help us formulate an adaptive response.
So if you want someone to stop what they are doing but you do not what them to solve a problem. Combine threats with fear and watch them freeze.
The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others by Tali Sharot, Henry Holt and Co., New York © 2017, ISBN 9781627792653
Of course, I don't advocate that you use threats, fear, and negative incentives to influence those around you. But we often do use those methods without noticing let alone realizing the harmful effect we may be having.
Recently I visited relatives who have a two-year-old girl. One of the first words she learned was "no".
"Don't, stop, and no" are good words to use when danger is eminent. With the right timing and inflection, they can save a life.
But although they can stop the wrong actions, they don't give any information about what one should do instead. For example, when the two-year-old picks up a knife from the table, her parents can say, "No!" Alternatively, they could say, "Oh, you want to help with the cooking?" and hand her a butter knife and some soft bread to cut.
Throughout our society, there is a lot of emphasis on stopping various activities without offering a viable alternative.
It's important to halt a dangerous activity; to freeze rather than come to harm. But after the thaw, we need to get moving. What will we do? How much better it is to provide some ideas about that.
As the 99-Word Story indicates, we don't have to possess a lot in order to be generous. Similarly, we don't need unending resources or infinite creativity to solve difficult problems. But we do need more than Don't, Stop, and No because when we focus on what we do have instead of what we don't have, like generosity, the possibilities expand.
It's natural to want to prevent negative behavior. But if all you do is make people freeze, you are not identifying any ideas about what they could do instead. Use this activity to help people sharpen their ability to turn negative Don'ts, Stops, and Nos into useful alternatives.
Negative to Positive
Goal: To provide practice in turning negative commands into useful ideas for action
Time: 30 minutes
Materials: A handout with a list of negative commands, one per person
Participants: Any number
Explain to the participants that it is natural to try to stop negative behavior but if all people hear is what should not be done, they may not think of all the positive things that someone could do instead. Similarly, if people only hear what has not happened, they have no information about what has occurred.
Invite people to imagine hearing the following weather report:
"Overnight, we did not receive the five to seven inches of snow that was predicted yesterday. The temperature will not be 30 to 35 degrees and the wind will not be out of the southeast."
Even though you would have heard a lot of information about what is not happening with the weather, you would have little information about what the weather is going to be.
Similarly, if a parent says, "Stop hitting your brother," the child has no suggestions for an alternative sibling activity. Or if we are told to "Stamp out hunger," we have no clue about what to do instead of being hungry (after all, even if you eat three meals today, you will certainly be hungry tomorrow!).
Ask participants to choose a partner. Distribute a handout to each person with a list of Negative Commands. Challenge the teams to write at least one Positive Action for each Negative Command.
After five to ten minutes of writing, read the Negative Commands one at a time and invite teams to share their Positive Actions. Recognize especially appropriate Positive Actions with a round of applause.
Conclude the activity with a few discussion questions that will help solidify the learning of the group.
- Which Negative Commands have you encountered before?
- Which Commands were most difficult to transform into a Positive Action?
- Why do you think we give negative commands so frequently?
- When are negative commands most appropriate; when are they least effective?
- What advice do you have about changing Negative Commands into Positive Actions?
- What is a time in the future when you can try suggesting a Positive Action to someone instead of give them a Negative Command?
Following is a list of Negative Commands and the Positive Actions that participants might make about them. There are many other possibilities for Positive Actions.
Distribute only the left column of Negative Commands to participants and let them write their own Positive Actions.
Negative Commands Positive Actions
Stop teasing your brother Sing a song with your brother Stamp out hunger Positive nutrition for all Prevent hair loss Grow more hair Resist racism Embrace all races Repeal Obama care Affordable healthcare for everyone Prevent suicide Promote positive mental health and resilience Mothers Against Drunk Driving Mothers for responsible driving No new taxes Fair taxes for all Anti-bullying campaign Building friendships campaign Stop the leaks Support loyalty and confidentiality
Please give this activity a trial with your group then your experience.
If you like what you have read in this issue, I would like to bring the same innovation, creativity, and playfulness to your next meeting or learning event.
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