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Ben Martin

About the author : Ben Martin is a research and business development associate at Thera Rising Intenational. He also delivers seminars and oversees digital development.

How To Get the Reaction You Want 96% of the Time

October 11, 2016   Conflict IQ

OK, I’ll admit: that headline sounds completely bogus. But as it turns out, there’s science to back it up. And it has huge implications for how we handle frustrations at work and in our personal lives.

If someone – a friend, a colleague, a family member – loses their cool and gets hostile towards us, how do we respond? Usually, by being hostile back at them, right? That tendency of humans to mirror the behavior of others is called reciprocity. But it works the other way, too. If we open a conversation with warmth, the other person is likely to respond in kind.

Sure, it’s easy to throw out generalizations. But what does the science say?

Biofeedback expert Dr. John Gottman conducted a number of studies on the subject. He found that people exercise both kinds of reciprocity – positive and negative – 96% of the time.

Leveraging positive reciprocity doesn’t mean we have a 96% shot at getting exactly what we want. What it does mean is that we can set the tone of a conversation, steering even difficult conversations towards a trajectory of warmth and appreciation. (We’ll talk more about what it looks like to treat someone with warmth and accountability in an upcoming article.)

This also works in reverse. When someone else approaches us with anger, the knee-jerk reaction is to respond in kind. But by resisting that temptation and meeting them with warmth and accountability, we have a good shot at turning the conversation around.

So go ahead and give it a try sometime. When you feel that impulse to blow up, take a step back and try using reciprocity to set the conversation on a more constructive course.

Our next two blog posts will dive further into this subject. First, we’ll cover the negative side of reciprocity by looking the physiology of hostility (called flooding.) After that, we’ll look at the positive side by examining exactly what it looks like to hold somebody accountable with warmth. So keep your eyes peeled – we hope to see you there!


Ben MartinBen Martin specializes in research and business development at Thera Rising. When he’s not out delivering seminars, he oversees client outreach and digital development.

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