Suppose a colleague gives you a compliment as you meet her in the hallway and then another person accidentally bumped you in passing. You will respond more quickly and strongly to being bumped than to being complimented, even if the person who knocked into you immediately apologizes. You have little power over those instinctual reactions. In fact, your mood will be altered longer from a bump than a compliment and you will remember it longer.
Why? Not because you are a negatively inclined person, but because your strongest, most primal instinct is for survival. That instinct is hardwired into your brain so that, even in modern circumstances, your swiftest, most pervasive reactions are to protect yourself from any sign of "danger." All of your angry feelings are the visible surface of an underlying negative feeling such as hurt or irritation that stem from some early circumstance in your life where you felt in danger. The current source of your anger looks similar to that earlier time.
When you react negatively, even with a briefly hardened face or a sharp tone in one word, the other person instinctively escalates in a ping pong reaction back and forth. It's easier for an interaction to degenerate into a difficult time from one "bad" action than it is for the experience to rise from a positive action.
Since you can't re-wire your brain to change your gut instinctual reactions, you can compensate by appearing "safe" when you first meet and re-meet people. Here's two valuable ways. First, move and speak slower, lower and less at first so the other person can gain comfort and familiarity with the situation, even if he already knows you and has had positive past experiences with you. In the beginning, don't talk loud and quickly or move fast and frequently, especially with high, quick arm gestures.
Such gestures also rob you of the appearance of power. If your voice is lower and slower, your sentences shorter and your gestures are spare, then the other person will accept your more quick and direct body motions and verbal suggestions later on., even thought they probably won't be conscious of why.
Second, since people instinctively like people who are somehow like them, demonstrate the part of you which is most like them. Refer to common experiences, background or places. Adjust your voice level and rate and amount and kind of body motion to become more like theirs. Children do this instinctively. Only as we get older do we lose the instinct to adapt to another's behavioral style.
Here are some other suggestions for gaining and holding another's attention.
1. Be vividly specific. A specific detail or example proves a general conclusion, not the reverse. A vivid, specific detail is memorable, while a general statement is less credible and easily forgotten. Ironically, most adult conversation and advertising is general. Children are more likely to be vividly specific and thus more memorable. When you want to be heard and remembered, characterize your information or request with a vivid, specific detail, example, story or contrasting options. Involve words that relate to the senses. For example "beautiful color" is not as vivid as "blue" which is not as vivid as "cobalt blue."
2. Be "plainly clear." Avoid wearing patterned clothing or other detail on your clothing, especially on the upper half of the body, because it will shorten the attention span of the person with whom you are speaking.
3. Look for the underlying issue. When you are arguing for more than ten minutes, you are probably not discussing the real conflict and are thus unlikely to get it resolved in the discussion. Look for the underlying issue. Read Robert Bromson's idea-packed book, Dealing With Difficult people,e for ideas about how to recognize specific difficult behaviors and adopt behaviors to protect yourself from them.
4. Deepen their commitment before you ask for more. The more time, actions or other effort someone has put into something, someone or some course of action, the more deeply they believe in it, will defend it and will work on it some more. If you want more from the other person, wait until he has invested more time, energy, money or other resources to ask for it.
5. Bring out their best side. If a person likes they way he acts when he is around you, he often sees the qualities in you that he most admires. The opposite is also true. Pick the moments when someone feels most at ease and happy, to move the relationship forward. Don't make suggestions or requests when they are acting in an unbecoming way. Your efforts will only backfire. Praise the behavior you want to flourish.
6. Move to motivate. Motion activates emotion and makes experiences more memorable. Motion attracts attention and causes people to remember more of what's happening and feel more strongly about it, for better or for worse. Get others involved in motions with you that create goodwill: walking, sharing a meal, handing or receiving a gift, shaking hands, turning to face a new scene. You are more likely to literally get "in sync." That is, your vital signs become more similar: eye pupil dilation, skin temperature and heart beat.