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Positivity principle


Principles > Positivity principle

Principle | How it works | So what?


Positive approaches are generally more effective than negative approaches.

How it works

When persuading a person, you can use negative approaches, such as appeals based on fear, shame and so on, or positive approaches that use happiness, pride and so on.

The problem with negative

Negative approaches often lead to an avoidance strategy. Avoidance is multi-directional, in that the person avoiding one thing will do anything but that thing. If you are trying to to get them to do the thing they are avoiding, it can seem like a sheepdog trying to round up sheep who go in any direction but towards the dog.

The same principle applies when you use coercive methods in persuasion, where the subject reacts to the oppression they feel, deliberately doing anything that is not what you want them to do. To comply feels like giving in to force and seriously impacts their sense of control.

Positive benefits

Positive methods are respectful and supportive of the person, enhancing their sense of identity and not compromising their sense of control.

The paradox with positive methods is that they can seem to carry a greater risk of failure and may reduce the sense of control that the persuader has.

Positive skills

Positive methods often seem more difficult than negative methods and need good empathetic and communicative skills to be implemented effectively. Some people are naturally good at this but many of us need to study and practice to develop these skills.

Polar approaches

Many disciplines have significant literature at either end of the negative and positive ends of the scale.

For example:

As well as perhaps indicating that positive methods are not that easy, this also suggests that there are some situations where negative methods may be more appropriate, for example in crises where there is insufficient time to ask nicely.

Positive beliefs

One of the fundamental things that will help you in using positive methods is that you have positive beliefs about people. If you think others are decent, good and kind, then you will be more likely to use positive methods. Negative methods tend to be more defensive, assuming others are malevolent or uncaring.

To have positive beliefs about others, it is also important to have positive beliefs about yourself. If you think yourself unworthy, incompetent and inferior, then you will likely find using positive methods more difficult.

So what?

Seek first to use positive methods that encourage, that make people feel good and which lead them to want to agree with you. Develop your skills in this area, starting with your own beliefs about yourself and then your beliefs about other people.

Only use negative methods when positive methods fail or where you know from experience that the negative methods will work best.

See also

Pull, Relationship selling, Collaborative Negotiation, Quiet Leadership,  Building Rapport, Persuade by Pride, Not Shame



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