02 March 2006

dominance and contempt

Recently I've been listening to Blink, the second book by Malcom Gladwell, on my IPOD. His idea is that the sub-conscious forms some pretty accurate conclusions amazingly quickly and that these surface as our gut instinct, our first reaction. Some of his more specific examples have been fun to meditate on...

Letting people in your room is a bigger step than meeting your parents
The first was that spending 20 minutes in someone's living space tells you more about them on 3 of the 5 personality axes than conversing with them. Those three are measures of conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience. Generally, I think this is about right. It's the same reason you get that flutter of nervousness the first time you let someone you don't know well into your apartment. Immediately, they will realise things about you that you've been able to conceal in public interaction. Are you slovenly? Are you obsessively neat? Do you have a hidden passion for sci-fi novels? Is your place full of mirrors?

Arguing will predict the future of your relationship
The second was the idea that you can predict the potential success of a relationship (the book deals with marriage, but I think this is somewhat generalisable) based on three emotions: critisism, defensiveness, and contempt. The first two aren't a death sentence, it really depends on the context and the ratio of positive to negative feelings in a given interaction. What kills it is contempt. Because contempt comes from a place of superiority and a state of finality. It's a loss of equality and respect; if your friend/partner/spouse tends to express contempt for you when you're arguing, you're doomed.

Being dominant = being sued
The last example was about doctors (nice and relevant) and which ones are more likely to get sued. It turns out, it's pretty simple: people don't sue doctor's they like. The key to being an insurable doctor, then, is to be an approachable and empathetic one, not a superior and dominant one. In fact, dominance was the single most correlated adjective. They took 40 second samples of doctors talking to their patients and erased the content (removed the high frequencies that signal word differentiation) and noted which doctors utilised a dominant tone. Yup, those were the ones who got sued. So, the lesson is, barring gross negligence, being an affable person will reduce the number of lawsuits on your record.

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