This week's This American Life was so interesting. Especially the opening piece.
A scientific study confirmed what I think most of us have come to realize intuitively through experience.
A researcher wanted to study group dynamics, particularly, how 'bad apples' can affect a group.
Through studying the work done by other researchers, this scientist who I will call Will Phelps, because that is what he is named, Identified 3 types of 'Bad Apples' that can spoil a team. There is the Jerk, who puts others down with insults(he would say the other's ideas were inadequate but offer no ideas himself. He would say they all need to listen to the expert: him) . The Slacker, who does less than they can(would say 'whatever' and 'i don't care' I feel most like the slacker). And the Depressive Pessimist(the name says it all. Would complain the task is unenjoyable. Doubt the groups ability to succeed.).
Phelps hired a confederate (an actor) to play these three roles (not at the same time) while various groups of volunteers engaged in assignments requiring team work.
It was not surprising that Phelps found groups performed more poorly when the confederate bad apple was a part of their group. However, it was surprising to me, how much worse they performed and how universal it was. All but one group was effected (more on that one group at the end). Not only did each group perform worse(30-40% less effective), but the way they interacted with each other was also negatively effected. Regardless of which bad apple the actor was being, they would argue and fight. They would not share their relevant information and generally communicate less. Also, individual group members began to adopt the behavior of the bad apple(which would then amplify the effect he had).
When the confederate was a jerk, people became more insulting of each other, when he was the Depressive Pessimist Phelps said that towards the end of the assignment many in the group would actually be laying their heads down on the table. I have several opinions on why this is so. Some of them I wrote here.
This is an interesting study that has great application to our personal betterment.
Often in a group we might only see how we are affected by who we are around, but this shows us how much of how people around us act depends on how we act. This places responsibility on us in terms of how people around us behave. I think we have all been around one of those 3 types of bad apples and experienced the negative consequences which result, but I think that all of us, at one time or another has also been one of those bad apples. When our behavior then began to effect the group, I wonder how many of us then blamed for how they were responding to our negative behavior
Their is a quote I like by Ram Das (that I couldn't find, so I will paraphrase) about how we can tell how we are doing personally by how other people act around us. This study very much illustrates his point. I think many of us are able to recognize that when we are around a selfish person, it then brings selfishness out of us (since they are only looking out for themselves, we feel compelled to make extra certain our needs are being met, creating a cycle) When we are around generous, kind people, it is easy for us to feel generous and kind in return.
It makes some things that seem idealistic and altruistic actually pragmatic and self serving. When we are kind, compassionate and giving towards others, it makes them kind compassionate and giving towards us. (Generally. Narcissists can be an exception and totally take advantage of us when we are giving. But this is very rare, and with time I have seen even profoundly narcissistic personality types soften and be giving.) When we listen and are understanding towards others, they listen and are understanding towards us. (I'm not saying someone who does these things does it for selfish reasons, but that when they do, it then serves the self regardless)
Because of this, it is the ironic that our selfish tendencies are actually so counter productive. If we are the sort who is still at the stage where we are desperately seeking to have our needs met by other people, the best way to do it, would be to treat others exactly as we want them to treat us, which will then, very often, elicit that behavior from others. It is hard to be rude and uncaring towards someone who is being compassionate and giving.
If we want people to treat us a certain way, the best way to make that happen is to treat that person the way we want them to treat us. The worst way would be to silently pout about it. Or to be pissy and bitter because they aren't treating us how we want.
When someone IS being rude and selfish towards us, often we can break that cycle by then being kind and compassionate towards them. It can be very difficult. When someone is unkind to us, it brings up strong emotions. Makes us want to put up defense mechanisms and resist them, which only perpetuates their unpleasant behavior, but if we can have a moment of clarity and strength to break the cycle and be compassionate towards them, most often this will end their mean behavior and allow us a return of that kindness.
This is the first chapter of the self help book I am writing called 'Will you make me a baked potato?'. I am joking. Jokes on you, Ashton Kutcher, Come on in!
Oh yeah, which reminds me, I forgot to mention the one group in the study that wasn't spoiled by the bad apple. That group had one member who was a dynamic leader that listened carefully to each member of the group. His behavior, of giving a voice to each person, making sure they were listened to and understood was able to keep the dynamic positive and productive and overcome the negative influence of the Bad Apple.(it turns out his father is a diplomat) I found that inspiring. That as destructive and influential as bad apples can be, their negative influence can still be overcome with, perhaps, listening. (Of course, this was only one example in one study. The researcher is now going to to a study on the effects of listening to combat bad apples. I am curious to know the results.)
It has been great dating Marissa where all of this comes natural. She is always so kind and giving that I feel my emotional needs so fully met I have no need to then be emotionally selfish or taking. It requires no effort on my part to feel compassion and love towards someone so perpetually compassionate and loving. And in only 6 more hours I will be reunited with her messy hair. A copy of the Kama Sutra in hand.
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