The Power of Bad…How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It …This is a great book written by John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister. It points out that the majority of people look for the “bad.” They claim and prove that “bad is universally powerful!” They bring up the phrase “the negativity effect.” They go on to prove that we are much more conscious of negativity then we are of positivity. They reveal the “negativity bias” and prove that bad is much stronger than good. They point out that 80% of the people who are exposed to a terrifying event do not experience posttraumatic stress syndrome. But we emphasize the 20% that are negatively affected. They point out how the power of bad inspires virtuous behavior and why hell is such a common believe in religious practice.
They cite the fact that our fine-tuned sense of bad is debilitating. This is the power that governs our moods and guides our decisions. It drives news and shapes public discourse. Even though the past quarter-century has been extraordinarily peaceful by historical standards we think we have witnessed more battles and bloodshed than ever before. The rate of violent crime in America has plummeted but most people think it’s gone up because we see so much of it on television and in the the public media. The steady diet of bad news makes people feel helpless and therefore negative.
The truth is that we are richer, healthier, freer and safer than any of our ancestors could ever hope to be yet we don’t enjoy our blessings and we think we are in terrible shape. The authors say that we prefer to heed and vote for the voices telling us that the world is going to hell. (Here’s an interesting side note. They cite the fact that the number of people killed worldwide by Al Qaeda and ISIS and their allies in the past two decades is smaller than the number of Americans who died in their bathtubs. But as the authors say, we see victims of terrorism over and over on the screens but not victims of bathtub accidents.)
I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get my point. It is an absolutely fascinating book and it proves that we have a tendency to look for what the authors call the “crisis crisis.” So, you ask, what does that have to do with interviewing and getting hired?
Well, here is what it has to do with the interviewing and hiring process. Interviewing authorities are going to look for more of the negative in your candidacy than they are going to look for the positive! I can’t tell you the number of candidates that I interview weekly who come out of interviews thinking that they absolutely nailed it. They claim that they did an absolutely phenomenal job and that everything went just about perfectly. And then I talk to the interviewing or hiring authority and they mention some very small part of the conversation and use it to cast doubt on the candidate.
Just this week, one of the Presidents of the firm I sent a vice president candidate to said to me, “You know we talked for an hour and a half and I really like the guy. I like everything about him. I like his mannerisms and I like the way that he would get along with the people that work here. I like his accomplishments and I think from a character point of view he would fit into our company really, really well. But, you know there was something I really didn’t understand. Back at one of those jobs that he had, I think he said that they brought somebody in over him. Now I’m not really sure what happened and if that’s true. But why, if he was the vice president of sales, would they bring somebody in over him if he was doing a really good job. So, it made me wonder, maybe he’s not the leader that I think he might be. I mean…if they brought somebody in over him…why would they do that? I think I understand that’s what happened.”
One hour and a half’s worth of positive exchange and the president was concerned about something he thought he understood and began his negative bias concerns. It turned out that he totally misunderstood the candidate and the other person that was brought in the company was brought in for a totally different reason. The candidate, apparently, didn’t explain that very well. The candidate has not had a chance yet to explain it clearly to the president of this company.
The moral to the story is that both candidates and hiring authorities need to be aware of the “negative bias” syndrome that we all have a tendency toward. Hiring authorities especially are just plain afraid of making a mistake. There is a big tendency to look at and focus on all of the negatives. Candidates have a tendency to focus on all of their positives not realizing that the hiring authority or interviewing authority is going to lean more toward remembering and over emphasizing the negative issues. In this case, one slight misunderstanding is now a hurdle that the candidate has to overcome.
If you’re a job candidate you need to analyze everything you say in an interview and everything you’ve done in the past and ask yourself if it can be a topic of negative bias. Some of the things many candidates think are absolutely positive turn out to be the very things that cost them the job.
Remember… the power of bad outweighs the power of good. It does no good to curse this issue. Both sides of the desk need to be aware of its impact.