Condo Living

September 28, 2023 Published by Grand River Chapter - By Sara Hicks

The Negativity Bias and You!

Wait, what bias? The negativity bias is a psychological phenomenon in which humans tend to give more attention and weight to negative experiences, emotions, and information than to positive ones.

Wait, what bias?

The negativity bias is a psychological phenomenon in which humans tend to give more attention and weight to negative experiences, emotions, and information than to positive ones. 

Among other things, it can explain why we often: 

Remember and think about insults more than compliments; 

  • Respond more (emotionally and physically) to aversive situations; 
  • Dwell on unpleasant or traumatic events more than pleasant ones; 
  • Focus our attention more quickly on negative rather than positive information. 

Even when we experience many good events in one day, negativity bias can cause us to focus on the sole bad thing that occurred. It can lead us to ruminate on small things, worry over having made a bad impression, and linger on negative comments.  

So, what does this psychological term have to do with condos? Well, the bias can impact communication, and, to some degree, we do all need to communicate!  

What are some situations it can occur in? 

  1. Misinterpretation: Think of all the emails that can fly back and forth in a day, and sometimes the wording in one gets you feeling a bit defensive. It could be possible that you are perceiving feedback that was meant to be constructive as negative. You feel criticized, and now you are less open to communicating, or communicating positively.  
  2. Memory: We cannot remember everything we discuss, at a meeting or during a phone-call, but this bias may help us in remembering the negative things, or lead to a skewed perception of the communication itself. It may have been positive overall, but the lasting impression is not.  
  3. An Emotional Response: Think of when you hear something negative, such as, our reserve fund is underfunded! Or the project costs more than we expected; we will need to special assess! This sort of information that has such an impact can cause an emotional reaction from shock, to anger, to sadness, or anxiety. Many do not function well while feeling these emotions, and so productive and rational thinking is more difficult.  
  4. Resistance to Change: When you think of the word change, do you think of something positive? Most associate the word change with something bad. Negative information or perceived negative information can bring about feelings of fear and resistance.  
  5. Reduced Trust: All of these scenarios or even one can start to break down the trust between parties, such as between a Board and property manager. Once the trust has eroded, it can be difficult to get it back to the collaborative environment we hope for.  

These are some examples that I am sure some of you can relate to. If the negativity bias is as hard-wired as they say it is, what are we supposed to do to be more aware of it, and combat the negative impact?  

  1. Choose your language carefully-there is a lesser chance of misinterpretation. This is especially important when writing emails; an improperly worded email may unknowingly offend the recipient and be a step towards a toxic working relationship. Read the email before sending, and imagine you are on the receiving end of it. How would you feel in their shoes? What is your intended goal with the email; is it to answer a question, provide input or are there emotional words sprinkled in that will make the receiver defensive? The goal should be a solution.  
  2. A Balancing Act-Sometimes the negativity in a conversation is hard to avoid. However, it is important to strike a balance; throw in some positivity! It is okay to recognize hard situations and name them for what they are. We all do our best to remain professional, but sometimes we must admit that situations just, well, stink. However, a well-meaning compliment never hurt anyone, and I can say that kind words give managers, or anyone, a boost! Managers can also acknowledge the difficulty of a Boards position and empathize with some of the decisions they have to make.  
  3. Listening-seriously! -There is listening and there is active listening. Are you digesting what is being said at a Board meeting, or are you mentally going through what you want to say at the meeting? Have you read the Board package in advance, ready to ask questions and receive the answers? If you are not certain, you should feel comfortable to ask them to clarify so your response and input can also be clear.  
  4. Being mindful: This can be many things, but in context, be aware of your own biases and what may cause an emotional reaction. You may not like what your manager has to say but think about why. Is it their tone of voice? Is it their attitude? Or is the content something that is giving you a reaction. Try to be open to their viewpoints, as well as those of the other directors to reach common ground.  
  5. Resolving Conflicts-As I have stated, negative emotions can escalate! It can be helpful that if i.e., the manager says something that you perceive as negative, to ask them to repeat it or rephrase it. Perhaps their communication is out of line due to their own bias or emotions, and this will bring their awareness to it. Everyone can assist in not aggravating difficult situations so conflicts can be better managed. 

Overall, many of us have been in situations at some point in our lives where you can cut the tension with a knife. Because condos come along with rules which many struggle with, financial obligations that many do not understand, and other difficult situations, they can be a breeding ground for negativity. Being aware of the negativity bias does not eradicate it, but we can all make a conscious effort to overcome its effects both in personal and professional contexts.  

Sara Hicks
Vice-President, Owner
MF Property Management


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