Naga Chokkanathan

Why Not? — Negativity Threshold

Posted on: April 15, 2011

Two of my close friends, are 180 degree apart. One is a Cricket lover, and the other hates cricket and thinks all cricket matches are fixed by bookies and their uncles.

Other than this minor(?) problem, they are good friends too. They discuss a lot of about various topics, but when the talk turns towards cricket, I can see an interesting pattern.

Friend #1 (who is a cricket lover) doesn’t mind Friend #2 insulting cricket players, officials etc., Even if he is called an ‘idiot’ for watching a ‘cooked’ cricket match live, he will still smile and accept it.

On the other hand, Friend #2 doesn’t have this level of acceptance. If Friend #1 or me or someone else talk about cricket or cricketers’ glory, within a few minutes he will jump into the conversation and start shouting at the top of his voice. ‘Are you guys crazy? Why do you talk about cricket? It is not a sport, but a cheating business!’

Forget cricket, think about these two friends. One is able to accept any amount of negativity from the other and keeps the friendship intact, whereas the other is not ready to accept even a tiny bit of alternate-view. You might have observed the same pattern when people talk about politics, movies, share market, even religion.

There is a concept called “Negativity Threshold” which explains this. When two people interact, they have different negativity thresholds. They are okay with any disagreement as long as the other person is within this threshold, but when they cross it, these people express displeasure / disinterest openly, by shouting or arguing or even ditching that relationship.

Negativity Threshold is considered an important factor in success of failure of marriages. When a husband or wife is constantly crossing the negativity threshold of their partner, slowly but steadily the relationship sinks. The same is true in a friendship or even a business relationship.

So, what should we do to avoid losing friends or customers or business / life partners? Should we have a low negativity threshold or a high negativity threshold?

In case of my friends, the cricket lover has a high negativity threshold, whereas the cricketer has a very low negativity threshold. As a result, the cricket lover is losing friends, That means, we should increase our negativity threshold to as high as possible. Right?

Nope. Psychologists say having a very high negativity threshold actually backfires and hurts you. It is like the famous “Poison Tree” poem by William Blake:

I was angry with my friend:

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears

Night and morning with my tears,

And I sunned it with smiles

And with soft deceitful wiles.

This means, a high negativity threshold may look like saving your relationship, but in reality you are building a poison fruit. Sooner or later it will result in a bigger damage.

Instead, relationship counselors advice us to have a low tolerance with anyone we interact with. It doesn’t mean you keep complaining 24*7, but if you don’t like something, say it immediately. Don’t worry about the short term unhappiness or the repairing that may be necessary to get the relationship back on track. If you decide keep the ‘criticism’ on hold, it will result in a bigger problem later.



N. Chokkan …

15 04 2011


3 Responses to "Why Not? — Negativity Threshold"

“This means, a low negativity threshold may look like saving your relationship, but in reality you are building a poison fruit. Sooner or later it will result in a bigger damage.”

You’re confusing me… don’t you mean … this means a *high* negativity threshold…may look like saving your relationship…?

Yes, I think it was supposed to say, “this means a high negativity threshold may look like your saving your relationship….” I was confused by that too. AND I hope this blogger will change it because I would like to share this on social media because I agree with it, but don’t want to confuse people.

Thanks @tomhanig and @Paulette for letting me know about this error. I apologize, and corrected it now.

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