How to Recover From Your Most Awkward Moments

The key to handling interactions with grace: anticipating the other person’s point of view (often before they know it themselves)

By Mary Loftus from Psychology Today
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine September 2013

Man holding boss' coffeeMark Hooper/Getty Images

How to: Dole Out Praise

Kind words can be powerful motivators—but only if you praise the right things. Praising someone’s ability to work hard is more effective than gushing about how brilliant she is. Research shows that kids who are praised for their intelligence do not try as hard on future tasks. “Being praised for effort or other aspects of performance directly under your control leads to resilience, while being praised for being smart or for other innate abilities can lead to feelings of helplessness or self-doubt when a setback occurs,” says psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, associate director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University.

How praise is delivered counts as much as what gets praised. Praise should be specific and sincere—and given generously, especially at the office. Workers asked to learn a task performed better the next day if they had been praised at the end of the previous day, say Japanese researchers. To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being given money.

How to: Persuade Others
Our polarized political climate might suggest that no one can be persuaded to anything; everyone has already made up his or her mind. But if that were true, there would be no salesmen, lawyers, or therapists. In fact, each day, many of us have to persuade people to buy into something they might not otherwise consider.

When you want to change someone’s mood, mind, or willingness to act, don’t ask yourself, How can I win this argument? Instead, ask, How can I win agreement without anger? advises rhetoric expert Jay Heinrichs, author of Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion. Figure out what you want, and then go about getting it.

“Never debate the undebatable,” he says. “Instead, focus on goals.” Control the mood with volume, tone, stories. Watch for persuadable moments. And most important, be agreeable—express similarities and shared values; show people that you have their best interests, as well as your own, at heart. (You’d say, “You may not agree with _____, but do you really want Big Brother deciding what we can and can’t do in our private lives?”)

Who Knew? Peer Power
Never discount the influential effect of comparing people with their fellows, says Robert Cialdini, an Arizona State University psychologist turned consultant who wrote Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. He cites an energy company that placed monthly hangers on office doors so that employees could compare how much energy each one used—and the process reduced overall usage by 3.5 percent. “It’s not peer pressure as much as ‘social evidence,’ ” says rhetoric expert Heinrichs. Evolutionarily, it’s proved smart to do what those around us in similar situations have done.

Next: How to deliver criticism and get an honest answer »

  • Your Comments

    • Rashid

      It should be “know.” Correct the mistake.