An old saying goes, “Listen carefully to how a person speaks about other people to you. This is how they will speak about you to other people." In fact, according to recent psychological research, the way a person speaks about others can also shine a light on their personality, their overall mental well-being and how others see them. (This is not about moments of justifiable criticism – it’s about how we describe other people on a regular basis).
In 2010, a series of studies conducted by Professor Dustin Wood, in North Carolina, found that people describing other people in relatively positive ways, tended to be show more positive personality traits. Furthermore, they were seen more positively by other people and were also more satisfied with their life. On the other hand, Dustin Wood reported that a huge “suite” of negative personality traits appeared to underpin viewing others negatively. He went on, “The simple tendency to see people negatively indicates a greater likelihood of depression and various personality disorders."
Some of these studies were repeated a year later and the same patterns emerged – the positive describers stayed positive, and the negatives stayed negative.
Maybe these findings aren’t too surprising. It’s easy to see that people who routinely have a negative spin on other people are shining a big light on their own negativity. A possible criticism of this research is the implication that this behaviour is part of one’s personality and won’t change. But, perhaps there is a learning point for all of us. If we are revealing more about ourselves when we complain about others, then perhaps learning to stop, hold our critical tongue, and find something appreciative and pleasant to say about people could be a moment to transform ourselves. Maybe, maybe not. But it won’t cost anything to give it a try!
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