Saturday, February 6, 2010

Individual Differences In Negative Tolerance

I had an interesting thing happen to me today…My husband asked how a recent meeting with my boss had gone? My initial reply was "we don't have time now to get into it." (it was 8:10am and I had to get to work) but he insisted that I tell him. So, being the chatty women I am I started telling him about the words that were said and the meaning I inferred. The promises I was told that I know in my heart will not come true. After approximately one and a half minutes my husband (still lying in bed) picked up his blackberry and started reading his email. I stopped, looked at him and asked "why did you stop listening to me?" His response really got me thinking "because you are being negative!"

Wow…I walked out (not mad) and thought I am being negative but what surprised me more was his lack of tolerance for my negativity. In general I am a very optimistic and positive person. My psychological assessments usually read that my biggest downfall is that I think positively about too many people and should try to balance out my optimism. But lately I have realized that my own tolerance for negativity is low (or high). There are several people in my workplace that complain about everything. After approximately 7 months I realize that it is affecting my attitude. I feel guilty even saying this because it insinuates that I only want to surround myself with positive people. Well...When I think about it I do.

As a research I started contemplating "what are the individual levels of tolerance for affect?" Research indicates that people have individual dispositions toward positive and negative affect (they aren't mutually exclusive). Individuals with high positive affect are more creative, social and optimistic. Individuals with high negative affect are more logical, and systematic. But what is the tolerance level for these differences.

Going back to my own test dummies (my husband and I) it is interesting. Myself for example…I have high positive affect and have been tolerating others negativity for several months without it effecting me. After 7 months it has built up and is starting to but I am constantly coming up with solutions to create a more positive environment even if it involves talking to the negative individual less and/or changing my psychological perception of how my day will go.

My husband on the other hand has high negative affect (he is extremely logical and a little pessimistic). I would count on the fact that he has a much lower tolerance for negativity than I do because I bring him down quicker. I wouldn’t be surprised if he liked me because I am positive and that this morning’s events were his lack of tolerance of negativity.

Just think about it. In general do you have high positive/negative affect? What is your tolerance for negativity at home/work?

To test you positive/negative affect click here. On the 4th page of this document is the PANAS, a well known and respected measure of positive and negative affect. The scoring for this measure is on page 5.

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