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psych safety NSO mindset 550 px

I’m still fascinated by Negative Sentiment Override (NSO) and how it affects psychological safety, which influences our lives at home and at work. We’ve talked about what NSO is and that it’s hard to recognize it in ourselves. We’ve also discussed that we can’t force anyone else to stop being negative. The only person that we can change is ourselves.

So far, we’ve talked about one-to-one relationships, which the research on NSO supports. As far as I know, research on NSO has been done with couples in mind. I want to extrapolate the findings to other scenarios and want to be clear that we are now moving into Kathy’s musings and away from proven research.

As I’ve viewed the world lately through the lens of NSO and Positive Sentiment Override (PSO), I’ve noticed that some people seem to be in a state of NSO towards entire groups – not just one individual.

Of course, the most glaring, public example is of conservatives and liberals. I have friends in both categories, and what strikes me is their inability to see any good in what the other group says and does. It feels like a values issue, which means we feel most strongly about it. If we are in NSO, every action is an insult and we are enraged by them. However, if we are in PSO rather than NSO, we recognize neutral and positive actions and comments from the other side.

It’s important to remember that a state of NSO distorts our view of reality. We aren’t seeing things accurately. In a sense, we are demonizing people and groups with our interpretation of their words and actions. Honestly, it takes very little effort to put a negative spin on anything, and in NSO we are making up other people’s motivations. Keep in mind that we don’t know what anyone is really thinking or why they do things unless we ask.

We usually don’t ask because we surround ourselves with people who share our values and think like us. They reinforce our beliefs for us. We also scan the world for things that support our slanted view. We do not register facts that would support an opposing view – either because we don’t get those facts because we insulate ourselves, or we don’t notice. Remember, a partner in NSO misses 50% of the positive gestures of the other person.

Let’s go one step further. I’ve noticed people who have an NSO mindset about everything! I think it’s what I’ve considered a “victim mentality.” In NSO, a person is overly sensitive and hypervigilant for putdowns. I know people who live in that state. They cruise through life determined to be insulted by almost everything. They take the circumstances of life and most interactions with others as personal affronts.

All of this makes me very nervous about the accuracy with which I view people, groups, and the world. What positive things am I missing? What neutral things am I moving to negative? Honestly, it feels a little like an episode of The Twilight Zone.

It makes me wonder, am I in NSO towards any one person, group, or the world? How would I know? If I am in NSO, my view of reality is distorted. I am not seeing 50% of the good things about a person, group, or the world. If all that is true, wouldn’t I feel justified in my animosity and anger towards them?

And bingo! I think we’ve found the first tell. The question to ask is, “Am I angry a lot of the time?” Another good one is, “Do I feel insulted often?” Another good question is, “What am I spending my emotional pennies on?”

On the whole, I don’t live in a state of anger. I don’t feel like a person or group’s actions are a personal affront. There are groups that I don’t agree with because they do not value what I value. Their actions might make me angry, but it isn’t a permanent state. I don’t even hate these people.

And bingo! Here is our second hint about whether or not we are in an NSO state. We could ask, “Do I hate this group, this person, or the world?” It’s important to see other people as people, and not as objects. It’s really hard to hate someone who we view as having thoughts, dreams, and rights equal to our own.

In my experience, most people do what they believe is right based on their own experiences, values, and beliefs. Yes, people caught in NSO who cannot see any part of the other’s perspective are particularly annoying, but we cannot force them to change. We can only invite the behavior we’d like to see by showing them what positive and open-minded look like.

I feel that I could easily slip into an NSO state with a group. When we join a group that is in NSO, everything feels certain and comfortable. We all believe the same things, and there is a strong sense of belonging because it is us against them. It’s comfortable and not confusing at all. Everything is clear because we have taken a reality full of grays and made it black and white.

And bingo! Our third indicator of being in NSO is an absolute feeling of superiority of belief and value over another person or group.

So I feel a little better! I don’t have to sit around wondering if I’m distorting reality and clueless about it. I have questions I can ask myself:

  • Am I angry a lot of the time?
  • Do I feel insulted often?
  • What am I spending my emotional pennies on?
  • Do I hate this group, person, or the world?
  • Do I feel superior to another person or group?
  • Am I completely confident that my way of thinking and believing is the only right way?

Awareness is a first step to wisdom and control. Anyone who knows me knows I like control. Wisdom is something I’m always working on.

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