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Regarding how you interact with others, what is a characteristic or trait about yourself that you highly value?

How about your kindness? Or dedication to fulfilling a promise? Your honesty? Your acceptance?

Now imagine a person that is challenging for you to interact with. Consider how the momentary behavior of that person influences if or how much you demonstrate that trait when interacting with them.

There is a difference between treating a person a certain way because of how they are behaving at that moment, and treating that person a certain way because of who we are.

Are we kind because that person seems to deserve our kindness at this moment?  Or are we kind because we are a kind person?

Both are valid and useful ways of navigating social interactions,  and both will influence the other person’s subsequent behavior. But let’s not focus here on the impact on the other person. Let’s consider the benefit of expressing a positive character trait. This is when we behave toward others in a way that is consistent with the positive version of who we understand ourselves to be, despite how they are behaving.

This is being calm even when the other is out of control. This is being kind even when the other person is harsh. This is being honest even when the other person is being evasive. This is being ethical even when the other person is not.

There are three components to this kind of positive authenticity that we can reference in Carl Rogers’ (1980) person-centered approach. 1) Identify the seed of the genuine positive attitude within ourselves – it is easier to find when we experience being treated with a positive attitude. 2) Cultivate that attitude so that it extends beyond the people it is easy to be this way with so that it becomes a part of our natural way of being with all kinds of people we meet. 3) Practice congruence – having how we behave with others on the outside match the positive attitude we maintain on the inside

When the attitude we have on the inside is negative (destructive to the relationship), then we have to put a great deal of effort into not acting out of that attitude. When the attitude inside is positive (constructive), then little effort is required – we just let the genuine self come out naturally. The people we are interacting with can feel the difference between an attitude we have to exert great effort to maintain and one that is coming out naturally.

The key here is in the cultivation of the attitude. It is a deliberate practice of reflecting on what I believe, how I feel, and how I act, especially in interactions with challenging people. It involves imagining oneself navigating situations in the desired way and then practicing that characteristic in real life so that it becomes a habit and then it becomes a character trait.

Rogers, C. R. (1980). A way of being. Houghton Mifflin Co.


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