Presidential Persuasion: Why Should We Care About “Emoluments?”

In the 1800s, the Dutch formulated a law against taking gifts from foreign governments. Not even a plate of fruit, they said.

No gifts.

Nada.

None.

Why? Because they feared — and rightly so — one of the most dangerous threats to a government system: corruption. 

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The creators of the American Constitution eventually borrowed this idea from their European compatriots, putting together a line in the Articles of Confederation that forbade leaders from receiving:

“… any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any King, Prince or foreign State.”

In 1787, this line became Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the American Constitution, where it has remained, untouched, ever since.

Now, 230 years later, the Emoluments Clause is having its day in the sun as 196 Democratic members of Congress sue President Trump for “flagrantly violating the Constitution.” According to D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, the President has repeatedly accepted valuable gifts from foreign leaders, putting in jeopardy the integrity of the American government.

How could a lowly fruit plate — or, in Ben Franklin’s case, a snuffbox full of diamonds — pose a threat to one of the most powerful countries in the world? The answer can be explained with one of persuasion science’s most accepted principles:

The rule of reciprocity.

Reciprocity

Humans are built to cooperate with each other in order to survive. Our brains are hardwired to help us build relationships in order to gather resources and create networks (some of us more than others). Even if we don’t particularly like someone, we tend to abide by social forces pressuring us to at least be pleasant and professional in their presence.

These forces are what guide our desire to do favors for each other in business contexts. Favors (or gifts) are social currency. Why? Because when someone gives us something, we tend to feel as though we need to reciprocate. 

Two other human traits — our desires for acceptance and consistency — pressure us to abide by that rule of reciprocity. We want to be viewed as appropriate and pleasant, and refusing a gift would be a hazard to our reputation. We want to stay consistent with social norms, lest we become known as a *moocher.*

The result of the rule of reciprocity is that we feel pressured to return gifts or favors in kind even if we don’t like the giver and even if we didn’t want the gift in the first place. We are uncomfortable with the inconsistent feeling of owing someone something, thus — in order to fulfill our social duty —  when the giver requests something from us, we are far more likely to comply.

Herein lies the core value of the Emoluments Clause: refusing to take gifts from foreign entities keeps our leaders safe from the draws of reciprocity. The pressure — even for one, individual powerful man — to have a sense of obligation to a foreign government could have major consequences.

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The “web of indebtedness” that comes with the rule of reciprocity lives largely in the subconscious parts of the mind, lurking and awaiting the opportunity to help us redeem ourselves by complying with a giver’s request. It’s a social control that is easily manipulated, once you know how it works. And politicians do know how it works.

Logrolling, or the exchange of favors between elected officials, is a fairly common practice that can — dangerously — result in shockingly out-of-character votes by important folks (see: Lyndon Johnson). The sense of obligation changes behavior even at the highest reaches of government; once they’ve accepted a gift or favor, no longer are our representatives beholden to us, their constituent. They’re guided by the invisible hand of reciprocity.

As a speaker coach, I spend a fair amount of time coaching clients on these principles of persuasion, and I can assure you, reader — anecdotally and empirically — that they work. They work so well that examples pervade global political history (German interrogators in WWI! Communist army commanders and American POWs! Mass suicide at Jonestown!).

The president is not exempt from the person draws of reciprocity and persuasion, but — unlike the average American — his obligations have incredibly high stakes. The Founding Fathers may not have known the mechanisms behind social influence or known how fantastically easy it would be in 2017 to send glamorous gifts and communicate favors, but they did know about the importance of protecting the judgment of one of the most powerful decision-makers in the world.

No fruit plates.


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Author Micah Larsen is a communication specialist, speaker coach, and the owner of Apis. Contact her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com. 

The Dating App Dilemma

A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of days in the beautiful city of Chicago. Born-and-bred Midwesterners such as myself consider “Chi-Town” to be the New York of the heartland.  It’s big and it’s bustling and it’s got buildings with more than six floors.

Because I live in the comparatively minuscule town of Casper, Wyoming (the other Windy City!), bopping about alone — drinking fancy city coffee! riding the train! — was a thrill and a wake-up call.

Whoa. I forgot what cities were like. 

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My trip coincided with Memorial Day weekend, and it was actually kind of refreshing to take a run down Lakeshore Drive and see massive groups of twenty- and thirty-somethings enjoying the weather and the days off. No dusty ol’ cowboys here!

Our current home state of Wyoming is sometimes comically behind when it comes to the latest trends and interests (there is a game store marquee downtown that proudly states: “Just in: Cards Against Humanity!”) so it can be easy to forget the things that make life so cool for big-city-dwellers.

For example:

  • Endless opportunities to eat authentic international cuisine
  • The convenience of ride-sharing and ample public transportation
  • The chance to meet tons of different people in person or via dating apps like Tinder

To be clear, I’m happily married and not looking, but as a social scientist, I find dating apps particularly interesting. They serve up connection on a silver platter! No longer are daters small fish in a big pond; apps like Tinder make the proverbial dating pond look more like a baby pool.

Date Done

If you’re not sure what Tinder is, don’t worry. You’re not alone. An explanation continues below.

If you’re a Tinder user yourself or if you’re just a savvy, hip young person who doesn’t need further explanation, good for you! Skip ahead to the next section.

A Lesson On Tinder: 

The ever-popular dating app Tinder was *born* at the University of Southern California in 2012 and has since grown to accommodate at least 50 million people per month. The app uses location-based software to help people connect with potential dates. Users create a profile with photos and a short bio, allowing others to view them and either swipe left on their profile to reject connection or right to engage them. If two people both *right-swipe* each other, they can communicate and meet in real life.

The New York Times has reported that the average Tinder user logs on 11 times a day for about 90 minutes, total, with the hopes of connecting with someone. Social scientists are critical of the idea that this can lead to long-term relationships, as such algorithms based on limited information can’t compute real-life compatibility.

Tech Tinderbox 

Tinder matches are based on first impressions. Those impressions are formed not by long-term, passive observation or by judgments made by friends and family but by a few photos and less than 240 characters. With such limited data at hand, it’s hard to say that two right-swipes will result in a love connection.

In fact, according to communication research, judging people based on their online photos before meeting them can do more harm than good. A 2017 study on perceptions of attractiveness* indicated that people who view and rate their impressions of people of the opposite sex before interacting with them thought that others were …

  • less socially attractive
  • less funny
  • less fun
  • less charismatic

… than people who did not rate others online before meeting them.

Uh-oh.

Tindering

What Does This Mean For Your Love Life? 

If the findings of this study hold true, it might be better to skip Tinder and try to meet people in the real world. Why? Because viewing and rating the attractiveness of people online before connecting with them in person might result in less positive feelings about them overall. The participants in this study who did not pre-rate others felt the people they interacted with were more attractive than people who did.

This suggests that when we use apps like Tinder to find people, we might be beginning a relationship based on sub-par impressions.

This information leaves us with a dating app dilemma: if you’re looking for love (or mutual lust), do you carry on using Tinder, knowing that it might affect your connection with and attraction to someone, or do you brave the world of dating without an app in hand?

Neither seems like a particularly attractive option.

Non-Tinder dating may feel very *small fish, big pond,* but meeting someone without having pre-judged them online — like they did in the *old* days — might, in fact, be preferable. Remember, the convenience of technology doesn’t always mean the best final product, and for love and relationships, the stakes are unequivocally high.

We love love. We crave connection. We seek it and we need it! Social interaction, intimacy, and communication together create the backbone of our society and help determine individual well-being, but technology might be giving us a tainted view of what we want most. In sum, perhaps the value of seeing people clearly is worth forgoing ease in the days of this dating app dilemma.


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Did you love this blog post? Was it interesting and/or informative? Let us know and leave us a review at the Apis Facebook page

Author Micah Larsen is a social scientist, speech coach, and the founder of Apis. Contact her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com 


* Hall, J. A., & Compton, B. L. 2017. Pre- and postinteraction physical attractiveness ratings and experience-based impressions. Communication Studies, 0, 0. doi: 10.1080/10510974.2017.1317281

 

 

 

This Is Your Brain On Burnout

During the days of the Great Depression, top economists predicted that in 100 years the average workforce experience would be revolutionized.

In some ways, they were correct; comparatively, our professional lives are unrecognizable. We live in a world connected by lightning-fast technology. We can 3D print organs and purchase electric cars and solar shingles. We may even wage a war against robots for human jobs. From the perspective of historical economists like John Maynard Keynes, we are living in a completely futuristic world.

But Keynes got one thing wrong. We’re not working any less. 

His hypothesis was that by 2030, the average work week would be about 15 hours, yet today’s jobs require us to surpass even the traditional “9-5” expectation. For many Americans, a 40-hour work week would be like a vacation!

Though we might tend to believe that more work equals more progress, too much time at *the office* can do us more harm than good. Too many work hours can mean extra fatigue, a drop in productivity, and a serious case of burnout.

What’s burnout, again? 

I’ve written before about the dangers of burnout, but if you’re new to the concept, here is a quick primer:

Burnout is characterized by an increase in:

  • Impatience and irritability
  • Resistance to work
  • Cynicism
  • Hypercriticism
  • Changes in appetite and sleep
  • Unexplained physical ailments such as headaches

… and a decrease in:

  • Work satisfaction
  • Energy
  • Productivity

One of the key determinants of work burnout (along with improper job fit, unclear guidelines, and a lack of social support, amongst other things) is poor management of work-life balance. Simply, too much work can set us on a path straight to burnout.

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Why should we care? 

Ironically, according to Keynes, by this time our biggest concern was supposed to be the dearth of free time we were about to enjoy, not the dangers of working ourselves to death. And there are dangers. The myriad symptoms of burnout don’t end with agitation and headaches. According to the American Psychological Association, burnout may result in metabolic issues and reduced blood clotting. People who experience prolonged burnout tend to have lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that helps regulate the body’s immune responses. Low cortisol can result in more immune inflammation which, over time, can lead to chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer.

So burnout is bad, sure. But new findings suggest that our communication can make it even worse.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland recently completed a study that indicated that burnout can make us particularly susceptible to negativity. Specifically, in their experiment, people struggling with burnout had increased reactions to negative sounds and phrases. The participants in their study who were experiencing the symptoms of burnout had a harder time completing decision-making tasks surrounded by negative distractions. People with severe burnout made more errors and had a harder time completing the experiment.

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So, what? 

The takeaway from the Helsinki study is that burnout-type stress affects our brain. We know from medical research that burnout can lead to mental and physical difficulties and even disease.

Because our economy demands over-40-hour work weeks from most of us, it’s hard to avoid the stress and work-life imbalance that causes burnout, but perhaps we can save ourselves from exacerbating the problem by adapting our communication.

 

If we notice the people around us starting to exhibit signs of burnout, we might be doing them a huge favor by paying close attention to the way we interact. If negative noises and messages affect the burnt out brain, we should focus on communicating positively:

  • Look for silver linings
  • Ask what the best part of their day was
  • Try not to argue
  • Try to avoid complaining

Burnout isn’t necessarily permanent, but it can be pervasive and harmful. Being sensitive to the stress levels of the people we love can enable us to help them recover and escape all those nasty symptoms. In the long run, positive communication might even help us avoid serious, chronic disease.


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Author Micah Larsen is a communication specialist, speaker coach, and the Apis boss. Her research is in persuasive health communication. Contact her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com. 

Famous Faces: An End To Celebrity Endorsements

Britney Spears donned cutoff shorts and suspenders for it.

Michael Jordan laced up his shoes for it.

Jennifer Aniston drinks bottled water and lathers on lotion for it.

It’s a thumbs-up to brands like Pepsi, Nike, SmartWater, and Aveeno.

It’s a celebrity endorsement. 

Celebrity endorsements have been around at least since the 1800s when the British royal family started giving royal warrants — official seals of approval — to traders and manufacturers. Since then, famous faces like that of Sean Connery have been printed alongside products like Jim Beam whiskey. Even today, when brands like Dannon get endorsements from celebrities like actor John Stamos, they are creating powerful associations in the minds of their audience. They are linking a product to someone who has established, among other things:

  • Attractiveness
  • Credibility

Beyoncé, Nicole Kidman, Shaquille O’Neal, and Natalie Portman, and Fabio Lanzoni — among others — have endorsed brands as high-end as Chanel and as elementary as I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

Celebrity endorsements are certainly familiar but are they on their way out the door? Perhaps.

In an age when social media reigns, some of the most powerful influencers have made their names on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. They may not be your classical celebrities but they’ve achieved online notoriety and gained hundreds of thousands (even millions) of followers by posting intriguing, high-quality content.

They are the next big thing in branding communication.

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According to Ad Age, major entities are now using artificial intelligence (AI) to help them find the right major social media player to help them promote their brand. Gone are the days of finding a handsome face to live alongside a commodity; now, *influence agencies* are pairing powerhouses with products using advanced technology.

It’s like a dating site for advertisers.

How does it work? 

Influence agencies and consultants run analyses on popular social media profiles and determine what kind of brand the owner might be suitable for. Based on the language used, they can evaluate account holders with the six facets of the HEXACO personality test:

  1. Honesty // Humility
  2. Emotionality
  3. Extraversion
  4. Agreeableness // Anger
  5. Conscientiousness
  6. Openness To Experience

Clients are matched with social media-savvy folks who meet their criteria and ideal brand characteristics.

Do they sell yoga pants? They’re probably looking for someone who can exhibit and explain a *downward dog.* Do they bottle craft beer? They’ll want someone who can tell a hefeweizen from an IPA.

And, folks, it’s all in the word choice.

For example, a company whose values include environmentalism might be interested in an endorsement from someone with Facebook updates like:

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So stoked to try out my new kayak! Brought trash bags with me to pick up some litter while I paddle. #savemotherearth

A company that heralds body positivity might love to be matched with someone who posted:

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Continuing my journey to a healthier me. Loving myself more each and every day! #loveyourself #curvygirl #healthyandhappy

This revolutionary AI-driven process is a way to help companies reach audiences based on the nuances of someone’s communication. Even cooler, it is centered around what we know about the science of personality and language!

So, what?

Reader, it’s happening. Social media is giving power to the people. The regular people, that is. Seriously! How cleverly someone captions their Instagram photos can make them a candidate for a legitimate product endorsement. Though it has never been easier to adore and idolize our favorite celebrities — now that we have access to nearly their every thought via Twitter and Snapchat — we *normal folk* might have the ability to replace them as the face of a notable brand.

What a time to be alive!

There will likely always be a need for celebrity endorsements for our favorite products, so don’t look for the door yet, Beyoncé! But partnerships with famous personalities aren’t without their issues. Take model and social media elite Kendall Jenner, for example. She was lampooned for an off-color Pepsi ad and was shortly thereafter roped into the infamously overpromoted and underperforming PR disaster known as the Fyre Festival. *Sigh.* Perhaps there are benefits to using non-famous people for endorsement. After all, they’re less likely than your average Kardashian to get embroiled in a national controversy. Probably.

What do I do with this information?

The next time you log on to your favorite social media account, think about what your language communicates about you. What kind of brand could you endorse based on the values you express and the words you use? Would you want to buy whatever you were selling? Looking at your own social media feed through the lens of a brand might give you some insight into how the rest of the world sees you, too.


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Author Micah Larsen is a speaker coach, persuasion specialist, and the founder of Apis. Reach her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com and learn to motivate, inspire, and dazzle an audience. 

The Voice That Says “Go”

I hear a voice in my head sometimes. Not like the kind you might imagine a schizophrenic hears but the kind that wraps itself around my shoulders invites itself inside my mind with a one-word whisper:

Go.” 

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The human brain was designed with our wellbeing in mind. From its sacred cradle between our temples, it weaves a personalized safety net of apprehension and fear to keep us from certain death. It mixes special chemical injections of fear and anxiety to keep us from going too high, too fast, too close.

It maintains a judicious system of checks, balances, alerts, and red flags to remind us — simply — that we are only human. That we are breakable. That we are vulnerable to the elements, to others, and even to traps of our own design.

The human brain is a vigilant, vibrant security system meant to keep its host from obtaining damage and meeting destruction.

But my brain — my perfect, organic watchdog — doesn’t just say “be careful.” It also says “be brave.” And when I have spent too much time protected from the delightful dangers of the world, it says

Go.”

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The Voice That Says “Go” spends most of its time sleeping blissfully in the dark, infrequently-used parts of my brain. The parts that gather spider webs. It hibernates while I work, while I sleep, while I cook dinner with my husband. But when it decides it has been dormant for too long, when I have been ignoring it too consistently, The Voice That Says “Go” awakens. It stretches and purrs and saunters up to my frontal lobe and delights in interrupting the traffic of my thoughts. 

Go.”

The Voice That Says “Go” puts up billboards selling courage and danger. It battles my deep, innate desire for certainty and it inevitably wins its place in the sun. It directs my brain to ditch its neon-orange vest and safety! safety! air traffic controller wands and instead throw on an Evel Knievel jumpsuit and prepare for landing, for a jump, for a dive, for a sudden influx of authentic, delicious adrenaline.

Reader, if you don’t have a Voice That Says “Go,” know that when I was young, I didn’t, either. The Voice That Says “Go” was cultivated carefully and courageously. It was born when I left the ground for the upward appeal of Missouri cedar treetops. It grew when my young hips adjusted to fit the width of a horse’s bare back. It matured the first time my eyes were blessed with a mountaintop view and I thanked my knobby-kneed legs for getting me there.

Those child-sized pleas for adrenaline led me to adult-sized servings of danger. My full-grown brain strives for safety yet thirsts for a thrill. And The Voice That Says “Go” always comes back when the safe side has won out for too long and when I’ve gone weeks or months without escaping the steady outlines of my work calendar.

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And now, my friend, I know that The Voice That Says “Go” is back. This morning it crept forward, tapped me on the shoulder, and whispered in my ear,

“Where have you been?”

I have been too comfortable, too cushioned, too insulated by seat belts, by air conditioning, by schedules. I felt its familiar presence today in the back seat of my parents’ car in my sleepy Midwestern hometown amidst an eternity of corn fields. 

“You’ve ignored me for too long,” it said.

Go.”

Go where? It could be anywhere. It wants me on the back of a horse aching to gallop. It wants me outside the chainlink fence of a flight school, ready to board a chopper. It wants me navigating a flood-stage river atop a wobbly paddleboard. It wants my feet in boots, my body in a foreign land, and my shoulders under the weight of a backpack.

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This feeling is no kin to my normal anxiety, the one that fuels my pesky panic disorder, my fear of failure, and my entrepreneurship. It’s a sensation all its own, one that pushes my everyday thoughts and worries out of its way and settles in until it gets its fill. It makes its home in the forefront of my mind and hangs a sign on its door saying,

“It’s time to test yourself again. Go.”

And, oh, the places it has taken me.

It’s had me flying down a Texas highway between a motorcycle and a helmet that’s slightly too large. It’s had my feet planted in the sand of the African coast. It’s put a cutting needle in my shaky hand, ready to throw a set of sutures. It’s brought me to riptides, to rattlesnakes, and to railroads. It’s had me on a surgical gurney with needles in my ovaries. It’s taken my breath away on skis, in stirrups, and on snow-capped mountains.

And — not least of all — it has had me standing in heels and a blazer, giving my ideas and my heart to a crowd of skeptical strangers. And that has been just scary enough to work.

If I want to avoid The Voice That Says “Go,” I can spend months running away from it. I’m good at that. In my worn-out running shoes with pinky-toe holes, I can get my heart to pump just hard enough to trick my brain. I can get The Voice That Says “Go” to think that I used my courage for something real. I can run hard and far enough to leave my foes behind me, trampled in the pavement. The Voice That Says “Go” will always catch up with me and strangle me until I can no longer ignore it. 

Go.”

I’m not the only one who hears the voice. No. Far from it. In fact, some experts say that the love of *risk* is hardwired into our programming. It’s an evolutionary paradox. Sometimes, the safety functions of our brains can be overridden by a desire for adventure. High-risk exploration could — for our ancestors — yield huge rewards. Those rewards aided human survival. Thus, some of us are genetically gifted with The Voices That Say “Go.” 

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It makes my heels tap, but not because I’m worried. It seeps into the creases in my hands and the soles of my feet, but not because I’m scared. It tightens my chest, but not because I’m afraid. No, The Voice That Says “Go” appears — ironically — because I’ve developed a need to feel real fear. It arrives when I need a reckoning. When I need to question my bravery and remember who I am. The Voice That Says “Go” wants me to stare myself in the face and summon the courage to do what should not be done.

In the air / in the water / on a gravel road / on a horse is where I find myself. It’s where I return to the delicate balance between danger and safety and redraw all my own boundaries. And in the depths that house The Voice That Says “Go,” … that’s where I grow.

The Voice That Says “Go” is a familiar friend. Right now it’s pacing back and forth in the chambers behind my forehead, whispering to me about what I need. And I don’t fear it. I don’t want it to leave. I want it to inspire me, to visit me again soon and remind me that it has been a while since I have done something that made my heart beat fast and my blood run cold. It’s the quintessential catalyst to my greatest escapes and my most beloved adventures.

I want the voice to tell me again, forever,

Go.”


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Author Micah Larsen is a speaker coach, a communication specialist, and the founder of Apis Communication Science. Contact her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com to learn how to motivate, inspire, and dazzle an audience. 

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“No Offense” But You’re Offensive

“I felt bad that I wasn’t wearing lipstick but then I saw you.”

“Did you get up extra early today? You look better than usual.”

“Wait, did you even go to college?”

“That tie looks pretty good with your pallid complexion.”

Have you ever received comments like this? If you have, perhaps they were accompanied by a phrase like:

“No offense.”

Perhaps you even bristled at whatever was said just prior. “No offense” has become a socially acceptable way to buffer commentary that we know will probably injure someone emotionally.

And that, dear reader, is what I’d like to discuss today: why we think our feelings get hurt and why “no offense” fails to take the sting away.

Experiencing hurt feelings happens in a couple of different stages.

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Stage One: Ouch.

When a person offends us we feel hurt as a hearty mashup of:*

  1. Sadness
  2. Vulnerability

Social scientists think that hurt feelings, a toxic cocktail of those two emotions, come about when someone says something that makes us feel as though they do not value our relationship.**

For example, if someone were to say to you:

“Those pants would look better on someone less heavy. No offense.”

… you might experience sadness and vulnerability because you feel as though they do not value the connection you share. The more intense the threat to that relationship, the more hurt we will tend to feel.

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Stage Two: Finding the cause

The second stage is all about figuring out the root cause of the other person’s offensive communication. After all, humans are a problem-solving species. If we can determine why someone said something hurtful we might be able to avoid it in the future.

Communication researcher Anita Vangelisti gives us some other feelings we may associate with hurtful comments:***

Humiliation. That person wanted to make me feel a little bad about myself.

Aggression. Wow, I think they’re trying to pick a fight with me!

Ill-Conceived Humor. Maybe they were trying to be funny. They need to work on their delivery.

Intrinsic Flaw. Yikes. I think they might be saying that there is something really wrong with me!

Mistaken Intent. Oh, well. Maybe they didn’t mean it that way.

Discouragement. That made me feel really low. In fact, I don’t feel good about myself at all.

Shock. Whoa! I’m really taken aback by that comment!

Why do these explanations matter? 

The reasons we find for people saying offensive things matter because they change the way we feel about our relationships and ourselves.*** If we have negative feelings about our relationship with the person in question then we may feel hurt by them more often. If we have low self-esteem already, we may feel more often that people who offend us are trying to humiliate and discourage us.

Unless we’re pretty sure that the offender didn’t mean what they said, we might be tempted to speak up and distance ourselves from that person.

What should we do about it? 

If you weren’t already convinced that “no offense” comments are hurtful then perhaps these findings helped show that offensive communication can have considerable effects on other people.

… So in the future, if you’ve got a sentence on the tip of your tongue that you’d like to qualify with a “no offense,” know that what you’re about to say might put someone else through the emotional wringer. Know that it might even result in them distancing themselves from you emotionally.

Often, we think that being a good friend or partner means telling our loved ones what we *really think.* But social science might show that we’re hurting more than we are helping …

No offense.


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Author Micah Larsen is a communication specialist and speech coach and the founder of Apis Communication Science. Contact her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com and learn to motivate, inspire, and dazzle an audience.


*Weiner, B. (1986). An attributional theory of motivation and emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag.

** Leary, M. R., & Springer, C. A. (2001). Hurt feelings: The neglected emotion. In R. M. Kowalski (Ed.), Behaving badly: Aversive behaviors in interpersonal relationships (pp. 151-175). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Leary,M.R.,Springer,C.,Negel,L.,Ansell,E.,&

Leary, M.R., Springer, C., Negel, L., Ansell, E., & Evans, K. (1998).The causes, phenomenology, and consequences of hurt feelings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1225-1237.

*** Vangelisti, A. L., Young, S. L., Carpenter-Theune, K. E., & Alexander, A. L. (2005). Why does it hurt?: The perceived causes of hurt feelings. Communication Research, 32

“Sliding” Into Slow Love: Millennials & Marriage

Millennials have made a name for themselves by — amongst other things — broadcasting to the world on Facebook Live, introducing “hand salads” and other hipster nonsense, Uber-ing, AirBnB-ing … and turning convention on its head.

Quit it with the office jobs. We want innovation!

No more traditional social standards. We want acceptance!

Be gone, regular retail experience. We want online shopping and we want it fast

To heck with that 1977 linoleum in the kitchen. We want original hardwood! 

Millennials — you know, those of us young enough to remember playing with troll dolls but old enough to remember life with rotary phones — want speed, quick convenience, and an accelerated experience!

except for in their relationships.

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The 18-33-year-olds of today are particularly interesting because they (we) represent a tension between two important social needs:

  • Connectedness
  • Independence

While millennials are of the most fiercely unattached generation in history, they are also the section of the population representing the most linked, plugged in, and communicative age of all time.

This tension between separation and connection has become especially clear as millennials (myself included) have grown old enough to have serious, committed relationships. In fact, according to social scientists and the scientific advisor to prominent dating site match.com, millennials have even fabricated a new kind of love

The slow kind.

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Like with the traditions of society and the workplace, millennials are bucking conventions of romance. Instead of making intentional, conscious decisions to settle down, get married, and have children like their parents did (in that order), millennials are choosing to date longer, cohabitate more often, and put marriage on the backburner.

According to Liz Higgins, premarital therapist and contributor to The Gottman Institute, millennials are redefining what commitment means. Many of them grew up with divorced parents and, turned off by the idea of splitting up, are choosing to wait longer to “tie the knot.” In response to those needs for connectedness and independence, millennials are fostering authentic, modern romantic relationships but taking their time in making them “official.”

Why the change? 

Communication scientists call the root of this phenomenon — the struggle for both relations and freedom — a dialectical tension*. According to relational dialectics theory, all couples struggle with three types of tensions. Their success depends upon how well they can manage them.

  1. Openness / Closedness — how much do we tell our partners and how much should we keep to ourselves?
  2. Certainty / Uncertainty — how secure are we about the status our relationship and how much do we need to worry?
  3. Autonomy / Connectedness — how in-sync do we need to be with our partners and how can we still keep our own identity and freedom?

That final tension, the one between connection and independence, is what is keeping millennials from taking the plunge to wedded bliss as quickly as their forebearers.

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How has the focus on this tension changed our relationships? 

Instead of committing to each other in clear stages the way older couples have, millennial couples are doing what experts call “sliding.” 

“Sliding” millennials think:

“We like each other, so we’re together for now.”

… instead of:

“We’re dating now because we want to get engaged.

“We’re getting engaged because we want to get married.

“We’re getting married because we want to commit to each other.

“We’re committing to each other because we want to have a family. 

According to The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, millennials are making those transitions without the clear communicative markers that usually separate the chapters of a romantic relationship. Couples who “slide” do commitment differently. They move fluidly from dating to cohabitation to a commitment to parenting all without a specific future in mind. Unlike their parents and grandparents, they do all these things in a different order and sometimes skip steps altogether!

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Why is this important? 

While “sliding” allows millennials to have a semblance of both autonomy and connectedness, it also comes with a serious consequence: 

Couples who move through stages of commitment by making clear, conscious, and communicative decisions — instead of sliding — fare better in the end.

Commitment is one of the most important aspects of a long-lasting relationship, not because it forces people to stay together but because it’s all about demonstrating love and value in a way that means something. It’s about asserting to your partner that you’re ready and willing to choose them all over again every single morning.

What do we do about it? 

If you’re a millennial — and even if you’re not — and you think you and your partner have “slid” through the stages of your relationship, consider making a conscious change together. Use this blog post as a conversation starter and have a discussion about where you stand in your relationship now and where you want it to go. 

Most importantly, ask yourselves this:

Are you moving forward in your partnership because you want the things that come with marriage, cohabitation, and co-parenting?

… Or are you moving forward with each other simply because it seems like the *sensible next step* and it’s *about time?*

Which question you identify with most matters. Millennials are motivated by the fact that they don’t want to commit to someone they’ll divorce down the road, but if a couple doesn’t make conscious relational decisions for the right reasons, that’s where they are likely to end up anyway.

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Having conversations as a couple with a clear objective to make conscious decisions together is not just good for the long-term health of a relationship but it also helps clear up short-term conflict, too. And no matter where a couple is in the stages of their relationship, they’ll always be moving through that tension between autonomy and connectedness. The quality of their relationship is in some ways dictated by how well they communicate and manage that tension (and the others). 

As millennials mature, our cultural understanding of marriage is going to change, too. And as the children of millennials grow up, they’ll learn from their parents how relationships are done. That’s what makes the decision to use clear, intentional communication important; modeling habits that lead to good long-term results is what will shape future generations, too. 


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Author Micah Larsen is a speech coach, communication specialist, the founder of Apis, and a newlywed millennial. Contact her at micah@apiscommunicationscience.com. 

* Baxter, L. A., & Montgomery, B. M. (1996). Relating: Dialogues and dialectics. New York: Guilford.