Skip to content

Fighting Fire With Fire Gets You. . .More Fire

April 10, 2019

No you weren’t rude. But you should’ve been.

Why? What is EVER accomplished by being rude?

It’s negative reinforcement.

How so?

Receiving negative behavior for giving negative behavior results in associating the received negative behavior as a result of giving negative behavior.

I was having a discussion with someone in a political group online. The group is mostly made up of like-minded participants. It’s not a full-on echo chamber, but dissenting votes are not universally appreciated.

My opponent’s point was grounded in animal training. . .bad animal training. The “intuitive” idea that if someone does something “negative” and they get negative reinforcement, they won’t do it again. Like a child that touches a hot stove. The negative reinforcement keeps the child from touching the stove again.

Does it makes sense? Sure, on a basic level. Is it effective for anything above teaching toddlers to not touch a stove? Not really. It’s certainly not effective in interactions between people.

What negative behavior did you observe in the discussion in question that you would attempt to change with negative reinforcement?

Ignorance and manipulation.

You consider ignorance a negative behavior? How are ignorant people going to become educated if their ignorance is taken as a license for rudeness?

People will only know they are ignorant when told so. You have to negqtive reinforce the behavior. If being rude isn’t challenged then how ill they know their ignorance and rudeness is wrong?

What’s intersting about this exchange is that the person I was talking to pretty much agreed with me politically. Or, I with him. However, we absolutely disagreed on how to hold a political discussion with people from the opposite political persuasion.

It’s been my experience that being positive in response to their negativity does not breed more negativity.

Let me ask you a question. Can you prove that negative reinforcement doesn’t work?

Can I prove that negative reinforcement doesn’t work?

Depends on what level of “proof” you want. It’s been shown that torture, for example, is highly ineffective as an interrogation technique, to the point it’s virtually worthless.

Training horses, positive reinforcement (a la The horse whisperer) is much more effective than negative reinforcement.

Raising kids, positive reinforcement is much more effective than negative.

Agencies like “Delancey House” and “The Other Side Academy” have shown that positive reinforcement is much more effective at reducing ex-con recidivism rates than only negative reinforcement.

Dale Carnegie’s seminal book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” makes a very strong case for positive reinforcement being more effective than negative reinforcement in the exchange the idea.

“Crucial Conversations” and “Crucial Accountability” two book from VitalSmarts are brilliant texts on the power of positive reinforcements in disagreements over negative ones.

“Anatomy of Peace” and (to a lesser extent) “Leadership and Self Deception” from the Arbinger institute also focus on positive reinforcement as a means for having successful interactions with people.

And Dalton, Patrick Swayze’s character in Roadhouse made it clear that the key to being a successful bouncer was “BE NICE.”

Needless to say, I didn’t convince the person I was holding the discussion with. He remained convinced that being polite in response to rudeness, or even political disagreement was positive reinforcement and would simply make them do more of the same.

I asked him to provide an examples he had for using negative reinforcement as a discussion or even a training method.

It’s common sense!

Sure, but given the countless counter examples that are based in research, studies and experience, that’s hardly a compelling argument.

This is how road rage happens:

He cut me off. If I don’t provide negative reinforcement, he’ll feel justified in his actions.

That guy just flashed his brights at me! If I don’t respond with negative reinforcement, he’ll feel justified in his actions.

That guy brake checked me! If I don’t retaliate, he’ll feel justified!

That guy is tailgating me!

That guy flipped me off!

That guy ran me off the road!

That guy pulled out a tire iron!

That guy pulled out a gun!

There are literally dozens of books that explain how to turn enemies to friends. How to, as Dale Carnegie said more than 75 years ago, how to win friends and influence people.

It costs nothing to be nice.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (
LinkedIn (
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply