Now, are these descriptors positive or negative?
If they are a combination of positive AND negative, what is the order in which you listed them?
Why positive descriptors matter
There was a famous study in an elementary school where a team of researchers came at the start of the school year to determine via tests which of the students were the “super stars”. They identified them, and shared the results only with the teachers. The teachers were told NOT to treat these students in any differentiated way.
Then the researchers returned at the end of the school year to re-test. Yup, the same students were the “super stars”.
The fun part of this experiment is that the “super stars” identified at the start of the year were made-up. However, they really did test as “super stars” at the end of the year. What happened? The researchers concluded that it was the belief of the teachers, based on the label of “super stars”, that transformed the students. It is likely that the teachers conveyed this belief through non-verbal communication. This belief was transferred to the students themselves and then transformed into reality.
Source: Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the Classroom: Teacher Expectation and Pupils’ Intellectual Development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Why the order of positive vs. negative descriptors matter
In an episode of Brain Games, two women were interviewed for the same job. They were identical twins, wore the same clothing and answered all the interviewers’ questions the same, EXCEPT for the order in which they listed their character descriptors, both positive and negative.
80% of the time, interviewers chose the twin who listed her positive characteristics first.
So make yourself, and others around you, super stars! If you have to use both positive and negative labels, always start with the positive!