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June 22, 2022

Testimonials and The Negativity Bias

In Neuroscience, Negativity Bias- simply means that our brains are more highly activated to negative messaging and events than positive one.

Most people (you, perhaps) like to see themselves as positive people who respond better to positive messages -- right? But, we know that negative messaging works to get people's attention. Neuroscientists call this the Negativity Bias; which quite simply means that our brains are more highly activated to negative messaging and events than positive one. Study after study demonstrates this is true in social judgements, attribution of intentions, cognition, attention, learning and memory, decision-making, and politics.

You don't need me to tell you this. 

Wikipedia does a great job of laying it all out, starting with, 'something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person's behavior and cognition than something equally emotional but negative.' Social scientists and anthropologists tell us that this tendency is hardwired in us as a survival mechanism. It makes us hyper aware of the risks in our surroundings so we have a better chance of survival.

You also likely know it from your own experience. Clickbait always seems to be related to something negative - because it works. Populist politicians use negative rhetoric to tap into people's anger and heighten the divisions among us, because it works. And, you are far more likely to focus on the one negative comment on your social media post (or performance, or presentation, or whatever you do), than the all the positive ones combined, because that's how we're wired.

And yet, when the president of a prominent Speaker Bureau recently posted a good news story about a great customer service experience he had, the response was overwhelming positive. OK, so maybe all the speakers in the house (including me) were trying to curry favour with the bureau, but it was unequivocally clear that people really do respond well to a good news story.

So what's the deal with testimonials? If you subscribe to all the research on negativity, you might wonder if testimonials are worth doing at all. Testimonials are, after all, overtly positive messages… or are they?

The difference is in how the testimonials are crafted.

It's true, overtly positive testimonials or simplistic claims of greatness, are easily discounted by the reader or listener, but a well-crafted testimonial has all the emotional elements of a great story, complete with desires, needs, inner conflicts, and wrong turns. In other words, it has the magnetic appeal of negativity bias built-in, while outwardly projecting a 'feel-good' vibe.

The best of both worlds.

A well-crafted testimonial also takes the reader or listener on a journey that reflects the transformation of the main character's relationship with the brand, product, or service that's the focus of the testimonial.

Do you get testimonials like that? Because that kind of testimonial is worth telling, sharing, and hearing!

Check out our Online Course: Get Better Testimonials

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Michel Neray


What really drives me is helping companies and individuals to drill down to the core of their unique value and differentiation, and then craft their Essential Message' that attracts and connects with audiences and stakeholders... including customers, investors, strategic partners, and top talent. As a professional speaker, trainer, and consultant for over 30 years, I've worked with leaders and sales teams in more than nine countries around the world, from Montreal to Moscow, and from Israel to Iran.

I love to lead workshops, speak at conferences, and work with clients one on one.... as much as I love to spend time with family, paddle whitewater, ride my motorcycle (hard), and write and perform my songs...

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