• Legitimacy is a drug.

    by  • July 20, 2015 • OD and L&D • 0 Comments


    We get legitimised through affirmation and we are wired for it (for good reason). But we should also be aware.

    We get legitimised through affirmation and we are wired for it (for good reason). But we should also be aware.

    Legitimacy is a drug.

    It’s a drug and it is delivered through affirmation.

    Think about it for a minute, if you will. That little buzz you have when someone delivers proof that you are correct and someone else is wrong? When a friend or colleague (or boss?) take your side in an argument? The joy in saying “I told you so..”?

    It could be even the number of likes on a facebook status, or getting retweeted.

    Get some.

    Legitimacy is a drug, and affirmation is how we consume it.

    I’m a little bit sketchy on the science, but it looks like Oxytocin is a likely suspect. Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that is related to a lot of human connectedness: identifying social cues, empathy and physical closeness, generosity, increasing trust and inhibiting fear. It’s also related to romance, intimacy and parental bonding.

    It also has some amazing effects in combating the bad effects of stress, as the fantastic Kelly McGonigal explains in this TED video.

    But you know what? Watching this TED video will probably give you some affirmation. Will probably legitimise something that you have (or haven’t) been doing.

    And that will make you feel good.

    Intermission (true story)

    I was queuing in a car rental place at an airport and two of the counter staff were obviously not getting along. It started with non-verbal, body language spitefulness, and peaked when one asked for the other to do something for them, and the other declined.

    (Note I’m trying to be as dry and non-emphatic with my language as possible. I don’t want you to pick favourites.)

    What happened next was the one who asked had verbal outburst and the one who declined left in a huff.

    When the desk manager came by to calm the spirits, the one who burst described the instance as if the one who declined had incited the instance, deliberately annoying them and using bad language.

    While I cannot attest to ‘deliberately annoying’, I can wholeheartedly attest to the fact there was no bad language used by the decliner. And – while there is a distinct possibility that the person who outburst was a liar – I’ve seen things of this ilk happen all too frequently, when our own perspectives beg us to embellish something after the fact, so that we can get sympathy. So that we can get legitimised.

    So what?

    We actually have a special bias wired into our fast thinking brain that seeks confirmation and affirmation. That’s why we tend to talk to seek specific people when we are down or hurt or compromised. It’s this bias that also makes us seek evidence that will back our theories.

    Whether we like it or not – we constantly seek to be legitimised. We constantly look for affirmation. So we need to be aware of how we seek it. Be aware of where we seek it. And when. And how.

    We need to be aware of it when other people seek it.

    It’s not a bad thing, it happens all the time, and it actually happens for good reason.

    But it’s also part of what entrenches us in camps, because we need the affirmation, we need the legitimacy and we are more likely to present the situation in a way that will give it to us.

    It’s a massive way to influence and manipulate. It’s a great way to accrue power.

    And that is hardly conducive to achieving anything.

    Because it’s a bias, it happens without our noticing and we can do very little to get rid of it. But we can be aware that it’s there, we can be aware of the triggers and choose to press pause if we want to.

    So… weekly challenge

    Challenge one: the next time you have the opportunity to show off being correct or gloat a little bit about it, hold it back. Practice a poker face. See what that does to you.

    Challenge two: if something sucky happens this week, pay attention to what unfolds once you start talking about it. Who are you talking to, what you are saying, how you are saying it.

    Challenge three: mind when people come to you and present you with data, with evidence, with stories. What’s their gain? Where is their affirmation? Does it change something in the way the story is told?


    How about you? When was the last time you sough affirmation? When was the last time you were legitimised?

    You can always get in touch with  @ an email or @ on Twitter.


    Photo credit to Jeff Prieb via freeimges.com.

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