Don: You have?
Y: It all has to do with what scientists call trait transference, the process through which observers deduce facts about other people based on the things those people say. Researchers studying trait transference conducted an experiment in which they divided participants into two groups. Members of the first group watched videos of people describing themselves, and members of the second group watched videos of people describing acquaintances. And here's the interesting thing. The observers associated the traits the speakers talked about with the speakers themselves, even if the speakers were describing their acquaintances. In other words, when you hear a stranger saying someone is mean, you end up thinking the stranger is the mean one.
D: But that makes no sense.
Y: The researchers were surprised too, and here is what they think happens. When a person says something, the first thing you do is figure out the gist of what he or she is saying. So if I tell you my friend George is mean, the gist of that will be "meanness." But because I'm the one talking, you begin to associate that trait with me.
D: Kind of like shooting the messenger.
Y: Exactly. And eventually, you forget whether I was talking about myself or someone else, and end up thinking I'm the mean one.
D: So if you say nice things about other people, they'll end up thinking you're the nice one.
Y: You got it. I guess that old saying is true: if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!