When Absolutes Drive You Crazy

When Absolutes Drive You Crazy

All people have a tendency to color and spin what they say. We speak absolutes by using words such as every, never, always, continuously, forever, never, nobody, everyone, and everywhere to make us look better.  The use of absolutes is nearly always a distortion.

Absolutes and the White House

Some people use absolutes so often it is hard to know when boasting ends and truth begins. You need not have a lot of imagination to realize the current occupant of the White House has perfected the language of absolutes.

How do you respond when speakers distort reality through the excessive use of absolutes?

Look at these examples:

“Everybody knows I am the best.”

“We always behave the best of all nations in the world.”

“No one has ever worked as hard as I.”

“I always wash the dishes. You never wash the dishes.”

“We never accomplish anything in these meetings.”

Ask a Creative Question

As my mother-in-law is fond of saying (tongue in cheek), “Never use absolutes.” These hyperbolic statements distort the truth. The best way to respond to an absolute statement is to ask a creative question that contains the absolute word.  For example:

Speaker: “We’ve never seen an economy as productive as the one we have now.”

Listener: “Never?”

Speaker: “Absolutely never!”

Listener: “How about the post-war boom?”

Speaker: “Well, yeah.  I suppose.”

Another example:

Parent: “You never clean your room. You always leave it a total mess.”

Teen: “Never? How about the time we cleaned it together?”

Parent: “Oh yeah.”

Correct the Distortion

The purpose of checking out the distortion word is to bring the speaker more in line with reality. The best response is to ask a creative question when you hear statements such as, “You’re never home.” “He always puts colleagues down.” “Everybody is against me.”

Ask your question using the distorted word: “Never?”  “Anyone?” “Everybody?” These questions challenge the speaker to correct the distortion. Follow up with another creative question:

Speaker: “No one thinks I’m a buffoon!”

Listener: “No one? Not one person? What makes you think no one thinks you’re a bozo?”

Speaker: “Well, there might be a few.”

Listener: “A few?”

Speaker: “Okay. More than a few.”

Incorporating the absolute word and asking a creative question invites the speaker to dial it down. The speaker’s words will come closer to reality.

For More Information

For more listening skills and tips on creating inclusive meetings, visit my website at https://civicreinventions.com or send me an email at mark.smutny@civicreinventions.com.

Copyright © 2019 Mark Smutny and Civic Reinventions, Inc. (www.civicreinventions.com).

All rights reserved. For permission to distribute copies of this article in any form, contact: mark.smutny@civicreinventions.com.