You hear it a lot: “everyone knows that”, “no one would ever think that”, “you never do that” or “I always do this”. There are far too many variations to list here.
Talking in absolutes, where you assert something is true for all people all the time, seldom makes sense. People are different, and it is rarely accurate that something is always true for all of them.
Children often talk in absolutes as they make sense of their world. As we grow up, we typically start speaking with more relative terms: “some people know that”, “many people might think that”, “you frequently do that” and “I often do this”. There are benefits to using relative language, including:
- Relative wording is typically clearer, more precise and more descriptive of your intent.
- Leaving room that the statement might not be true 100% of the time can allow us to stretch our creativity and imagine alternatives.
- It helps prevent us from making someone who might not agree become defensive and argumentative.
- It can reduce stress and conflict.
- It helps keep people in the conversation and relationship.
Pay attention to how you speak. Listen for absolute statements and ask yourself if they are really true or if they are simply opinions, generalizations or otherwise make your message less clear.
If you frequently hear yourself use words such as always, never, everyone, no one, all, none, or labels that encompass a block of people (e.g. all athletes, all computer techs etc.), take a moment to rephrase your statement, choosing words that allow for natural diversity to emerge. Your conversation will most likely be even stronger and more pleasant, and your message clearer.