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From Absolute to Nuanced: Redefining Communication for Connection

Updated: Jan 25

This post includes affiliate links for books that I recommend on Amazon.

Over the last several years I have become more aware of how detrimental our use of absolute language is. Have you noticed how often we talk or write as if we know everything? Or that we are expressing absolute truth?

It kinda makes me feel sick honestly. It's everywhere...and it's insidious. You know what I'm talking about, you see it every day.

"life-changing" "perfect" "everything you need"

Hell the posts I wrote the last few weeks could lead a person to believe that if they just follow this exactly their life will be everything they have always wanted! But let's be real - life is WAY more nuanced and complex. There is no one size fits all solution to anything (did you catch the absolute language there?)

Today I want to share why I think this is such a problem and ways we can shift it for our benefit. Let's move out of the tyranny of absolute language and embrace the beauty of nuance.

road sign showing the varied and nuanced ways to find your way

All-or-nothing thinking is a type of cognitive distortion. This was first identified by Dr. Aaron Beck who was instrumental in the development of cognitive behavioral therapy. There is a long and robust list of distortions that we habitually use to screw our thinking up into illogical and irrational ways. Many of which are thoroughly described in Dr. David Burns books; Feeling Good and Feeling Great.

Dr. Burns is another psychologist instrumental in the use of cognitive behavioral therapy. I highly recommend his books. Please note these book links are affiliates.

One major problem with absolute language is that it leads to all-or-nothing thinking. And that can create a false beliefs.

  • Like thinking if something isn't "perfect" it's completely worthless.

  • It can hinder goal setting because you aren't being realistic on the process of growth.

  • It can impact our self-image and make us feel like we are a complete failure instead of knowing we have areas of improvement.

  • We judge people in totality as "good" or "bad" or lord forbid - "evil" because they have things to work on too.

It can create unrelenting stress, anxiety and shame. Feeling like no matter what you do it's never good enough.

What a terrible way to live! You can't live a fulfilled purposeful life feeling this way.

I remember when Twitter first started getting popular and how unrealistic I thought it was that any meaningful thought could be captured in 140 characters. And social media hasn't really gotten better in the years that have followed. In my opinion this is how keyboard warriors get born.

Sitting alone, with your own thoughts and beliefs convinced of your own "rightness" on an issue, situation, whatever. So you throw down some text not really stopping to think of how limited it is.

But's what worse is the person reading it says to themselves..."what, this person doesn't know what the hell they are talking about!" Then they go on to "share their truth" in the same absolute, all-or-nothing, black-or-white way.

And then a digital war ensues on Facebook that leaves families in tatters, friendships blocked, and relationships destroyed.

Because we shared out thoughts in a direct, almost accusatory way, and then someone else retaliated.

Probably not the most effective way to communicate...just a thought.

I really believe that the implications of this are wide sweeping. It seems that we are so divided right now. At odds with one another in ways we maybe haven't before. And while all this connection is supposed to be bringing us together. We have forgotten that dialog and conversations is a two way street. Not just a declaration of your truth.

Hopefully you are inspired to do something about it, because we can. This is one of those ripple in a pond moments. You know when you do something that encourages someone else to do the same and then it grows.

How do we do this? How do we break this cycle of absolute language and remember the beauty of complexities and nuance?

Well here are a few ideas to try:

  1. ask questions for clarity BEFORE you make a statement

  2. become masterful at critical thinking

  3. the only safe assumption is that you are wrong

  4. practice nuanced language (i.e. everyone agrees becomes many people believe OR there are lots of diverse opinions)

  5. consider context and what's going on in a persons life

  6. practice empathy...which is believing someone's experience even if it is different from yours

  7. encourage conversations and connection

This idea is really important to me. It was a consideration when I started blogging because my intention is to not add to this issue. I hope to be part of encouraging different rhetoric. But I certainly use absolute language no matter how hard I try to be mindful of it. I hope you will join me though. I would LOVE to know your experiences with this and how you try to keep yourself.

In a world that is screaming at us in absolutes I will find power in subtleties. I believe life's richness lies in its complexities, not in rigid standards or ideas. By moving into a more nuanced way of communicating I believe we open ourselves to a fuller, more authentic experience.



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