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Business and Leadership


How dangerous and destructive is the habit of using “absolutes” in everyday conversation? Have you ever thought of this? Do you hear yourself using absolutes? If so, you most probably are steering your relationships and reputation down an unpleasant and rocky road.

Over the last five years of mentoring various people, I have come to recognize one common thread when my mentees talked about conflict with a spouse, fellow employee, employer and/or friend. Everyone I dealt with was oblivious to this “common thread”; however to me it stuck out like a sore thumb. It was the frequent use of “absolutes.”

Many of us have heard counselors stress that we should not use absolutes in our conversations – words such as “always,” and “never”. However, until I started mentoring, the frequency with which some people use absolutes and the damage that practice causes in relationships had never been so obvious to me.

Here are a few examples of absolutes:

“You never pick your shoes up off the floor,” rather than saying, “I have noticed that quite often you don’t pick your shoes up off the floor,” which, by-the-way, is probably more accurate.

“Those referees always get that wrong,” rather than saying, “Those referees often get that wrong.”

Question: Which sounds like a friendlier and less tension-filled conversation style?

The problem is, if people have the habit of using absolutes, they usually use them when talking with everyone, including those closest to them. And unfortunately, there is a high price to pay for this style of communication.

One young man recently asked if I would mentor him. I responded by asking if he was sure he wanted to start that type of relationship. He inquired why I would ask him such a thing, and I said that it could become quite painful. I further explained that he had a style of communication that simply did, at times, drive me “up the wall.” Upon further discussion I explained that the source of my annoyance was his unbelievable use of absolutes in conversation. For every 100 statements he made as an absolute, there was only possibly one that actually might be an absolute. I then shared with him three statements he had made in the thirty minutes we had been visiting that contained an absolute. None, of course, actually was an absolute. He freely agreed that I was correct.

During our mentoring sessions, we focused primarily on limiting his use of absolutes. Within less than a year, this young man could give testimony to the great change in his life when it comes to relationships. Furthermore, when he and I visit today if he uses an absolute, he immediately corrects himself.

Next, I want to talk about what the use of absolutes does when utilized in a conversation.

Absolutes build walls with others; cause a loss of integrity and credibility (we all know there aren’t many absolutes); and create arguments and challenges. This is not nearly as friendly relationally as when absolutes are avoided in conversation.

I have observed that when someone uses absolutes in conversation they are usually insecure and use absolutes to enhance their odds of getting attention.

We probably have all heard the comment, “Insult me; just don’t ignore me.” A person that laces his/her conversations with absolutes often attracts attention from someone in the group who takes issue with the statement that includes an absolute. Ah, attention!!!!! They have found it to be a way to keep from being ignored in group settings. Forget the fact that they most often receive negative responses; they find negative reactions better than being ignored.

Using absolutes destroys confidence in the “absolute-user” among those who are around him/her on a frequent basis. This practice causes others to recognize that a majority of what the person says is just absolutely wrong, over-stated, and inaccurate. This causes everything statement to be questioned. Some may say: “well, that is just the way the person is.” That’s the point!!!

I challenge you to become aware of your use of absolutes, and as you do, work on voiding your conversations of them and see how much more friendly and enjoyable you find yourself being with others. I promise you will like yourself better. Guaranteed!!!

What will it do for you if you void your conversation of absolutes? Here are some real possibilities:

You no longer will leave the impression with others that you think you know everything.

It will stop so much negative feedback/response.

You will start to recover your integrity.

You will no longer place yourself in a position of having to defend an “absolute” statement you have made and cannot defend because there is no evidence to support it.

You will be a more friendly and pleasurable person to be with.

You will develop better relationships.

I must say, in finishing this article, that none of what I have set forth herein is ABSOLUTE. See if you think you are an “exception” to the rule.

Gary L. Richardson is a noted trial lawyer and author of “Black Robe Fever”, “Fear Is Never Our Friend”, and “Thank God They Ate the Apple.”

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