How To… economize language and not express neediness.

A common feature of modern human speech is obvious neediness. Perhaps because of the pervasive culture of offense we live in, perhaps because of the steady insecurity that comes with editing and revising emails and comments online, perhaps it’s simply because we communicate more and feel more and more intimidated by the people around us.

Whatever the reason, most people communicate in a way that is needy, insecure and desperate for approval. And this isn’t healthy. We shouldn’t always speak and write as though the audience could sentence us to death.

1: Start with the basics.

Don’t try and build up or lead up to everything you say. Don’t pad it. Consider the difference:

“I am sorry to bother you right now and I know you’re busy and I don’t know if you can help. But I just wanted to ask whether you had a few minutes to help me move the bookshelf so I can clean and repaint the wall behind. I don’t want to be a bother but it really needs doing and the shelf is so heavy. I won’t need you to move it back, I can walk it in myself, but I’m scared of it tipping when I move it out.”

“I know you’re busy, but if you have a minute today could you help me move the bookshelf so I can get behind it. I can move it back on my own. Thanks.”

Which one is clearer about your intent? Which one is more likely to be listened to? Which one would make you an uncomfortable recipient? Which one makes you sound whiny and needy?

2: Identify the basics.

If you don’t know what the basics are, ask the following questions:

Who? The friend and you.

What? Move the shelf.

When? Today.

How long? A few minutes.

Why? So you can clean behind it.

All other details are irrelevant. Likewise for any other situation. Don’t say more than you need to be clear and concise.

3: Extra information.

Sometimes a situation is emotional or a person is involved and they would like to know more about it.

If the situation is an emotional one, then add an acknowledgement of their feelings or a mention of yours. You still don’t need to go on about it, justify your feelings or anything of the sort. Just explain as simply as possible and leave it at that. Compare:

“I’m so sorry and I’m sure you’re angry at me and I wish you weren’t. There isn’t anything I can do and I don’t want this to come between us or hurt you. Please forgive me.”

“I know you’re angry, and I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

If the situation is one where they’re very involved they may want more details. But even so, these details only need to be mentioned, not explored and repeated. Compare:

“I was thinking we should repaint the walls in green, the same as the kitchen, we have a bucket left and everything should go with it. But perhaps blue would work as well, only the curtains don’t quite match. What do you think?”

“I’m torn between the green we used in the kitchen and a blue. We still have some green. What do you think?”

Even when elaborating or emoting, you can be clear and concise and eliminate neediness or anxiety.

4: Wait for questions.

If anyone wants more details, generally they will ask. Offloading everything you know about something won’t give them the information they need, it will just confuse them and make you seem nervous, needy and insecure. Compare:

“Sorry I’m late, but I ran into Sam. We got caught up talking about the elections and our favourite show. Apparently the show will be very good this season and I’m really looking forward to it, if you can let me have the TV to myself on Sunday. We just stood there and talked and before I knew it we had been there for two hours. I tried to leave but Sam just kept talking so I stayed a bit longer.”

“Sorry I’m late, I ran into Sam and we had a chat. By the way, my favourite show is back on Sunday and I’d like the TV to myself if possible.”

Then, perhaps the person you’re apologizing to will question the three or more hours you were missing. And you can explain after that “I got caught up, I noticed after two hours but it was hard to leave.” But preempting someone’s questions could annoy them and leave them without the information they actually want.

5: Emotions and offense.

A big reason why we overwork our words is because we want to elicit or prevent a specific response. And we get so caught up in it that, even when it would have been possible, we can make it worse.

The first step to tackling this problem is to acknowledge that emotions are unreasonable and therefore, no matter how much information or of your own emotions you throw at them, some people will feel differently, some people will be offended and some people will overreact. Nothing you do will ever stop someone from feeling.

However, when someone is open to change and reason, often a little goes a long way.

Don’t assume you know exactly what they’re feeling. Ask.

Don’t try and argue against their emotions.

Don’t get caught up in a battle over who got offended or hurt.

Compare:

“Person1: I am angry that you said that.

Person2: You can’t be angry. That’s not at all justified. What is there to be angry about? I’m unhappy, but there’s no reason to be angry.”

“Person1: I am angry that you said that.

Person2: There’s no reason to feel that way.

Person1: Well I do and it’s your fault.

Person2: How is it my fault?”

“Person1: I am angry that you said that.

Person2: That’s how you feel. That’s fine but it doesn’t concern me.”

In all three cases person1 is looking for a response and person2 feels that the anger is over the top and an apology isn’t warranted. However only in the third example does person2 achieve what they want: end the conversation having made their side clear.

6: Stop yourself.

When you catch yourself getting caught in an argument, going on and on or expanding on something endlessly, you need to stop.

Stop talking. Take a deep breath. Think of the most concise way to sum up your point and finish on a summary. You don’t need to finish the ramble first!

7: Move on.

Sometimes a remark may fall awkwardly, or something may need justifying. If you’re making yourself uncomfortable and trying to talk your way out of awkwardness, don’t carry on, just stop and change the subject.

Awkwardness only gets worse the more you speak or justify. By stopping you make the moment less memorable and by moving on you can make yourself comfortable again.

8: Use plain words.

People use all sorts of euphemisms and fancy terms when they feel they are in society that’s too polite for common language.

But every layer of higher language, euphemisms and extra description you add makes it harder for you to be understood, meaning you need to talk more to explain what you were saying. Being vague when giving commands isn’t the same as delegating. Compare:

“Would you let the dog out through the conservatory into the small garden for a moment?”

“Please let the dog out in the back garden.”

“I need something starchy and sweet, some greens to go with it and please be back before five or we won’t have anything to eat.”

“Bring sweet potatoes, some greens and be back before five for dinner.”

You don’t need to use complicated language, euphemisms or vagueness to make yourself sound more distinguished.

9: Think rather than feel.

This starts just as how you express yourself. Thoughts and statements need less justification than feelings and opinions. So swap…

“I feel…” for “I think…”

“In my opinion…” for “I find…”

“I believe…” for “As far as I’m aware…”

Essentially, step everything up in terms of certainty and clarity. Communicate what you know and understand above what you feel.

After a while you will also start thinking in terms of what is certain and clear, rather than in terms of what you feel and sense. By doing this you make your communication clearer.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with explaining… when asked, feeling… when it doesn’t run your mind, or expanding… when the information is necessary.

But if you can economize your language just a little bit and make yourself just a bit clearer, more secure and more decisive, then you will come across as more secure, more confident, more reliable and more sensible.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

Humans Cannot Act Against Human Nature

“We are exactly as nature “intended”. We couldn’t exist otherwise, as the process of evolution would have cut us from the tree long ago. Our minds are exactly as nature “intended”. All nature “intends” us to be is successful or dead. Our minds have made us what we are, have made us immensely successful, and that includes our rational decisions regarding our own instincts. As we are still alive, it’s safe to assume nature “intended” reason to be part of our human nature.”

Again, as always, let’s be clear on the definitions of “human nature”. The Oxford English Dictionary currently defines it as:

“The general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioural traits of humankind, regarded as shared by all humans.”

So, that would make “human nature” better defined as “human behaviours, feelings and other characteristics”. By paying special attention to the word “psychological”, we note that we are not talking exclusively about actions committed, ideals or instincts, but a combination of all three and more. By paying special attention to the word “regarded”, we note two things. Firstly, the opinion of human nature is not an absolute. It is perceived to be, or “regarded” as shared by all humans, however this does not mean that any specific behaviour actually is. Secondly, as an opinion, it is subjective. Need I say more?

As the view on what constitutes “human nature” is subjective, generalized and broad, we must try and regard “human nature” without trying to make it objective (implying complete knowledge of the human condition and mind), absolutist (making it automatically incorrect, as an absolute is either right or wrong and one exception makes it wrong) or specific (forcing us to focus on the nuances rather than the entire state). To do so, let’s say that “human nature” is an abstract concept. It’s intangible, we can’t witness it, but it is necessary and at the very core of our every behaviour, feeling and characteristics. It is the puppet-master behind the scenes that triggers everything we are, say, think and do. Human nature is everything that makes a human human.

Now, here is where most find their first and final pitfall: we often confuse human nature with pure instinct. We assume that, as every aspect of human nature must stem from our biology and, therefore, our instincts, that the purest form of human nature is animal instinct. That, if we act against our baser drives to eat, fight, mate, flee, or our simplest impulses we are somehow acting against human nature.

Yet, if you observe how humans behave, this Freudian simplicity is… well, too simple. Humans are social animals. Humans are rational animals. We may feel an impulse to eat, but first inspecting the berry is wise. We may feel an impulse to mate, but mounting the Alpha’s partner is unwise. We may feel an impulse to flee, but to first scan the area, follow a lead or consider other evasion tactics is also wise. The right, rational decision can make or break our success. Our behaviours are just as much influenced by our minds and society as they are by our impulses and environment. Ergo, our human nature is just as much rational and social as it is instinctive.

In fact, our minds are what make humans distinct from other animals to begin with. Instinct and impulse did not create metropoli. Sure, you could argue that the desire for food, mates and safety created metropoli. But, without our minds and social natures, humans would, like so many other animals, have settled for following the migrating game and gathering seasonal produce, forcing ourselves upon suitable partners and defending ourselves through evasive and defensive means. Our minds are absolutely necessary to explain our successes. Our social structures are also necessary, as, without intricate hierarchies and extensive bonding and trust, sedentary life and all the things that can be created within it would be impossible. Without our minds, we are animals. Without society, we can’t use our minds. When we have both, we are human. The take-away message is that, if our minds and society make us human, then anything created by our minds and our societies also stems from human nature.

“If we take the angle that reason and society are also parts of human nature, then we can understand why people act against their instincts or best interests. The woman who kills her own child does so, not because of an instinct or an impulse, but because she believed it was the best option. An anorexic starves themselves, not because of an instinct or an impulse, but because they feel they should. Humans engage in unnecessary risk-taking, not because we are following an impulse but because we consider the reward to be worth the risk. We use our minds to overcome our instincts, and often to excellent results.”

This goes a long way toward explaining that which Freudian simplicity and the absolute perspective of instinct=human nature fail to: why is it that humans act against our instincts, our impulses, even against our own best interests? If all of human nature could genuinely be boiled down to our base instincts, the survival of our genes, or sex, food and survival, then many behaviours are hard to explain. For example, faith is not instinctive, about your genes or about survival. On the contrary, faith often requires humans to make sacrifices, act against their basic reproductive instincts and even die. Yet faith continues to form part of our lives, as it fulfills emotional, social and spiritual needs that go beyond what an animal requires, but are necessary for humans to thrive.

Likewise, a mother who plans to kill her child, a man committing suicide, an anorexic starving themselves or a voluntary celibate are acting directly against their main biological imperatives. Often, they are viewed as “outliers”, or “exceptions” that act “against their nature”. However, this is just an excuse for a limited, absolutist view of human nature; a way of arguing that the absolute view is still correct, rather than accepting that it has been proven incorrect by a variation. Yet, these “exceptions” are very much the norm. If you wish to argue that the main driver of human nature is survival of the individual, then you must ignore the fact that most humans engage in risk-taking that threatens their lives, directly or indirectly, often for no apparent reason. If you wish to argue that the main driver of human nature is the spread of our genes, then you must ignore the fact that humans without access to contraception are very consciously selective about their choices of mate, rather than going by their horniness alone. On the other hand, if we take the angle that reason and society are also parts of human nature, then we can understand why people act against their instincts or best interests. The woman who kills her own child does so, not because of an instinct or an impulse, but because she believed it was the best option. An anorexic starves themselves, not because of an instinct or an impulse, but because they feel they should. Humans engage in unnecessary risk-taking, not because we are following an impulse but because we consider the reward to be worth the risk. We use our minds to overcome our instincts, and often to excellent results.

Of course, you could then say that the mind is an add-on that complicates matters. That, without the mind, we would still exist. That to act without the mind is to act the way our bodies were made to act. But to deny the mind is to deny humanity. By negating the mind, you are implying our entire lives would be better if we were instinctively driven, as “nature intended”. But nature did not “intend” us to be irrational beasts. Nature made us as we were and we took what we were and turned into what we are today. If applied to everything, the negation of the mind would cause society to disintegrate and humans to devolve. If we exclusively ate what felt good, we would get ill. But it’s natural to eat what feels good. If we exclusively eat as our ancestors ate, we would suffer famines, poisonings and malnutrition. But it’s natural to eat following nature and the seasons. If we exclusively mated with people we see as “hot” and did so whenever we wanted, we would have many illegitimate, attractive children that would die from lack of social structure, creating a bottleneck. But it’s natural to want sex with lots of hot people. If we exclusively mated with those who are functional and were very selective about ever mating before bonding, matings would be few and few matings would result in children. But it’s natural to select the very best mates we can obtain. If we acted on every impulse, would we be being “truer” to our nature? Even if acting on these impulses killed us en masse, resulting in another bottleneck or even the extinction of the human race? We are small, weak, maladaptive animals with extraordinary brains. We are exactly as nature “intended”. We couldn’t exist otherwise, as the process of evolution would have cut us from the tree long ago. Our minds are exactly as nature “intended”. All nature “intends” us to be is successful or dead. Our minds have made us what we are, have made us immensely successful, and that includes our rational decisions regarding our own instincts. As we are still alive, it’s safe to assume nature “intended” reason to be part of our human nature.

“If you are currently trying to explain why you choose to act on your instincts rather than not, you are making your instincts a matter of reason. If you try and rationalize how you embrace instinct and reject reason, or how you decide which instincts and impulses are to be followed and which not, you are making this a matter of reason. If you try and explain why all reason is, at its core, instinct-driven, you are making this a matter of reason. As a rational animal, the only way you can escape your rational and social nature is by rationalizing yourself into a state of unreason or opting for a lobotomy.”

Society, culture and faith are human. They stem from our needs and are an integral part to how our minds work. To argue that instinct trumps culture in the game of “what should we do” is, as explained above, to regress. To act against all society, all culture or all faith is to destroy these structures. By destroying social constructs we remove society as we know it, which removes the need for humanity as we know it. Therefore, we must act in accordance, or at least in harmony with our society. And that includes culture, trends, fads, religion, etc. As a human, to choose to act against your instincts is part of your nature, as you are a rational animal. As a human, to consider society in your reasoning is part of your nature, as you are a social animal. Of course, you may choose to reject religion and insist there is nothing out there. But that is also a belief, replacing the absence of a belief in a faith. You may choose to join or create a counter-culture or even an anti-culture. But that is still the formation of culture. You may choose hermitage, but that is still a socially-motivated choice. You can’t escape your human nature.

Finally, let’s consider that your choices and actions matter more than your instincts. Indeed, if you are currently trying to explain why you choose to act on your instincts rather than not, you are making your instincts a matter of reason. If you try and rationalize how you embrace instinct and reject reason, or how you decide which instincts and impulses are to be followed and which not, you are making this a matter of reason. If you try and explain why all reason is, at its core, instinct-driven, you are making this a matter of reason. As a rational animal, the only way you can escape your rational and social nature is by rationalizing yourself into a state of unreason or opting for a lobotomy. Even then, no success is guaranteed. Your mind makes you human. It makes you who you are. It gives you the choices that let you embrace or reject instinct, embrace or reject society, embrace or reject faith.

And, as a human, as a rational animal, your only biological imperative is to make whatever choices you believe are correct. If you believe you should not reproduce, you are acting against your genes’ desires, but in accordance to human nature. If you wholly embrace your basic instincts, you are acting against your reason, but in accordance to human nature. If you strictly control your diet, you are acting against your basic impulses, but in accordance to human nature. You may be biologically successful or not. Socially successful or not. You may embrace nihlism and reject any concept of success in this world. Move and behave according to your goals. But don’t try and pretend you, or anyone else, is acting against human nature. That is a complete impossibility.