I heard a fascinating quote the other day that really made me think…
“Words are simply a tool that humans use to negotiate reality.”
I don’t recall where I heard this but would give full credit to the author. This quote was one of the most true things I’ve heard in a while, for me at least. I think we spend a massive amount of time using words to agree or disagree on the reality we’re experiencing. To the author’s point, we are constantly negotiating.
Think about some of our normal interactions –
- Everyday small talk – “How are you?”
- Text messaging
- Use of social media
- Zoom calls
All of these interactions involve situations where we’re exchanging information in effort to negotiate the reality we’re experiencing. By negotiate, I don’t mean arguing or debating. I’m just suggesting that we’re trying to agree, or disagree, on what we’re experiencing.
That’s the primary role that words play in our lives. I think something in my head, now I have to communicate it with words. You think something in your head, and then you do the same. We’re describing, sharing or asking for things all day long.
Now think about how much energy we put into crafting the words that our minds want to communicate. It’s a massive amount of energy. Not only do we have to come up with the words, we also have to modify the tone in some cases when we’re speaking, or pick the perfect emoji if we’re typing!
For more complex conversations we need to build up a strategy to deliver the story. This becomes a plethora of words and statements that need to string together to prove a point. We find ourselves bouncing around different nouns and adjectives, inserting filler words, and then hoping we can tie things back together. It’s even more talking and typing. More words for everyone to process.
And then… if we don’t feel fully understood we have to add more words into the negotiation. For example:
- Ummm, kind of…
- Not exactly, let me explain…
- Yes, but here’s the thing…
- That’s not what I meant…
- I mean…
It’s actually a ridiculous amount of time when you reflect on how often humans use those phrases.
Which leads me to believe we are very poor negotiators! Honestly.
If we were great at negotiating reality we wouldn’t need many words. We’d actually need less.
Have you ever left a conversation energized and inspired by a certain question someone asked you? Or heard a specific phrase that made an instant impact? I have and these moments are beautiful. They’re usually sparked by less words, active listening and great questions. This is a perfect example of humans negotiating reality more efficiently.
Have you ever read a book that was both short and valuable? Where things flowed smoothly and you didn’t have to re-read various areas. The type of book that you recommend to people and say, “It’s a quick read. You’ll love it.” This is another example of humans negotiating reality with less words.
The dialog with my children is also pretty well negotiated. At 4 and 6 years old they use few words and ask real questions. They don’t inject extra negotiation unless they want something, at which point they’re trying to manipulate the situation – i.e. get desert before dinner!
I think we can learn a lot from young children in this area since their negotiations are not cluttered with adult baggage.
Using Body Language
One of the most powerful communication tools we under utilize is the human body. We can say so much with our bodies without even opening our mouths. In fact, they were designed for negotiation.
Our postures and expressions can communicate how we’re feeling, our level of interest, our intentions and so much more. For example:
- Using smiles or frowns to represent how we’re feeling
- Waving something off/away if we don’t want it
- Laying or sitting down if we’re tired
- Running and jumping if we feel excited
- Putting our head into our hands if we’re frustrated
We can leverage our bodies to take care of general communication. It’s universal language that requires no words or translation. It’s been used for thousands of years as humans have evolved, and generally way easier than opening our mouths and trying to communicate what we’re thinking. Our body language can become a powerful tool if we really invest into it.
For example, do you have a friend or family member that automatically knows what you’re thinking by making eye contact in a situation? I sure do and it’s magical when this happens. We both smile and connect with that nice feeling of mutual understanding. No words but instant alignment. This is the evolution of great negotiation. We get here after investing time into common language with others, which eventually removes the need for words.
So what’s the takeaway here?
Processing words is expensive. It requires mental bandwidth and human energy. Most of the time we’re exhausting ourselves with words in effort to experience a better reality.
I think we might experience a better reality if we chose less words. If we become more intentional about the words we choose. If we pause before speaking and really evaluate what we’re about to say. If we start to do more with our body language, and less with our words.
On that note, this blog post is long enough! 🙂
I’ll leave you with that.
Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.
1 thought on “How Humans Negotiate Reality”
This is one of the biggest issues with other cultures and languages. When I was in China gestures, body language, eye contact and vocal intonation plays a huge role in communication and is totally different than here in the US. I am sure your brother can attest to this also.