What we say speaks volumes. Use language that elevates, connects, and illuminates.
We live in a world of chest thumping know-it-alls. Opinions are facts. Impressions are truths. Assumptions are reality. After reading a headline or watching a TikTok on the Middle East or upcoming election, people are convinced they are now experts on the topic. All too often, a tidbit of information masquerades as a fountain of knowledge. Some even claim familiarity and expertise with subjects they know absolutely nothing about. The tendency to overestimate our understanding and underestimate our ignorance about a topic is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Humorist Josh Billings put it perfectly, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
The antidote for certainty is humility. Rather clinging to your convictions, consider saying, “I don’t know” more in 2024. Who knows? You may learn something from someone who does.
While it may be human to make mistakes, admitting to them does not come naturally. When it comes to taking responsibility for our actions, we often waffle, come up with excuses or point the finger at someone else. Justifying and rationalizing help us manage cognitive dissonance—that uncomfortable feeling of holding conflicting beliefs or information. Because we are motivated to see ourselves as good people, admitting wrongdoing acknowledges we have fallen short.
Cognitive dissonance often results in mental gymnastics—we bend over backwards to absolve ourselves or prove ourselves right. The thought of offering an apology can be psychologically threatening. Refusing to back down may be ego sparing but it denies us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. People who believe they have the ability to change their behavior are more likely to acknowledge they were wrong. Admitters separate bad behavior from being a bad person. Rather than showing weakness, saying, “I was wrong” can be a source of strength. If you care about strengthening your relationships and personal growth, say it more in 2024.
People just love to talk. The tendency to prattle on can pay off. Regardless of intelligence or expertise, those who talk more are more likely to be seen as leaders. Unfortunately, commanding airtime can be confused with competence. This is know as The Babble Effect. Thanks to this phenomenon, we end up mistaking quantity for quality.
If you want to have more meaningful exchanges in 2024, say less and listen more. Replace conviction with curiosity. Ask questions with the intention of learning something, and not just thinking about your response. Truly listening involves digesting what the person is saying and also paying attention to non-verbal communication. Try to hit on something your conversation partner is passionate about and then use the following three magic words: “Tell me more.” Nothing unlocks a meaningful conversation like genuine interest and undivided attention.
Increasingly, the above phrase isn’t reserved for flagrantly rude and inappropriate situations but has become the go-to line to deploy when a conversation veers into territory an individual merely disagrees with. Saying, “this makes me feel uncomfortable” is a surefire way to shut your conversation partner down. It’s also a surefire way to shut down the possibility of learning something. I think of this phrase as the adult equivalent of a toddler plugging their ears and screaming.
Avoiding uncomfortable conversations spares us from awkward exchanges and feeling challenged. It also prevents us from hearing another person’s perspective and perhaps expanding how we think about a topic and understanding why the other person thinks the way they do. Just because we disagree with someone doesn’t mean that we are right and they are wrong.
As Adam Grant writes in his best-selling new book Hidden Potential, “The best way to accelerate growth is to embrace, seek, and amplify discomfort.”