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“The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice.” ~Bertrand Russell 

Meta-messages of certainty sell well in a sea of anxiety.

Meta-messages are micro messages captured and interpreted by the unconscious: body language, sidelong glances, phraseology, certain words. They inform our conscious and influence our behaviours without our conscious awareness.

I am not here to bash the new President of the United States. I wish him well for the sake of the American people, and for the rest of the world whose economies and cultures are impacted by the U.S.’s policies and trade practices.

I am here to remind all of those who lead other people, from family to friends, from five to five thousand, to be aware of the impact of your words. Promises made to your people carry weight; you may not remember what you said, but they will.

You either said as a child or have heard your own child say, “But Dad/Mom, you promised!” Sniff, whine.

A promise carries the weight of certainty.

On Friday, Trump made a lot of promises in his inauguration speechHe repeatedly used the words “only,” “always,” and “never.” Six times he used “never.” Six. Times.

I tell my clients to avoid all those words; they are ineffective and rarely accurate. How often have you said, “I’ll never do that again”? And then you do.

These words represent absolutes, ultimatums, or guarantees which rarely promote collaboration or forward movement, in the boardroom or the bedroom.

Think of interactions between your partner, boss, spouse, or child; no reputable therapist recommends ultimatums, absolutes, or guarantees as road maps for communication success.

Eric Fromm said, “The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning.”

We live in uncertain times. Increasingly so. Don’t be hood-winked by promises of certainty.

Brings to mind the song, The Life of Riley:

“So here’s your life,
We’ll find our way,
We’re sailing blind,
But it’s certain nothing’s for certain.”

We may crave certainty, but making meaning in the midst of uncertainty matters more: it builds resiliency, a necessary survival skill when swimming in a sea of anxiety.

 

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