Taking People Literally

The other day I was watching a TV program concerned with “little men”. Note, they did not suffer from dwarfism, but were just small men (in case you were wondering, yes, there was nothing else on TV). During the course of the program several small men were interviewed, and they started talking about the problems being small brings with it. Among others, of course they believed that it impaired their ability to socialize. To counteract that problem, one guy decided to go through leg lengthening surgery. Not only is that a very long but also very painful process. While he was talking, he kept saying: “I have this problem” all the while moving his hand to about 3cm to the left of his head. He consistently did that. My bet is, his problem was right there too…

We are taught to extrapolate the meaning of what is said. We are taught to look out for indicators in the body language. Yet, we are never taught that all that is, in many contexts, utter nonsense. We are never taught that we should take people literally, refraining from injecting our meaning into what is going on, and instead paying attention to what the person is doing.

After years and years of research, the brain itself is still an enigma to us. Current theories believe that the brain reconstructs a precise 3D image of our surroundings inside our own head. This allows us to navigate through space, and to recognize objects. So far, so good. Now, what happens is that we also use this space to manage our memories, beliefs, pretty much everything. When you think about someone you like (NOTE: this is the audience participation bit!) and point to the image, it will be in a different location than that of someone you do despise. What does that mean?

For starters, it means that hand gestures during communication are not merely there to emphasize what is going on, but you can also see the map of the world of whoever is talking. You can see where the things are they like, and where the things are they do not like. Literally, they will point to them. And once you know where they are, guess what, you can move them, or put things there. So, if someone is talking about a deadline while moving his hand up and down about 30cms from his face, chances are, the deadline is right there for him. That simple.

So, this “small” person was pointing out that he did leg lengthening surgery because of “this problem”(3cms left of his head). My thoughts were that maybe he should move this problem a little further away from where it is so he can get some room to breath. Of course, this will not solve the problem, but it will give him a chance to have a better look at it. Hence, when you talk to people, feel free to take them literally…


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