Over the course of my career, I’ve always walked away from interactions with ‘Understaters’ impressed .  ‘Understaters’ are those people who make it a habit to understate rather than overstate a situation.  They talk both calmly and with words that downplay.  They use phrases like “we should keep a close eye on that” and “it would behoove us to…” while Overstaters never met a strong adjective they didn’t like such as “incredibly”, “unbelievably”, “exceedingly”.

The benefits of being an Understater are that when they talk, people listen.  This might be best understood by examining the converse: why people don’t listen when Overstaters talk.

The Brain Shuts Down When Exposed to Overstating

I’d argue that there is an involuntary listening shutdown reflex that kicks in, no different than the one triggered when the doctor whacks your knee with his little hammer, when people overstate.  People hear the “incrediblys”, “unbelievablys”, and “exceedinglys” and a “I’M BEING SOLD” alarm goes off in our heads that closes the brain down and prevents the Overstaters argument from being evaluated on its merits.

Importantly, whether or not the Overstater’s argument has merit is often not relevant to the discussion.  The merit of the argument is often lost in the overstatement of the delivery.  Left uncorrected (as it usually is) the snowball rolls down hill and before long, the Overstater becomes known in the organization as an Overstater and people’s brains shut down from the moment they come in contact with him/her before he/she has even opened their mouth.

Contrast that with the Understater.  The Understater stays away from red alert language, letting the merit of his argument stand on its own, allowing it to permeate the listeners brain, allowing the ‘swaying to his side’ process to occur organically.  By understating his argument he keeps the door to the listeners brain open, giving his argument the best possible chance of getting through.

Becoming an Understater

Hopefully, by now the benefits of being an Understater rather than Overstater are clear. For some people, becoming an Understater will come pretty naturally once they develop awareness of how they speak.  For others, (but never this author *cough*), it is more involved and is a matter of working to change a reflex.


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