Why You Should Communicate Directly with Others

Talk to people to solve almost any problem.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #449

I’ve been doing executive coaching for a long time. That’s where I work with an executive to help them navigate tricky problems, develop stronger leadership skills, understand their business better, and so on. 

Often, we strategize about how they can handle tricky situations with other people. A client will be having trouble with Charlie. I ask, “have you talked to Charlie about the problem?” And they say, “well, I mentioned it to Ashley, Ryan, Skyler, Mackenzie, Leslie, and Kerry. But no, I haven’t actually talked to Charlie about it.” And I say, “Talk to Charlie.”

Why haven’t they ever talked to Charlie?

Long, long, ago, lives were short and brutish. If you met another proto-human at the watering hole, they might pound you over the head with a stick until you were dead, just like in 2001: A Space Odyssey. So gradually, we evolved the ability to figure out what’s going on in other people’s brains. This ability is called “theory of mind.” In other words, your theory of what’s going on in their mind.

Even though our adorable little tykes learn to say “No” by the time they’re three, theory of mind is much slower to develop. It used to take 15 to 20 years. Now that we have digital natives, who spent their childhood clicking “Like” instead of interacting face-to-face, it probably takes 25 to 30 years. 

According to the research of MIT Professor Rebecca Saxe, Theory of Mind even has its very own brain region! It’s about the size of a dime. So our dime-sized theory of mind is trying to figure out what’s going on in someone else’s full-sized brain. You can imagine that it’s going to have to take some shortcuts.

We never give anyone the benefit of the doubt

Remember that Theory of Mind came from wanting not to get hit on the head by a stick. So when you only have room for a dime-sized understanding of what someone else is thinking, paranoia is a good choice. Because when it comes to not getting hit on the head by a stick, it’s safer to assume the worst. 

There’s only one problem: we don’t live near watering holes any more. We live in societies that pipe water to us. That requires cooperation, and lots of it. But our brains haven’t caught up.

So what happens is that we’re confused. Or we don’t know something. Or we don’t understand why someone did what they did, or reacted the way they did. Our theory of mind tells us, "Don’t talk to them about it!! They’ll hit you with a stick and steal your water!" So we don’t. We talk to everyone else instead.

Today’s tip is simple: talk to them.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.