A client who knows I’ve applied a lot from evolutionary psychology to leadership and self-awareness wrote:
What’s your opinion of the theory that language serves primarily as persuasion?
In its raw form, I’m currently telling you that you are an authority by asking a question. And that sentence might seem like it’s an authoritative statement, but instead it is clarifying my question, which in its clarification is a neediness to be understood on my part, and distancing us even further.
Does that make sense?
I read the Red Queen and I don’t know what to think anymore. Noting that [an entrepreneurial friend of his who is very successful] mentions the book often, I can guess that at some of the theories in the Red Queen seemed to help him.
Did you read it?
I wrote back:
I found the perspective of evolutionary psychology behind Red Queen useful in suggesting ways of seeing how institutions like governments, religions, schools, etc arose from emotions we evolved, as opposed to whatever justifications those institutions offered, as much as they try to convince us of some imagined “divine right” like kings used to try to pull over on people or some equivalent. It also suggested why we have emotions and the particular mix we do. I find that that perspective creates compassion and empathy.
I found that that perspective also liberated me from many rules and beliefs those institutions tried to impose on me for their benefit. Nationalism and patriotism, for example, seem to help society and many institutions at the expense of the individual’s happiness. Same with many things, like banks, corporations, etc. (I read it a decade years ago so I hope you’ll forgive inaccuracies.)
I found its views on language helpful too. I’ve come to see the most basic part of communication (more fundamental than language as it includes non-verbal communication, behavior, and more) to influence others to help us. There are other reasons, but I see that one as the most basic. It holds for all communication by animals, not just between people. That perspective gave importance to learning skills of negotiation, conflict management, and a few other things that generally fall under leadership, but most of all in making people feel understood. If we communicate mostly to be understood, then not feeling understood robs us of our point of communicating and frustrates us. We don’t like people who don’t understand us and close ourselves to their influence. By contrast, if you make someone feel understood, especially on something others don’t, they will open up to you more, in the hopes of being more deeply understood.
As a leader or someone who wants to influence others access to someone’s emotional depth—their passions—tells you how they want to be led. When someone wants you to lead them and you know how, you can work together as a team more closely and effectively than otherwise. In general you reciprocate and share your motivations with them too. In business it means creating teams, leading others, and building organizations beyond what you could otherwise. Most of my clients apply these things to their closer relationships too.
In summary, I found the perspective of evolutionary psychology gave me one of the most useful perspectives on society and how to interact with it.
Many people criticize evolutionary psychology as difficult or impossible to prove. We don’t have fossil evidence of brain development or much more hard evidence. I still find the perspective that our brains evolved through similar processes as the rest of our anatomies compelling.
I’ve found improving my social skills in relating to other people and myself through action and behavior the most effective way to improve how I acted in and felt about my life. That’s what I coach and why.