We often hear about “survival of the fittest.” The standard view of evolution is that living things were forged by ruthless competition. While there is no doubt that today's species carry the genetic legacy of ancestors who fought to pass on their DNA, we were intrigued with a recent NPR Radio Lab that explored “whether there might also be a logic behind sharing, niceness, kindness ... or even, self-sacrifice.”
It turns out we don’t really live in a selfish, dog-eat-dog world. Cooperation is ubiquitous in nature, from the cellular to the societal level. Our cells are descended from competing single-celled organisms that forfeited their autonomy to function as cohesive units. Many plants host bacteria or fungi they depend upon for vital nutrients. Ants defend trees that house them. Animals from bees to lions cooperate with close relatives, and research points to considerable evidence that sharing, reciprocity, and empathy are found in apes, monkeys, and chimps.
And what is the engine of cooperation? Communication. Writing about the “unselfish gene” in The Harvard Business Review, Harvard professor Yochai Benkler says, “Nothing is more important in a cooperative system than communication among participants…Over hundreds of experiments spanning decades, no single factor has had as large an effect on levels of cooperation as the ability to communicate.”
The bottom line: The better we communicate the more we can take advantage of our predisposition to cooperate. It’s only natural.
We want to hear: Can you give us an example of how a cooperative environment led to greater success than did a competitive one? What role did communication play? To join the conversation, click "comments" below.
If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion