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Monday, 27 August 2012

Language that improves understanding

In order to communicate to anyone we delete, distort or generalise in order to give them a condensed map of our thoughts, feelings or memories. We have to otherwise we'd be there all day just asking someone if we could have a cup of tea? That is we have to assume they we have common understanding about what a cup is and what tea is - even if anyone expecting english tea can be a little suprised when they get peppermint tea. 

The issue of course with condensing meaning is that can lead to miscommunciation - with assumptions being made about what we meant by the few words we did choose to use. I remember having a disagreement with a colleague once where she was telling me what I wanted to do was "wrong." I just couldn't understand why we weren't in agreement because normally we were. So I said "currently there's something missing from my understanding of the situation because I don't understand why you think it's wrong - tell me more - what am I missing?"   
Effective communication therefore requires us to ask questions to expand our understanding of someone else's map to:

• change meanings (undistort)
• retrieve information (undelete)
• expand limits (ungeneralise)

In other words we ask open questions - what, how, when, who, where, which, whose etc.

If we can determine whether someone is generalising, deleting or distorting it will impact the type of questions we ask - such as:

Distortions:
"His voice irritates me" - how does his voice cause you to be irritated?
"Taking calls in a meetings means you don't respect me" - have you ever taken a call in a meeting without it meaning you didn't respect the person?

Deletions
"He's a better purchaser" - who is, better than who?
"They don't understand" - who doesn't?

Generalisations
"No-one knows what's going on" - what no-one?
"I must do this report" - what would happen if you didn't?

Next time you're just about to react to what someone has said why not ask a few more questions to check understanding - you might just be surprised.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Sowing the seeds for effective stakeholder engagement

This post is part of a series introducing some NLP tools and techniques that can significantly improve your stakeholder engagement, communication and team working.

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