Thursday, May 18, 2017

Can you analyze and agree at the same time?

What do these words mean to you? The Meta Model classifies them as distortions and generalizations. But to the people who put them on these sticky notes, they represented a very specific shared experience.

Part of the reputation of NLP was established by its approach to language. The Meta Model promises to help you look beneath what people are saying to discover what they really mean. It's based on understanding language as a distortion of reality.

Even if it were accurate (I wouldn't argue that), it's a framing that is almost bound to get you into trouble unless you remember one cardinal rule (most people don't). The rule is this: you can only dig deeper with permission and you can only tell you have permission when you are spending most of your attention building agreement.

As a coach, I sometimes work with high performers on analyzing their patterns of thought or behaviour so that we can identify leverage points for change. This is stressful, but the stress is tolerated by high performers because they are expert enough to assume that there will be points they can strengthen and determined enough to manage the stress in pursuit of improvement.

If you're not dealing with an expert, continually prodding at someone's language is likely to destroy rapport and result in a "challenge" to a "distortion" being met as challenges are usually met: with equal and opposite energy.

Language works best when you are willing to explore how it takes experience and creates a word that allows us to pull that experience into awareness when it will be helpful. The word is a handle, not a mirror. Within a context of shared exploration, the meta model and other analytical tools can be used with a light touch to develop more specific shared understanding.

Most of the time, this is not what people want from the meta model. They are looking for a tool that allows them to reveal what someone else has hidden or distorted. It makes the person being modelled feel self-conscious at best and attacked at worst. 

Like fire and sharp knives, it should be used carefully.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Can You Be Clear And Connected At The Same Time?

I wonder if you've ever struggled to stay connected to someone as you were communicating something important to you? It often seems that connecting to someone is a distraction from our message, rather than the purpose for it.  It's hard to stay clear about what we want to say when we also have to be clear about what someone else will hear in our words.

This is the central paradox of communication: for a message to be clear, the sender of that message must hold onto their own vision while connecting with someone else's. There's a benefit to this paradox. As we become less sure of what we want to say, we are more likely to engage in shared thinking. We come up with ideas together when we communicate in ways that are unclear enough to encourage participation.

As you struggle to be both clear and connected, think about this. If you had to sacrifice either clarity or connection, which would be most important? Giving up clarity makes room for collaboration. Giving up some measure of connection allows you to focus on giving clear expression to an idea you don't want to change in transmission. Knowing what you want allows you to make good choices about how much energy you put into getting your message exactly right or thoroughly understanding the motivations of your listener or reader.

Your default should probably be to say what you mean as clearly as possible. This doesn't always mean that others will connect to your message. It does mean that the one person who is most affected by your words will pick up a clear, strong signal. That person is you.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Finding Your Voice Begins with Finding a Message

For more than 20 years, I have been teaching people to do public speaking and here's the most important thing I have learned. School gets it backwards. People need to find their message before they can really find their voice.

Most of the college students I teach think they hate public speaking. When we work on it a little, they begin to wonder if they hate speaking about stuff they don't know very well and don't care about very much. After all, most of their assignments ask them to make presentations on concepts and information they didn't know anything about a few weeks before.

They tell me, "Miss, I still don't like this course. I still don't like public speaking." I tell them that the only thing worse than speaking in front of a room is having something you want to say and not having a voice.

Finding a message is fundamental. It's the driving force that makes it worth having a voice. But it's not sufficient. You still have to work on the basics of style and structure (that's why it's worth teaching students how to work on those basics before they really have anything to say). When you have a message and the skill to shape it with style and compassion and energy, then you can drive results.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Use colour to trigger emotional connection

Well hello, springtime!

Imagine this picture in black and white. It's a collection of bushes in full leaf against some trees with a house in the background. That doesn't offer much of a story. It doesn't call out to you to connect.

But in full colour, you know that this is the kind of spring day that makes people smile as they pass you on the sidewalk or the trail. In colour, this picture invites you to stand next to me and marvel with me at the blue of the sky and the exuberant yellow of the forsythia. In colour, you know that this is a picture of promise and potential.

When you're communicating, you're probably tempted to either avoid the colour (and tell your stories in black and white, just the facts) or to avoid the story (just describe life as it is). The problem with this is that understanding takes an effort and if you want other people to make that effort, you have to give them something that promises the effort will be worth it. Just the facts, the black and white version of reality, relies on the receiver of the communication to make the effort long enough for meaning to be conveyed. That's a big ask of a busy person who already has more on their mind than they know what to do with.

The better way is to offer them that burst of yellow, that blue, blue sky. Let them feel the promise first. It will make it easier for them to pay attention to the facts, and make it easier for them to remember the facts long enough to do something with them.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The truth about starting fresh
Is this a picture of sunrise or sunset? We think we know the difference between a beginning and an ending, but it's hard to tell sometimes.

I am writing this on Easter Sunday. It's a day for beginning, but it's not a day for a fresh start. The story tells us that rebirth - like birth itself - is messy and terrifying and painful.

Christ rises and the women at the tomb are first confused, then terrified, and then joyful. And then they have to tell a story no one will believe.

Christ rises with the the memory and the marks of his life. He does not promise a fresh start. Forgiving is not forgetting. He remembers and so do we.

Christ rises and although you may not believe in the story, yet you believe the story itself while you hear it. That's how we understand stories: we believe them long enough to learn what happens, to experience a change, to recognize a pattern. This story is about the glory of starting again. This story is about the price of starting again.

This is a story about stripping away excuses. Yes, you are broken and your wounds are still fresh. Start again. Yes, your heart has been broken and you have been terrified and no one will believe you. Start again. Yes, there is a world of peace waiting if only you will give up and walk away. But stay. Engage.

This is the story. Maybe for you, it's only a story. But still while you hear it, it's a story that says you cannot start fresh. But you can step up and step out and choose to start again now.