Monday, August 28, 2017

Use your common senses to communicate more clearly

What's the difference between a concept and a formula?  Between a strategy and a blueprint? Between a hypothetical and an example?

In each of these pairs, the first one is impossible for most people to imagine. They know what the word means, but it is not attached to any sensory representation.  The second one is equally "business-like," but it's something a reader or listener could imagine using their senses. They could see or hear or feel something that would tell them more than the word itself about what you wanted to communicate.
© Can Stock Photo / Konstanttin
Artists regularly turn concepts into images. Good speakers and writers do the same thing: they evoke the senses so that people have something easier to observe and remember than abstractions are. This doesn't mean being choosing more descriptive words: it means imagining what you want to communicate as something you can see, hear and feel and then stripping your language down to match what you are imagining.

Of course, abstractions are great for telling the truth without making it either memorable or emotional. They help people understand that there will be some risks involved in a situation (none of those words turn easily into an image) without engaging them in those risks. If they felt like a decision meant stepping off a cliff, they would have a hard time exploring the benefits that would make the decision worthwhile. When you're jumping off a cliff, you might enjoy the rush, but you don't have a lot of focus left for analysis.

So help people understand what you want them to analyze and remember by using words that allow them to imagine - to make a mental representation using sights and sounds and feelings. When you want to acknowledge something without having it stick, let more abstract language do the work for you.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The difference between affirming a truth and wishing something were true

"Affirm" is such a strong word. Just say it out loud and you realize it lands with weight. Affirm sounds like something you can trust. "Wish," on the other hand, is a bit wispy, a bit flimsy. You don't expect wishes to become real, but you should expect that what you affirm is already real, already true.

Merriam Webster defines affirm as meaning to validate or confirm. It's a solid word.

You have to turn the word into a noun (verbs lose their oomph when you turn them into nouns) to find the Oxford English Dictionary defining affirmation as "emotional support or encouragement."

In the self-development world, of course, affirmations are something that you repeat in the belief that saying something will make it true. This is a sort of combination of saying something solid and saying something encouraging.

© Can Stock Photo / Ostill

If you want affirmations to work, either in encouraging yourself or in supporting others, you have to validate or confirm something  you believe to be true. You need to transform affirmation (noun) back into a verb (I affirm) to give the affirmation power.

It's an instance where grammar matters: using the verb changes your perception and makes it clear that an affirmation should be the opposite of a wish. When you affirm something, you say that you believe it is already true.

If you don't believe it, don't affirm it in the hopes that it might become true. That's roughly like telling the guy you're dating that you really, truly love him because he's a nice guy and you think it would be good if that were true. It's not going to lead to a happy future for either of you. You need to state your feelings as clearly as possible if you want to build on solid ground.

If you want a better affirmation, begin by telling yourself that truth about what is right with you and your world. Sorting out what is reliably good is a powerful way to find solid ground that will allow you to move and change.

When you're talking to yourself, you are talking to the friend who will walk with you through the whole of your life. That friend deserves the truth. When you affirm it, you'll be rewarded by a stronger relationship with the "you" you're talking to when you make your affirmations.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Language will keep you afloat but it takes motivation and connection to move

People often ask me for two things when they want to improve their communication. They want to know more words and they want to know language patterns that they can memorize to get results.

This is a picture of a long canoe. It seats up to 11 people.  It's very stable: if you're taking inexperienced tourists out for a paddle on the marsh, you want them to stay on top of the water, not in it. But does that make it good as a canoe? It depends on whether you want to stay afloat or get moving.

I don't know how fast this canoe goes or for how long because that depends on who is in the boat, what they know, and how much they are willing to work as a team to move the boat.

Language is like this long canoe. It keeps us afloat: if we have words, we have the possibility of connecting through conversation. But if we want that conversation to go somewhere, we need more than words. We need muscle and coordination. The muscle comes from knowing what you want. The coordination comes from a connection that supports what you want. 

The language is like the canoe: it doesn't go anywhere on its own. It goes somewhere when you and the person you want to influence want the same thing and are willing to move to get it.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Lives change during conversations on this step

Welcome to the view from the front steps of the building where we train. At this time of year, the garden is beautiful and the park is green and lively. Sitting on these steps, you can watch the traffic go by or you can let your thoughts drift. But if you want your life to change on these steps, you'll want someone to talk with.

Front steps are a special place, a portal between inside and outside. They signal the movement of information and influence between what is kept behind closed doors and what circulates with the traffic outside. When two people meet in a space that is both inside and outside, remarkable conversations happen. They share a paradox, a space that is both private and public. And through that space, they are motivated to connect more fluidly and more deeply.

It's possible to have a front-steps conversation at any time of year, but it's definitely best when the sun is shining and the air is warm. As you talk about whatever comes up, you feel both connected and detached. It's the perfect metaphor for the mental space that can acknowledge emotions without becoming immersed in them. It's the perfect metaphor for seeing the big picture from within a frame that defines your point of view. It's the right place to consider change before stepping into it.

You don't need our front step to make change happen. Just find a space in-between, neither inside nor outside, neither public nor private. And then meet a friend there to talk. And notice what happens next.