It’s interesting to consider if we can separate words and communicating them, from feelings and experiences and their environment.
At a recent coaching session at The Hawkhills, outside Easingwold, I considered with my client how emotional intelligence is related to our perceptions and the distance we take from them.
It can be good to step away and view things by letting the mind roll into new spaces, having a pleasant environment for that to happen.
Susan David suggests “successfully happy people are unstuck, they are agile.”
Agility is a physical state. The mind has a tendency to stuckness; nature has a tendency to become rotten, petrified, to gather dust and cobwebs; organisations and all structures have a tendency to dissipate and collapse over time; communication tends towards misunderstanding. By stepping away as at the session with my client, it was possible to consider how language can work creatively to oppose this – as a gardener manages a garden – and how various perceptual positions assist.
Seeing the wood for the trees
Where relationships are affected by so-called “negative somatic markers” we are aware of hot, warm and cold energy as time goes by from the initial disruption, and how the time and effort needed to “clean” the thoughts that become solidified out of the original emotions, multiply accordingly. Emotion turns to reasoned thought after time and creates the reality we perceive as normal.
In the coaching context, we connect the various channels for experience: what are the images when the client thinks of the problem and its outcomes for themselves, what are the words associated with these evoked images, what are the emotions they feel and where do they feel them?
The gap between envisioning something and the action itself and feeling the best way towards doing it … is filled by our voices, by our conversations with others and ourselves.
So, the induction process of closing one’s eyes, listening, then thinking of a place and being in that, experiencing what is associated with that image, is about how to catalyse or uncover, from different levels, the rules or games of the activity that is under observation and the paradoxical language, incongruent behaviour and cognitive dissonance that are evoked along with it.
In amongst the awareness of how language works internally and when used with others, and the elements of coaching that cover change psychology and theories – where the framing and reframing of experience, and the embedded presuppositions and beliefs of the other person are concerned, the co-active measures coaches employ as effective – we discussed how to cool off or park the emotions: by writing and re-reading our thoughts, later; by considering emotions as bodyguards; by realising that “the other is not me”; by understanding that taking more than 21 days to process the emotions leads to them becoming stuck; by remembering that when we sleep we cannot make mistakes, and that we cannot just “give” happy solutions, success, etc; then by considering our options for addressing the obstacle that may be felt to be preventing or blocking a good outcome, using various kinds of scaffold to reach those goals.
Our words and actions – even the smallest ones – affect our state of mind.
A research paper recently published, conducting a textual analysis of 63 Internet forums (over 6,400 members) used linguistic inquiry and word count software to examine “absolutism” at the linguistic level. Its results provide clinical evidence of how several features reflect meaningfully the state of mind of the speaker or writer.
This will not come as a surprise to language teachers, to counsellors, or to coaches who pay attention to the words their clients use. Some years ago, James Pennebaker’s excellent and provocative book “the Secret Life of Pronouns” engaged us in this topic, and – long before – the founder of Hypnotic therapy, Milton Erickson wisely stated “The map is not the territory” – in other words, the way I see the world is not necessarily the world itself, only my personal version of it filtered by my words and images and feelings (and those handed to me).
Nowadays there is a lot of faith put in positive thinking, and this is not so new…
“On how one orients himself to the moment depends the failure or fruitfulness of it,” Henry Miller asserted in his beautiful meditation on the art of living, “The Wisdom of the Heart”. This is not to be confused with coaching that tries to impose a glamorous target-oriented “successful” way of fitting in, viewing unhappy people as self-sabotaging, and as Susan Scott has asserted, toxic to the organisation that they work in. While not disagreeing with the importance of “Mastering the courage to interrogate reality” and the emphasis on truthfulness to oneself, I find the insistence that being unproductive is something to be confronted with brutal non-compromise to be disconcerting where creative solutions are concerned.
Our constant escapism from our own lives is our greatest source of unhappiness.
Today’s Millennial generation – anxious to impress and to succeed at the expense of the deeper more fulfilling aspects of life – might think of the advice given by the famous Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard, who was only thirty at the time he wrote them. He began a chapter of his altogether indispensable 1843 treatise “Either/Or – a Fragment of Life” with a powerful observation – so relevant today, amidst our culture which considers being busy and forever dwelling on the mistakes of the past and the high goals of the future to be a badge of honour:
“Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.”
In the chapter “The Unhappiest Man” he wrote “One is absent when living in the past or living in the future.”
We should not be, as the great Alan W Watts described “The working inhabitants of a modern city … people who live inside a machine to be batted around by its wheels.”
We live today with such anxieties, reflected in our depressive language and sometimes futile attempts to reverse our sadness with New Age collective thinking and coaching “success” that we never find our true balance. Watts, in his book “Wisdom Of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety” continued: “If we are to continue to live for the future, and to make the chief work of the mind prediction and calculation, man must eventually become a parasitic appendage to a mass of clockwork.”
Amusingly, in the film “Being There” the chief protagonist’s simple and naive words and childish world-view are taken as great wisdom, when they are merely misunderstandings. Yet Erickson reminds us that the truth emerges from the unconscious and not the frantic analysis of the rational mind. Neuroscience reinforce this message, since the over active mind racing in Gamma Wave exultant “highs” soon crashes down to the comatose state of burn-out and despondency.
Every so often new “models” appear incorporating the latest acronyms and buzz-phrases, and without doubt, from the groundbreaking 1979 “Inner Game” of Tim Gallwey, Sir John Whitmore’s 1992 GROW to the many more being designed in the present day, many present key words and phrases that help focus the conscious mind – even to the exclusion of all else. However we should strive as coaches not to crowd the mind with ever more models, but to enable new and creative forms of words; not to constrict by imposing models that others have determined that may work for some – but not for the person in front of us.
In my article in the latest edition of iCN (International Coaching News) I make the case for a truly embodied approach to listening, thinking, communicating and acting.
As Performance in English heads north to Yorkshire and to facilities being hired at the impressive Hawkhills conference centre, and close to the beautiful historic cities of York, Ripon, and the world-famous Spa town of Harrogate, our thoughts turn to food and the great culinary traditions – so little appreciated outside these small islands – of England.
It will surprise many that Yorkshire is proud to have been voted the best restaurant in the world, The Black Swan, in Oldstead, beating Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Buckinghamshire and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir near Oxford.
In fact, England currently has the top two restaurants worldwide; while Maison Lameloise, in Chagny, France, came in third, and L’Auberge de l’Ill, Illhaeusern, France was voted fourth and Martin Berasategui, Lasarte, Spain, fifth.
The beautiful county of North Yorkshire has an amazing array of attractions and natural beauty, and – as a coaching client with us at The Hawkhills – you can also enjoy shopping in York or Harrogate, visits to places of tremendous interest, and the benefit of all sorts of entertainment.
…to world-class coaching…
Using English well in an international context is as important for native speakers of the language as it is for non-native students and other international users of English.
Whether this is because English happens to be the lingua franca of the organisation, company, corporation or community, or because those involved in any meeting have chosen to use English themselves, there is every chance that there will be people with differing ranges of experience and ability in the language, just as this would also be the case with people speaking French, Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, Mandarin, Turkish, Arabic, Swahili or Gaelic!
Who of us can say we would be confident to attempt to do all that we do in our own language in any other language? We can perhaps learn how to order a prawn sandwich or a taxi, or to greet someone at the airport, wish them a good journey or thank them for their help. This does not take long and is a sensitive and polite thing to do when doing business with others. It shows that we have made a little effort to learn about their ways.
Just as we can learn a few words, we can also learn about the cultures we interact with.
This process works both ways, because – though there is common ground within cultures for anything that we may need to discuss, and certainly room for exploration in a number of areas (or business would never happen or have been going on for thousands of years!) – there are also certain highly sensitive areas of “sacred ground” where discussion may be very difficult or even impossible.
Encroaching on these sensitive spots is risky and potentially rude. This is as true of the English-speaking culture as it is of any other.
The things that affect our identity are hard to define and having a well-researched book to refer to is essential; I recommend Richard Lewis’ excellent work for a clear and intelligent model when entering new ground in any culture.
Where the deeply-embedded elements of a culture’s specific core value system and the individual’s own modus operandi can have multiple layers that are not open to scrutiny, the language itself can give us the clues we need to how a people think.
We should take care with our words whether with other native speakers or with non-native speakers.
Careless language can be very costly.
A famous story is that of successful businessman Gerald Ratner who in 1991 wiped £500m off his share value with one speech, when talking of his own high-street jewellery, he inadvisedly announced it was “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich and probably wouldn’t last as long”.
Another story is that of the Topman clothing chain and the firm’s brand director, David Shepherd, asked in an interview in 2001 to clarify the target market for his clothes, he replied: “Hooligans or whatever.” He went on: “Very few of our customers have to wear suits for work. They’ll be for his first interview or first court case.”
The company later suggested that the word “hooligan” would not be seen as an insult among its customers.
Such careless words may seem amusing or tough but they have consequences. In 2006, John Pluthero, the UK chairman of Cable & Wireless, sent a memo to staff, which said: “Congratulations, we work for an underperforming business in a crappy industry and it’s going to be hell for the next 12 months.” He warned of job losses and added: “If you are worried that it all sounds very hard, it’s time for you to step off the bus.” Many did just that and found work elsewhere.
Another pitfall is translation and translation devices. They are not capable of understanding cultural and linguistic nuance. The ambiguity of translation is well summed-up with the example of a biblical quote, meant to express the struggle facing the industry at that time and to motivate the employees to make an extra effort, and that was used in an after-dinner speech translated into German
“The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”.
This came out as “The schnapps is strong but the meat is rotten”
Language is not a set of conditioned responses triggered by previous words, because we can change these patterns at will. This allows us creativity and individualism. Chomsky’s “poverty of the input” hypothesis tells us that what a child can produce in language is MORE than the input they have received via their parents or peers. This “new potential language” has come from within the child as he/she has acquired the deeper syntax. Somehow, the child knows that the structure “Daddy what did you bring that book that I don’t want to be read to out of, up for?” is the only right use of syntax for English, for this question.
Pace is a deciding factor. People are more inclined to get excited and emotional speaking their own language than speaking English, this is hard to lose in a foreign language, suggesting that the control of output and having to pace themselves, will affect themselves and others
There are several negative and positive associations: native speakers are imagined to have more sensitivity but often they have less. Consequently natives can benefit from observing how a non-native speaks, or try to compose themselves in FL to see how it feels.
Having a slower pace enables better listening and more self-composure. However the emotions inside the L2 speaker are likely to be very high and for the L1 speaker, having to modify their language to obtain better results may at times feel frustrating, too.
At P.i.E. we can help you develop sensitivity to language that leads you to better outcomes. As a non-native we can show you how English works and how to use it effectively, in your own specific situation, according to different scenarios and your personal choices, understanding norms and idiosyncrasies.
Equally important, as a native speaker we can show you how good language management will lead you to better relationships, deeper awareness of communication and the avoidance of costly mistakes, and to a level of self-composure that is not over-confident but mature and manifested in a spirit of mutual respect.
One of my clients not long ago was the kind of person you’d look at and immediately think they were totally in control and confident.
The Financial Director of a multi national company is usually bursting with inner confidence, yet, after finding out that he had to start using English for his board-level presentations, he had discovered that he was extremely nervous about doing this (especially in larger groups or more than about 4 people ) – something he’d never have thought would happen! So how did we help him?
He understood that it is an important thing to be able to communicate internationally; he knew that because we live in this increasingly interconnected world, using English enables you nowadays to be more successful by accessing more opportunities and connections, and that this was in any case necessary for him to retain his position….
He recognised the importance, in our rapidly-changing world, not only of “connecting” with other people who live in different countries, even with their culture and their way of thinking, but also shared with others the feeling of how tremendously enriching to life this can be. He realised how valuable the new “global” aspect within his organisation, was and is.
But this was not exactly the problem. If anything, knowing all this and being reminded of it, as his company underwent significant and far-reaching changes internally and externally, was adding to the problem even more!
This hard-working man loved fishing; his English was relatively low-level but adequate for the task of reporting to his Board; and he was terribly blocked; afraid; sweating in front of his audience; his voice shaking, he was very red-faced.
He had been very quiet on arrival, it all came out when I took him out for a meal and he explained that all the English language teaching and correction and instruction in cross-cultural communication that he had received in other places; the do’s and don’t’s; all the sentences and key phrases to repeat; all the reams of photocopied vocabulary – that he sort of knew anyway passively – the “enforced scenarios” he had to prepare for the next lesson, all the things we tend to find in schools were useless to him.
He told me how all the “cross-culture” training was making it worse; the endless corrections, more pressure, more theory; more “do’s and don’t’s and so on…. he needed to get over that, but he didn’t know how.
I found the way with him, by judicious use of NLP visualisation and anchoring techniques, shifting his associated problems by dint of changing his emotional associations, dissociating him away from the issues, and putting new thoughts and connections in their place.
It worked, overnight, after a short “out-of-context” chat in a restaurant, eating fish together and talking about fishing – in a certain way.
Sadly some may have had the experience after previous training and learning, of feeling worse than when they arrived – both on paper tests, and in real life – and therefore very dissatisfied. Poorly-devised training or blanket solutions (one-size-fits-all) can indeed make things worse.
As a proviso here, language schools do have their place but often cannot offer that specialised coaching which meets each individual’s needs….and being with clients of other nationalities does not always offer the right combination of guided acquisition and pleasant immersion in the language and culture which makes for more effective and rapid acquisition.
That is why at PIE we use many different techniques and according to the specific needs of the client. We use absolute discretion, go wherever needed, and spare nothing in terms of flexibility and total listening to the client, to ensure that the outcome is good.
“You never listen!”
How often a frustrated teenager might say that, and, in business too, how often people might be thinking this, but they do not say it – and barriers are building up, unseen?
A child might have listened a hundred times to the being told he/she should clean their teeth every night. But do they do it?
As the saying goes, it takes patience to listen but it takes real skill to pretend that you are. And while this is not something we recommend at all, many people are good at pretending! All the outward signals are there to convince the other person ……
In today’s busy world, where time is always pressurised, arguably there is a lack of true care for others in society. We “listen”, but is there any inner processing going on?
Plus, what works with talking to children doesn’t not necessarily work the same way when dealing with business associates etc.. If we are not listening, what alternative does that give to our colleagues?
Good listening matters at every level.
Everyone likes to think they know best, so, listening to what another person needs to say, attentively, is not just a real skill, it is also potentially a means for powerful change. How do we do it, when our own heads are so full of stuff we are desperate to get done, and get said?
It is important to remember that not everyone wants to be the one “up there” doing the spotlight work and receiving the credits. There is equal importance in what we do to help people achieve their own personal goals, wherever they work.
That goal might be to speak and understand English fluently and effectively, whether they are the Managing Director, in the back office, or at the front of house in a retail role. Having the right skills to really hear what is being said, can change the way an entire organisation works.
Actually, when there is good listening, all sides listen and benefit.
What is success?
Certainly, from a coaching perspective, it is reaching one’s goals.
The famous holder of the world land speed record (and on water too), Malcolm Campbell, famously said:
“When you have reached your goal, set yourself another“.
His son, Donald, continued the proud tradition of tempting fate and taking speed to the limit.
On that fateful day, on Coniston Water, England, on the 4th of January 1967, Donald Campbell had broken the water world speed record, and he wanted to do even better. He turned the Bluebird, and, fearing a change in the weather, sped across the water once more. Onlookers were horrified to see the boat flying up into the air and crashing down on its back, into the waves. These waves were the remnant of the wash that Campbell himself had created on his earlier and successful attempt.
Some might justifiably say, it’s important to know when you have done enough!
We have met and worked with hundreds of people, some who needed to go “just that little bit further” and others who had a “mountain to climb” or who “made huge improvements in no time at all”!
Our job is, that by giving prompts and tools the client is empowered to make inner changes themselves; the coach is a facilitator, not some kind of guru!
Everyone is a kind of expert who can tell you how to do things and what to do. But actually the only expert on you is YOU.
Just as only YOU can interpret the messages in your dream, 20 people can give the same presentation but it will be different in each case. Some will connect with their audience but others will not? Why is this?
This is where a great coach can make a world of difference.
The difference between winning that business contract or not; the difference between being successful in something or not; between becoming excellent at something, and going far enough to know what success feels like.
Details of our Coaching work, Business Communications, other Services, including Personalised Action Plans, Resourcefulness, Impact and “modelling” techniques including Embodiment skills and much more, now for Actors as well as all Business communicators.
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