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.
How does the process of Destabilisation work and how can we better manage it?
It’s important at definitive moments to feel that we can say what needs, or has, to be said, and, where possible, in harmony with the pervading culture or established context.
The emperor with no clothes
Playing the Devil’s advocate is the antidote when certain things are not meant to be said. Having the freedom to speak and being able to speak openly is the mark of a healthy world. Is the coaching we do a kind of atom bomb dropped next to a person’s flickering candle only to walk away surprised that the candle remains unlit – or has been snuffed out for good? Or does the candle burn brightly and more strongly?
The Sinclair C5
Sir Clive Sinclair famously used the millions made from the Spectrum computer, to put the world’s first electric car onto the production line. His design team wanted to tell him all that was wrong with it, and why it was doomed to failure – but they didn’t.
The paradox is that people are in positions in reality doing the opposite of what they are meant to do or say they are doing. Is this accidental, or by design, or might it be due to fear or confusion or panic? It may even be that they are part of a destabilisation culture, and have no other option, are trapped; or could it be that they are playing a role, wearing a mask, or are sociopaths?
Scary as it seems, as the documentary film, “The Corporation”, by Mark Achbar, ably shows, corporations do indeed have a tendency to develop sociopaths, people who can just “perform” without having a moral base. The society of Skinner’s “Walden 2” may really be quite close… It’s this unsettling paradox and sense of incongruence that leads us to feel out of control – even to question our senses at times – and that language is insufficient to express the reality of our own experience.
In a world where the saturation of information is everywhere, knowing who or what is in authentic or in-authentic mode, is well-nigh impossible, apart from by using one’s gut instinct. Where does the needed subjective support come from? …. Let a flock of sheep go into a field and they will not know where to go, except at first as a collective group. Arguably, in primitive times, Mankind didn’t have a strong idea of self; maybe an ancient trauma led to collective amnesia and divorce from a more ‘innocent’ state, after which came the birth of “self” (the ego), and with it, the externalisation of one’s inner voice and the misunderstanding of what this “voice” is. In other words, we began to feel that we are each alone in this life, in some terrible way.
Narratisation and The Westworld
Lisa Feldman Barrett,
in “How Emotions are Made”, has gone so far as to evidence the fact that our emotions are simply psychological constructs expressed in language and have no a-priori existence in a pre-programmed natural way. As Julian Jaynes theorised in his famous book “The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” in 1976, the stories we make up in our heads with ourselves as the main characters, are sometimes without reason or purpose; they just ‘are’ and we don’t know why, or what for, except by creating “reasonable explanations” given by other voices within our heads. Thus the ‘knowledge’ that was the inner ‘instruction from the visible gods or invisible God’ of the Greeks and after them the monotheists, in the form of a muse or command or ‘story to make sense of life’ broke down and required ever-more complex justifications. This has been brilliantly demonstrated to be the theoretical basis for the entire Westworld series.
Today, the bombardment of external voices on our consciousness has even greater impact on subconscious processing than ever, therefore, giving time to the processing stage or any activity, and to enabling a good amount of self-composition and mental and physical rehearsal, is critical! Just ‘showing up for the show’ and letting our inner voices take over, is not enough, as any observer of street mind-hacking, of Derren Brown, or close-up magic, knows!!
Politics, society and the mind
A good illustration of this on the collective level can be found in theories of cultural change, as they were developed and then used in psychological warfare and in subversion tactics (cf Babeuf, Levi, Marcuse, Gramschi etc..) and later – in the C20th – for world warfare. Arguably we are still dealing with this.
The negative ‘stages’ of Demoralisation, Destabilisation, Crisis, and Normalisation (all natural emotions that we are forced to pay no heed to, under the stress-control of peer pressure and collective will) have been theorised, developed and practised, for 200 years or more – way back even to Machiavelli. There is a best-selling manual, by R, Greene, the 48 Laws of Power that shows how these tactics are used; “amoral, cunning, ruthless, and instructive, this New York Times bestseller is the definitive manual for anyone interested in gaining, observing, or defending against ultimate control.”
Crisis and how to manage it
Demoralising equates with softening up and bombarding others with information and criticism, it leads to identity loss via the shaming of non-compliance and often we never know why we feel out of sorts. Acts or words are used that are felt as being violent by dint of introducing sudden changes, silencing and censoring, and there may be false narratives claiming problems exist when to all around it all seemed like ‘business as usual’. This can be combined with setting up mechanisms of control, even by blackmail and the use of easy victims & ‘useful idiots’ or via trusted accomplices.
Demotivating – in a very negative sense – is conscious or subconscious agitation (either from within or without) in an attempt to overthrow what is normal; this can be a planned destabilisation in order to take over control. This very real physical problem (of the problem – reaction – solution type expounded in the Hegelian Dialectic) continues with gradual disempowerment and the imposition of new narrative, culture or set of core values. This can of course be presented as a very positive thing (and may indeed be, while still being received as ‘negative’ to those on the ‘receiving end’) and is further reinforced by the appropriation of education and knowledge. Whereas the intention may to to empower and enfranchise others, disenfranchisement may be the outcome. In many senses, the coach’s work begins here to reverse the impending sense of alienation, by working to re-establish truth and objectivity, establishing the principle of free speech and trust, by bridging differences.
Crisis is recognised in confused reactions and more identity confusion, loss of direction, hysteria, blame and so on. There may be internal warfare, both in the collective and in the individual him/herself. The coach here listens and acts to “give responsibility to the other person for their words” and to insist on a clear use of words, and ensures that those that use them, clarify and provide evidence/facts, by then clarify paradoxes, establishing clear links, and questioning generalisations and unspecified references, deleted information, universals, or others’ presuppositions or patterns of language..
By Normalising we refer to how the “new régime” establishes order after the revolution of ideas. This is done by persuasion, force and – if necessary – the cleansing of cultural or political opposition and the elimination of useful idiots. In the political arena this game is very dirty, yet, and sad to say, the idea of “normalisation” has crept into our vocabulary in more ways that just that of political history. The coach here has a difficult task in liberating one who is at a stalemate or downward spiral, and challenging those who are perceived as aggressors – whether in fact they are the ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’ person in the dominance hierarchy – to think critically; open speech and the freedom to say what is “unacceptable” is very important if this phase is not to explode in the face of the agents of change, and some conscious opposition towards authoritarianism – or utopian thinking – is necessary.
Looking at a “positive” side to this can say that the coach works with PERCEPTIONS in language with the ‘aggressor’ (the one perceived to have caused the de-stabilisation) and the ‘victim’ to establish facts in a neutral way, working openly to the idea that the person in question may indeed intend to be aggressive or might benefit from being perceived as a victim. Are they? To whose benefit is it?
To manage destabilisation we need to work on embodied responses.
Since of course the feeling of destabilisation is very much felt bodily as well as mentally, we can work with embodiment practices to better manage the situation.
The work of coaches such as Paul Linden, Mark Walsh, Integration Training, Strozzi-Heckler, George Leonard, and Wendy Palmer, mention the tools and practices that can make it easier to be a skilful listener, a powerful advocator and an inspirational leader. Dylan Newcomb advocates “a new kind of language” – one that speaks to and engages one’s whole mind and body as one dynamic, integrated process. “It’s an embodied practice for self and life mastery”.
We can consider 5 physical axes that lead to better AGILITY
1) vertical (rootedness, having spine and centre),
2) left to right (occupying space, pivoting and having poise and balance)
3) forward and back (distance or urgency/connection)
4) time (and timeliness, allowing reflexion and processing to happen)
5) voice (entering the space with the right combination of sound, pitch, tempo and rhythm)
Managing crisis implies a radical use of language to oppose the natural tendency to dissipation and destabilisation in complex systems.
Combined with this we may also consider how to mange the language in order to clarify and build bridges, or remove them – as may be necessary for a mutually-beneficial outcome to emerge.
This method is based on a view of human interaction developed from the work of Ilya Prigogine. Viscount Ilya Romanovich Prigogine 25 January 1917 – 28 May 2003) a Belgian physical chemist and Nobel Laureate noted for his work on dissipative structures, complex systems, and irreversibility. Prigogine developed the concept – at the University of Austin in Texas – of “dissipative structures” to describe the coherent space-time structures that form in open systems in which an exchange of matter and energy occurs between a system and its environment.
The theory of Chaodynamics and Prigogine’s the idea of a what he called a “concentric” approach to nature/communication to reestablish order during a major disruption takes us into the bodily and emotional reactions that infuse the system of both the individual and the environment or collective group.
Stress and the sense that we are opposed in our will, tends to make people revert more and more to a default style, approach or set of rules. Fighting the frame tends to make matters worse! One way out is to provide or explore options; again, it’s often about how these options are framed and what the metaphorical image is.
Jordan Peterson (somewhat unpopularly at times perhaps) asks us to ‘be hard with ourselves’, and to first be ‘welcome in your own house’. By this he means, remembering that even (or especially) the mundane things we do need to be got right. “Being better verbally doesn’t mean that we are right”, he says, referring to how the relationship between one’s belief system and one’s perceived Dominance Hierarchy Position or Confidence Hierarchy is a source of inner struggle, confusion and concerns about status. Why, then, people “need to defend themselves” – even if they may deep down know they are wrong (or perhaps because of this)! – and this demonstrates how social constructivism and politics can’t be separated from language use and the way we embody it.
Perhaps language is our – maybe futile – attempt to make sense of a meaningless world, as Kierkegaard would say.
Your base line state
When a person is reacting to destabilisation it’s important for them to have an awareness of how to access their natural base-line state. Accessing their comfortable state while trying to understand the new state avoids tit-for-tat and self-defensiveness; it means they can start to make sense of things. Embodying a newly generated state may even mean not liking the ‘new person’ that emerges. What that person is, is not for the coach to choose.
The Coach’s role
“Control the options and you control the power” may be good in theory; oftentimes a person is too far from the source of power to feel in any sense capable of restoring order into the chaos. Their only control may be over their own bodies and words in the immediate conversation.
A coach can help another person to be more agile and lucid by means of providing time, perspective, and the opportunity to process a rapidly-evolving situation, and compose themselves for when they need to perform again.
A good starting point might be, ‘what options would you choose/prefer to have when you re-enter the situation?’
Generative Coaching – with no fixed outcomes – or clearly scaffolded?
We can contrast and Fixed-Outcomes language learning model with the evidence of Natural language acquisition. Stephen Kraschen’s L+1 theory and research show that the time for the acquisition of new models of language (i.e. taking ownership of one’s language given ample processing and self-composition) can be as much as 6 months
Another (more scaffolded) approach is that of ZPD. The zone of proximal development, often abbreviated as ZPD, is the difference between what a learner evolving a new skill or prepping a desired outcome, can do without help, and what they can’t do. This concept was introduced (but not fully developed) by psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934)
The concept of the ZPD is widely used to study children’s development as it relates to education. The ZPD concept is seen as a scaffolding, a structure of “support points” for performing an action, referring to the help or guidance received from an adult or more competent peer to permit the child to work within the ZPD.
The “scaffolding” – of which coaching is perhaps just one part – consists of a variety of supports. These supports may include: resources, such as a compelling task; templates and guides; specific guidance on the development of cognitive and social skills; and finally the use of instructional scaffolding in various contexts when modelling a task and the approach to solving the task, by giving advice and providing coaching.
Since the aim is for the client to reach an embodied state of readiness where he/she is able in the present to “bring forward the emerging future” these supports are gradually removed as students/coachees develop their own autonomous learning strategies. In this way the coach becomes less necessary, thus promoting the client’s own cognitive, affective and – critically – psychomotor learning skills and knowledge.
Just as in the educational taxonomy, where teachers help the students master a task or a concept by providing support, so coaches can provide scaffolding support. The support can take many forms such as outlines, recommended documents, storyboards, or key questions.
In some cases (and cultures) the coach is viewed as a master communicator of language – not specifically one who has all the answers, more one who can empower the client to find them. Scaffolding works as the good coach makes themself “progressively less necessary” and the building eventually stands up alone.
Trusting overly in the coach’s input can however lead to further destabilisation.
The key to embodiment (what NLP calls “anchoring states”) is in doing things in a real embodied environment, and not a BOOK environment.
Or, as Alfred Korzybsky said, “the map is not the territory”.
This then is the area of interest between the linguistic insights of language acquisition, and of coaching, and points to how a generative approach can work, to which we will return…..
Types of scaffolding
For scaffolding to be effective, attention can be paid to the following:
The selection of the task: The task should ensure that learners actually use the developing skills that they want to master. The task should be engaging and interesting to keep them involved!
The anticipation of errors: After choosing the task, the teacher/coach might anticipate “errors” that are likely to be committed when working on the task. In outcomes-based education, anticipation of errors enables the scaffolder to properly guide the learners away from “ineffective directions”. When the outcome is fluid and unknown, however, “errors” are for the coachee, student or client alone to determine for themselves.
The application of scaffolds during the learning task: Scaffolds can be organized as simple/discreet skill acquisition – or they may be dynamic and generative.
The consideration of emotive or affective factors: Scaffolding is not limited to a cognitive skill but also relates to emotive and affect factors. During the task the scaffolder (implied expert) might need to manage and control for frustration and loss of interest that could be experienced by the learner. In this way encouragement is an important scaffolding strategy.
In terms of scaffolding again we can consider:
conceptual scaffolding: helping students/clients decide what to consider in learning so as to guide them (or for them to guide themselves) towards key concepts
procedural scaffolding: helping the student or coachee to use appropriate tools and resources effectively
strategic scaffolding: helping to find alternative strategies and methods to solve complex problems
metacognitive scaffolding: prompting to think about what is being learnt throughout the process and assisting reflection on what was learnt (self-assessment).
Other approaches and their relevance to our argument.
From Sir John Whitmore’s GROW, to SMART, many models exist; few however, which touch more on communications and language performance or how to embody this. The Transitional Curve lends useful support as a concept, and Hamlin’s HP equation, Ability x Motivation x Environment, adds the idea that our cognition, commitment and communicative credibility are important. The Contracting Matrix show that it is important to be clear, and adapt our behaviour, and I personally find the Jonari window helpful when working through blind spots and the “dark side” or other more public revelations. Of course, having a clear focus, on options and an action plan, and a way of overcoming obstacles, is always valid, along with the insights given by cross-cultural models and people potential profiles.
In communicative method language training the outcomes-based model used, is along the lines of elicitation -> presentation -> controlled practice -> free practice -> testing and assessment (coupled with copious scaffolding). This approach can be useful when working with new language but tends not to develop real acquisition.
In NLP, the iterative problem-solving strategy TOTE (Test Operate Test Exit) as well as Meta-model and Milton-model approaches to change states, presuppose the subconscious mind’s capacity to find resources that will shift perceptions and abilities, and these bring out subconscious discoveries.
In a generative coaching approach this would likely involve conscious distraction and re-framing by relocating the experience within the physical environment in different ways, and accessing the embodied reactions, as well as giving a lot of time to rehearsal and self-composition, treating ourselves meditatively. It would allow for a less-guided style that is open-ended and creative.
We look for examples of a physical response when using language in performance. We think about what the voice expresses and where in the body that voice emanates from. The “hook” of the downward spiral can be considered as an “inner terrorist” and is a very unpleasant sensation that affects the body seriously; words are powerful and may in some cases suffice to disarm the perceived threat or to change one’s perception of it; more often, an embodied approach (giving more time for rehearsal and self-composition) will help in ensuring that the intended outcome is a genuinely good performance willed by the person in question and congruent with their sense of best interest.
If the outcome is not pre-determined, then it emerges through language which is always new, and actions that feel right. Life is not a constant prepping for a “test”, so the process and composition and creation of new actions and words are both physical phenomena.
Hence to embody the outcome is to have lived it inwardly and mastered it outwardly, in numerous physical ways, first.
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.
How to be a Brit
The Hungarian journalist and BBC reporter, George (György) Mikes – pronounced / ɱ ‘i: ke ʃ / – commented wryly in his book “How To Be An Alien“ (1946), a classic of “British humour”, when – as a foreigner in England – he realised the importance of having a “suitable” accent:
“My dear, you really speak a most wonderful accent, without the slightest English!”
Accents are of course connected to our origins and culture. There are national, regional and individual accents and these can link a person to social class, educational background, and character.
Who am I?
As many academics have shown over many years, the whole concept of one’s identity as a person cannot be separated from language. Languages express emotions, facts, notions of time, space and morality, in different ways, and arise as the communication surface structure built on generations of history, tradition, law, belief and education. How we perform depends on first how we understand, process and compose language.
There is the larger question of how English, as an international language, can serve to perform acts of identity that are specific to one’s own language. As linguists have tried to show, all languages share some deeper, innate, structure or else how could the same human being, theoretically, be born anywhere on the planet?
Mikes started his famous book with the words “In England, everything is the other way round”.
Culture itself cannot be entirely systematised, despite the efforts of anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists. Along with dress and other customs and habits, language is the outside sign of what a person deems themself to be. Actors, who play the part of another culturally different person, in the theatre, see this very clearly.
Consequently, as soon as we open our mouth, we “give away” something about who we are and how we wish to be perceived by others. The process of “acculturation” – the process of internalising the implied rules of a “discourse community” – is something that anyone who lives or works with other language groups or nations, understands from day one. Culture “shock” can be one outcome of this difficult process. Bridging differences effectively, means using language very skilfully and being sensitive to culture.
For the learner of a second language, there results from this the thorny question of how to “sound right“. In some ways this leaves one free to choose the model one prefers, to “sound” correct in whatever circles that person happens to frequent.
It’s quite well-known that the use of question “tags” is a feature of spoken English:
“It’s a lovely day, today, isn’t it?”
“Oh yes, they said it was going to rain, didn’t they.”
“It’s so nice when it’s hot, isn’t it.”
“Yes I love it, don’t you?”
As George Mikes observed, “In England, you must never contradict anybody when discussing the weather.”
Similarly, the words Yes and No – straightforward as these may seem – are loaded with difficulty, and cultural overtones, when we say “Yes” but mean “Maybe”; or when we say “No, I don’t mind at all” – and mean “That’s absolutely fine!”
In addition to the vexed question of “British understatement”, there is the related issue of the “proxemics” of a given culture and the register of particular words and phrases. How should we “act”? How close should we stand to another person? How soon is it appropriate to ask a personal question? How direct or indirect is it appropriate to be? The exact combination of phonetic training, listening to sounds, using the voice and breathing in order to “come across” with confidence and fluency, is something that requires a thorough analysis and discussion.
Contact us to find out more!
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.
As visitors to this site and blog may know, Peter is a painter, and enjoys the rare times he finds to paint.
Painting offers an opportunity to reflect on life and to decide how we derive pleasure from the many things we see, do and experience.
The whole process of thinking opens up doors that sometimes prefer to remain shut!
There are many things said nowadays about how our thoughts influence our feelings, actions and experience of life.
From the idea that we should train our mind to see good in every situation and the idea that positive thinking creates energy, initiative and happiness, comes the opposite one – which follows from the first – that “the discontent and frustration you feel is entirely your own creation”.
This, however, is not at all fair to the person whose thoughts are sometimes a jumble of conflicting voices.
From an NLP perspective, the words we hear inside our head are not our own but often borrowed from what we have heard, seen and felt, from others.
What’s important is to clear up the ones that we have borrowed from elsewhere and have become ‘stuck’ – and those that reflect our deeper and lasting goals.
This is so important when we are coaching.
Learning a language can provide an opening to a whole new way of experiencing the world.
Things suddenly become very clear when we see them in new ways!
We cannot stop thinking – though as the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu believed: Stop thinking, and end your problems!
Certainly it helps to be able to switch off one’s wandering thoughts and focus on the discipline that being with a coach, provides…. at P.I.E. above all, we focus on a relaxing and thought-provoking approach that enriches the experience the learner is having, whilst helping them to avoid the pitfalls of over-thinking, which can be confusing and counter-productive!
It’s about doing inspiring things that will always be remembered, not trying to force learning!
As another great thinker – Plutarch – said,
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.
Beginning a new series of blogs this Spring, we’d like to welcome those who visit this page via our new association with RussianUK magazine!
Watch this space for blogs on all manner of subjects:
And much, much more!
The Old Smithy
t: +44 (0)7708364021