Creative Solutions


~By Shawn Dwyer and Dr Michael.Hall~

Perhaps the most obvious thing about coaching is that to coach you have to use words. Since coaching is a conversation, you begin a “coaching conversation” by asking a question,”What do you want to achieve?” And you continue the coaching by engaging in an exploration conversation until you have a basic diagnoses regarding what compassionate challenge your client needs.

But as you know, words are not all that reliable For one thing, we cannot count on words for truly conveying what we are thinking and feeling. For another, words can get in the way of thinking. They can distort thinking, bias thinking, and generate false ideas and understandings. Often in coaching, we have to probe beyond the words, even set aside some words, and eliminate other words to get to the truth of a situation.

How Do We think?

The problem is that we all think almost exclusively in words. While you can entertain thoughts in any of the sensory-systems (e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic, gustatory, olfactory), such thoughts are usually simple and direct. Perhaps someone asks, “Do you remember the dog that you played with as a child?” and you, for a moment, see that dog in the theater of your mind.You may even be able to hold on to that image, perhaps see it as a movie rather than a snapshot.Now if you wanted to, you could play around with the image. “Can you make his hair orange?” But that’s about it.

This limitation does not continue with more abstract language. Once you have a reference that you represent, then you can create all sorts of categories, concepts, and understandings for it. You can classify the dog by breed, as animate and living, as intelligent, etc. As a meta-representation system, language allow you to think deeply, expansively, and thoroughly. With words you create the uniquely human world of conceptual abstractions. Some of this will be accurate, much of it will be pure invention, and some of it will be delusional.

Thinking Costraints

Yes, you can have experiences apart from words. Yet without words it becomes extremely difficult to talk about, share, or even hold that awareness in mind. As a human being, you think in words and with words.
You use words as vehicles to transfer thinking and as a code to encase a thought. Language is a set of symbols and as it can enable thinking, it can also constrain thinking. That is, words constrain just as equally your ability to think certain things. And without language, there are all kinds of things that you can’t think. That’s why when a given language lacks certain words, people will have all sorts of problems thinking and conceptualizing what others can do so easily.

Are Words Real?

Now for one of the most amazing things about words: They are not real. Say that to many people and they will be absolute shocked. They have grown up thinking that words are real. They have grown up in a culture that takes that as a given. Yet when you make that mistake, you will probably then also think that “words can hurt you.” And with that assumption, then you will talk about “verbal abuse.” But all of that’s a fundamental mistake.
Words are not real. “Dog” is a word, but it doesn’t bark. “Cat” is a word, it does not have fir and it cannot scratch you. “Stink’ has no odor. Words are symbols that stand for some reference other than themselves.

That’s also why there are words and phrases that do us a great disservice. As a mental map they can just as easily promote and enable dysfunctional thinking. And with words, to wrongly use a word is to encode an idea that -in that context- is not only wrong, but can be hurtful and problematic.

Language Distinction

Korzybski identified that a word without an actual reference is a pseudo-word. It’s not a real word! Of course! That’s easy to understand.
But then you face that word and if you have heard it a thousand times, it is almost impossible to not think it is real. It seems real, it seems real. “Awful” is such a word; so is “failure,” and more harmfully so is “race.”

Word Seduction

What’s seductive here about words, especially pseudo-words, is that when we fail to notice it as pseudo-as false- we nevertheless do our best to think it. We try to imagine it, assume it, and vaguely represent it. It then seems to us that we understanding when, of course, we do not.

All of this highlights the importance of the Meta-Model of Language from NLP. First you develop a radar for pseudo-words and second, you are ready to ask challenging questions about the terms. Once you know that words are symbols, you are forever asking about the referent. “What does this symbol refer to? What can you point to that we can see, hear, smell, taste, or feel?” “What do you mean by X-term? What else could you call it? What else do others call it?”

Relating To Reality

Words- we use them to think-to get in touch with reality, but they are not a perfect tool by a long shot. We use words and language as we relate to reality, but only as mental maps to guide our experiencing. As a coach, always be alert to the limitations of the words you use and that your client uses. If you use the Meta-Model, you can get behind the words to their references. This is also the purpose of Thinking for Humans.
To learn more about what distinguishes words and language, receive our free Coaching Essentials brochure here

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