Posts Tagged ‘Language’

One of the biggest challenges posed by Improvement is the requirement for beliefs to change – because static beliefs imply stagnated learning and arrested change.  We all display our beliefs for all to hear and see through our language – word and deed – our spoken language and our body language – and what we do not say and do not do is as important as what we do say and what we do do.  Let us call the whole language thing our Rhetoric – the external manifestation of our internal mental model.

Disappointingly, exercising our mental model does not seem to have much impact on Reality – at least not directly. We do not seem to be able to perform acts of telepathy or telekinesis. We are not like the Jedi knights in the Star Wars films who have learned to master the Force – for good or bad. We are not like the wizards in the Harry Potter who have mastered magical powers – again for good or bad. We are weak-minded muggles and Reality is spectacularly indifferent to our feeble powers. No matter what we might prefer to believe – Reality trumps Rhetoric.

Of course we can side step this uncomfortable feeling by resorting to the belief of One Truth which is often another way of saying My Opinion – and we then assume that if everyone else changed their belief to our belief then we would have full alignment, no conflict, and improvement would automatically flow.  What we actually achieve is a common Rhetoric about which Reality is still completely indifferent.  We know that if we disagree then one of us must be wrong or rather un-real-istic; but we forget that even if we agree then we can still both be wrong. Agreement is not a good test of the validity of our Rhetoric. The only test of validity is Reality itself – and facing the unfeeling Reality risks bruising our rather fragile egos – so we shy away from doing so.

So one way to facilitate improvement is to employ Reality as our final arbiter and to do this respectfully.  This is why teachers of improvement science must be masters of improvement science. They must be able to demonstrate their Improvenent Science Rhetoric by using Reality and their apprentices need to see the IS Rhetoric applied to solving real problems. One way to do this is for the apprentices to do it themselves, for real, with guidance of an IS master and in a safe context where they can make errors and not damage their egos. When this is done what happens is almost magical – the Rhetoric changes – the spoken language and the body language changes – what is said and what is done changes – and what is not said and not done changess too. And very often the change is not noticed at least by those who change.  We only appear to have one mental model: only one view of Reality so when it changes we change.

It is also interesting to observe is that this evolution of Rhetoric does not happen immediately or in one blinding flash of complete insight. We take small steps rather than giant leaps. More often the initial emotional reaction is confusion because our experience of the Reality clashes with the expectation of our Rhetoric.  And very often the changes happen when we are asleep – it is almost as if our minds work on dissolving the confusion when it is not distracted with the demands of awake-work; almost like we are re-organising our mental model structure when it is offline. It is a very common to have a sleepless night after such an Reality Check and to wake with a feeling of greater clarity – our updated mental model declaring itself as our New Rhetoric. Experienced facilitators of Improvement Science understand this natural learning process and that it happens to everyone – including themselves. It is this feeling of increased clarity, deeper understanding, and released energy that is the buzz of Improvement Science – the addictive drug.  We learn that our memory plays tricks on us; and what was conflict yesterday becomes confusion today and clarity tomorrow. One behaviour that often emerges spontaneously is the desire to keep a journal – sometimes at the bedside – to capture the twists and turns of the story of our evolving Rhetoric.

This blog just such a journal.

Just two, innocent-looking, three-letter words.

So what is the big deal? If you’ve been a parent of young children you’ll recognise the feeling of desperation that happens when your pre-schooler keeps asking the “But why?” question. You start off patiently attempting to explain in language that you hope they will understand, and the better you do that the more likely you are to get the next “But why?” response. Eventually you reach the point where you’re down to two options: “I don’t know!” or “Just because!”.  How are you feeling now about yourself and your young interrogator?

The troublemaker word is “but”. A common use of the word “but” in normal conversation is “Yes … but …” such as in “I hear what you are saying but …”.

What happens inside your head when you hear that?  Does it niggle? Does the red mist start to rise?

Used in this way the word “but” reveals a mental process called discounting – and the message that you registered unconsciously is closer to “I don’t care about you and your opinion, I only care about me and my opinion and here it comes so listen up!”.  This is a form of disrespectful behaviour that often stimulates a defensive response – even an argument – which only serves to further polarise the separate opinions, to deepen the mutual disrespect, and to erode trust.

It is a self-reinforcing negative-outcome counter-productive behaviour.

The trickster word is “why?”  When someone asks you this open-ended question they are often just using it as a shortcut for a longer series of closed, factual questions such as “how, what, where, when, who …”.  We are tricked because we often unconsciously translate “why?” into “what are your motives for …” which is an emotive question and can unconsciously trigger a negative emotional response. We then associate the negative feeling with the person and that hardens prejudices, erodes trust, reinforces resistance and fuels conflict.

My intention in this post is only to raise conscious awareness of this niggle.

If you are curious to test this youself – try consciously tuning in to the “but” and “why” words in conversation and in emails.  See if you can consciously register your initial emotional response – the one that happens in the split second before your conscious thoughts catch up. Then ask youself the question “Did I just have a positive or a negative feeling?