Archive for December, 2007
The first paragraph is kinda language-geeky. Stay with me, though.
In modern English, there are three main parts to a sentence: subject, verb, and object. The subject denoted who or what is doing something; the verb is the word denoting what the subject is doing; and the object is the word denoting the thing the subject is using to perform the action or on which he is performing the action. So when someone says, “Maria whistled a happy tune”, Maria is the subject, whistled is the verb, and a happy tune is the object.
An odd thing happens when we use the distortion known as “passive voice”. We pretend that the object is a subject. We give the happy tune all the credit for the whistling, and we usually leave Maria out of it altogether. (“A happy tune was whistled.”) The University of North Carolina has an in-depth but not language-geeky article on passive voice, so I won’t dwell on how to recognize it or why it’s not always bad. We already know there are times to follow a “rule” and times to break it.
My focus as a NLPer is the fact that we decide, on some level, which construction (passive or active) to use, and what it might mean when we choose to use passive voice. I’ve found that it very frequently indicates a passive attitude toward whatever is being discussed, and that that may be detrimental. Example:
A friend of mine was feeling really sad — way too sad, in my opinion — about a recent interaction with one of her co-workers. She told me about who had said and done what and at the end, she said, “…and then I was discounted.” (“To discount” in this instance means “to minimize the significance or meaning”. Quite a mean-spirited thing to do to someone. I knew the guy, and he was a jerk.)
The passive construction caught my attention. It sounded so out-of-place. Especially considering the rest of her story, which was constructed actively; I said this, he said that, then I said the other. I learned from Gavin de Becker‘s books that if something stands out that way, it’s worth poking at. So I poked at it. “What do you mean, you were discounted?”
All she did was summarize what she’d said and append “I was discounted” again. As if that explained to me what she meant. I hate when people do that… I ask them what they mean and they just repeat what they said that I didn’t understand the first time. So I tried again. “Well, who’s doing all this discounting? I mean, the way you just said it, it sounds like you did it, but that doesn’t make sense.”
(Of course I knew who did it. I wanted her to say it.)
She told me he did it. So I said, “OK. Say it that way, then.”
“OK”, she said. “He discounted me.”
Then there was a pause.
Then the air heated up around her. She wasn’t sad any more. She was angry. I considered that to be a far more appropriate response to what he had done, and I found out later that she had used her newfound energy to correct the guy’s treatment of her. It’s funny how a simple change in case can make such a difference.
I have no idea what she thought she was doing when she constructed that sentence passively. Maybe she was protecting herself from getting angry. Knowing her as I did, I’d guess that was probably the situation. But I hear it a lot in situations wherein someone does something and doesn’t want to take responsibility for it. Have you ever seen a kid knock over a glass of milk and then he’ll say, “It spilled”, as if the milk knocked itself over? Or someone cheats on his or her spouse and claims that “one thing led to another”?
Sure, there are times when passive voice makes sense. A police report might say “the subject was handcuffed”; a nursing note might say “medication was administered via injection”; or a newspaper reporter might say “the bill passed the House and the Senate and will now go to the White House”. In situations like this, what matters is what was done, not who did it, and construction in passive voice lets the reader or hearer focus on the activity.
So I’m not suggesting that we should challenge every instance of passive voice. Just like with any Meta-model violation, we have to learn whether or not to challenge it based on how likely it is to be significant. Is the speaker/writer avoiding the limelight, are they avoiding responsibility, or are they taking responsibility for something they shouldn’t? Where’s that happy tune coming from, after all?
Michael Quinion’s newsletter, World Wide Words, has a section called “sic!” wherein he shares what are usually funny examples of phonological ambiguity. Today’s is especially good. I won’t quote it here
because it’s short and because the author prefers that it not be reproduced “in whole or in part”, but will simply refer you to:
Jonathan Altfeld and Doug O’Brien are offering a Master Practitioner training in June of 2008. Interestingly, the first module of this training is their Belief Craft seminar. Take Belief Craft and then stick around for the rest of the training!
I attended a Belief Craft training a little while ago and was very impressed with what I learned to do. Combine Jonathan Altfeld’s Knowledge Engineering with Doug O’Brien’s Sleight of Mouth and you get an amazing set of modeling and personal change tools.
If people learn to listen well enough to track the larger belief systems, then, they can then use Sleight of Mouth skills to wire completely around a problem belief, without actually attacking the problem belief. Then you can change someone’s mind without them feeling defensive about it, and sometimes, without them even knowing. That represents the most elegant use of Sleight of Mouth possible.
They’re doing it again in June of 2008 as the first module of a Master Practitioner training. Here’s your chance to grab it up before it’s all gone.
Jonathan Altfeld tells me he’s all but completed remodeling his Web page. It’s a vast improvement over his former page, which was good to begin with. Now, it just feels good to look at it. Clean, easy on the eyes, beautiful.
Visit the Mastery InSight Institute Home Page
Doug O’Brien has some really good news: Dr. Stephen Gilligan has submitted an article to his newsletter.
The article contributed today by Dr. [Stephen] Gilligan is an edited transcript of his opening remarks at a 12-day “Trance Camp” held near Hamburg, Germany, in January 2007. (The transcript of the entire workshop will soon be published in a book entitled, “Generative Trance.”) In this article Dr. Gilligan contrasts traditional hypnosis with Erickson’s approach to hypnosis and psychotherapy. He also gives us insight into what he terms “generative trance,” defined as “an opportunity to deeply accept every part of your life in ways that allow amazing new learnings and developments to unfold.”
Go read the Ericksonian Approaches Newsletter.
Alvaro Fernandez at the Huffington Post writes about the Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains:
- Learn what is the “It” in “Use It or Lose It”
- Take care of your nutrition
- Remember that the brain is part of the body
- Practice positive, future-oriented thoughts
- Thrive on Learning and Mental Challenges
- Aim high
- Explore and travel
- Don’t Outsource Your Brain
- Develop and maintain stimulating friendships
- Laugh. Often.
Also visit SharpBrains for more information.
Take, for example, The Liz Manifesto:
I am a writer who uses the language to paint and to play word music, places my heart and head in the spaces, and writes in the hope that one person is better for having read what I wrote.
The sheer length of her popular posts page is quite impressive.
Yeah, I think I have a lot of reading to do here…
Alax Shalman over at Lifehack.Org has written another great article on controlling the conversation, this time using questions:
Questions are an amazing way to control communication. A properly placed question can showcase your intelligence, interest in the person, as well as direct the conversation towards your intended outcome. You could use this opportunity to gain rapport by appealing to the person’s ego.
See also a similar, earlier article about compliments, written by the same author.
From The Waiter Rant blog we have this great post on influencing the behavior of others using a seasoned waiter’s amazing skills. Note the ambiguity in his question to the little boy:
Arriving at the table I don’t say anything to the parents – I focus all my towering attention on the little boy. As I stare into his big watery eyes he instantly falls silent. The parents are amazed.
“Who is this man?” I ask the little boy, pointing to the bearded caricature painted on my tacky Christmas tie.
Since beginning to read his blog, I haven’t been able to look at waitstaff the same way I used to. I have always been polite and respectful, and most people would say I tip too much, but now I pay attention to how they handle people. Impressive.