May 18, 2015
Getting Behind the Obvious #2
Behind what is explicitly said are always assumptions. There are always premises and presuppositions that a person simply accepts as true or real, and as unquestioned, and even unquestionable. These assumptions take the form of beliefs, understandings, conclusions from experiences, myths, stories, narratives, and so on. These assumptive frames are typically not only implicit, they are also unconscious. And that means that they are invisible to our inspection. In the last post I noted that they are our blind spots.
Now in NLP we call these assumptive frames presuppositions. As such we even make explicit a list of the presuppositions that govern the NLP Communication model. These assumptions are the working premises of the model such as “the map is not the territory.” By making them explicit we bring out and expose our philosophy about communication and our psychology of human nature so that others can respond to it. We thereby put them on the table so that we can do not blindly believe in them, but recognize that they are our working premises and that we may not be able to “prove” them.
We do the same when it comes to communication because if in talking with each other where there are disagreements, if we cannot get to what’s behind our statements—then all we can do is present our position and argue for it. But if we can make our assumptive frames explicit, if we can take a meta-moment to step back and explore the kind of thinking and reasoning which we are using in coming to our conclusions, then we can engage in a much deeper and profound conversation, a conversation that becomes a true dialogue which searches for meaning and understanding.
In Meta-Coaching, we do this by inviting a Meta-Moment. Then we invite a client to step back and consider numerous aspects of what’s in the back of the mind which may not be immediately conscious or visible to the person.
∙ Representation: How are you representing what you are thinking about? What representational system/s are you using? What are the cinematic features of that system?
∙ Strategy: How are you putting together what you are thinking about? How are you ordering the thoughts, events, awarenesses, etc.? What comes first, then second, third, etc.?
∙ Reflexivity: How are you reflecting back on any given step in your strategy to think-and-feel about it and layer upon it additional thoughts-and-feelings? How many times to you layer more ideas, beliefs, decisions, identities, permissions, prohibitions, etc.?
∙ Systemic: How does your system of thinking work? Is it an open system or closed? Is it spinning upward or downward?
∙ Contexts: What meta-level contexts (frames) are you using as you thinking about X? What contexts are you not considering? What invisible contexts are you assuming but not specifying?
∙ Cognitive styles: How are you processing the information that you are using? What cognitive distortions may be present as you are thinking? What cognitive biases are present?
∙ Cognitive filters: What meta-program filters are you using as you process the information before you? What kind of thinking are you using? How appropriate is that kind of thinking for the kind of information or experience that you’re working with?
If all of that seems complex, you’re right. It is. That’s because what we call “thinking” is complex and every person seems to have his or her own way of customizing one’s thinking. This is also why getting to what’s behind the surface level statements is crucial for a thorough understanding of a person’s experience and meanings.
The way we get to what’s behind begins by slowing the conversation down so that we can be more reflective and mindful of what we are saying. That’s because we can use words for more than just providing information to others. Yes, we can use words to facilitate learning and discovery and exploration. But words can also function to induce states that close down learning. Words can prejudice a person so that he or she is not open to considering anything other than what they already know. I noted this is Meta Reflection #15, Do You Have a Language License.
This is where semantically loaded words and language can actually prevent understanding and learning. Such “communication” can actually shut-down communication! What these emotionally-laden terms actually do is induce states prejudice people so that instead of thinking, they go into a purely reactive position. An example of that is in last week’s Meta Reflection that’s in the terminology of “racial injustice.” Just say those words about an event and you can shut down the thinking processes of many people. Here’s an example of that. After last week’s post a reader wrote: “try being sold as a slave … your assumptions are weak, and totally in conformity with radical white America.”
∙ “Try being sold as a slave.” So let’s see, Slave Trade was declared illegal in 1811 in the United States so who today is “sold as a slave.” Was the reader? That would make him more than 200 years old! So the reasoning goes like this: The fact that one’s ancestors some 5 or more generations ago experienced something, that makes that something relevant today? How does that work? Can we never escape the past? Is that one’s assumptions? How many generations before one is free from it? 10? 100? If that’s the case then everybody is in the same boat!
∙ My assumptions are “totally in conformity with racial white America.” So this “racial white America” has elected an African American President and hundreds of other politicians at all levels… so when and how will they become not “racial?” This sounds like guilt-by-association. If I draw a conclusion that racists draw (if we accept that conclusion), then my assumptions have to be wrong. Of course that style of reasoning itself is a cognitive distortion.
The frame hidden far in the back of the mind must be something like, “My troubles today are caused by things that happened in the long distance past.” “You can never get over the past.” “The past is deterministic of the future.” More next time.
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.
· We have begun NSTT in Mexico for the 17th Neuro-Semantic Trainers’ Training with 68 participants from many countries: Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Columbia, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, United States.