Managing Destabilisation – or an “embodied” approach to Chao-dynamics

How does the process of Destabilisation work and how can we better manage it?

PART ONE

It’s important at definitive moments to feel that we can say what needs, or has, to be said, whatever the political culture.

The emperor with no clothesemperors_new_clothes_550

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

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?

The corporation

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.

People today
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.lisabarrett quote emotions

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 awestworld--1280x800fter 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 mindPsychological_Warfare

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 itWhy?

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 iStock_000021883663Small_crop_stocksnapper-300x300disempowerment 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 Normalisationlinks, 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.

Cui Bono?Cui Bono

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?

 

PART TWO

To manage destabilisation we need to work on embodied responses.

Embodied states

GRAY SUMMIT, MO - OCTOBER 4: Stollie makes his way through the weave poles during the agility portion of the Purina Dog Chow Incredible Dog Challenge at Purina Farms October 4, 2003 in Gray Summit, Missouri. (Photo by Bill Greenblatt/Getty Images)

Stollie makes his way through the weave poles during the agility portion of the Purina Dog Show Incredible Dog Challenge

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)

Pitch and Tempo and using the voice to impact performance.

Pitch and Tempo and using the voice to impact performance.

5) voice (entering the space with the right combination of sound, pitch, tempo and rhythm)

Chao-dynamics

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.The Systems Thinker V10N10

This method is based on a view of human interaction developed from the work of Ilya PrigogineViscount 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. Spanner in Chaplin's works

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.


Work Styles

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.

Dissipative Structure

Everything conspires to structure dissipating over time

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

embodied cognition

“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

ZPD

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.

8734263_1The “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.Blooms_rose_taxonomy

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. 

Yes, master


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 Good teachermakes 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:

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. The application of scaffolds during the learning task: Scaffolds can be organized as simple/discreet skill acquisition – or they may be dynamic and generative.

  4. 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.

 

Manchester

North-West artist Matt Wilde has described how he is concerned with capturing the ‘immediacy’ of those surroundings that people become immersed in. “His technique of applying the paint quickly to the canvas in a perhaps more sketch-like manner lends itself to the fast-paced lifestyles of today’s society that Matt is eager to convey. There is often humour and wit in the scenes that Matt reveals to us, but he also captures those moments of human isolation in the contrasting chaos of busy city life.”

 

Agility

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.

What state are we in?

What state are you in?
Do you feel that everything is “normal” and steady – “business as usual”, or in a constant state of flux and uncertainty, giving you an uneasy even scary feeling in the pit of your stomach?

York aerial

Coaching in York is in a great state!
After a great week at the International Coaching Week in York, during which so many interesting and important things were discussed, and meeting really great coaches, we left feeling inspired and full of ideas. I met or renewed contact with many great and inspiring coaches and language trainers, and we learnt how to be more agile in our work. How though can we help others to be agile?

embodiment workshop 4

 

So many different states to be in!
There were many great themes – how to impact in people’s lives and work, helping them to reach their chosen goals; the in-company experience and culture; the importance of cultural understanding that is seen not as a block to communication but a means to greater discovery of our shared humanity; the immense width and depth of the coaching profession from the volunteer sector here in York and as far away as Sub-Saharan Africa, to how organisational coaching models and profiling techniques and questionnaires are so penetrating, helpful and enlightening; how also to harness the energy of the group or team; about the default working styles we tend to fall back into, and how to intervene even very briefly, in powerful ways, emphasising the importance of basing the conversation on verifiable facts. And these sessions were run in very different settings, in modern office suites, old historic buildings, in a field with horses, online, walking in gardens….

cave

The state of our language 
My main interest was how to link the insights of language acquisition science with the framing or contracting of goals or outcomes so that creative solutions may emerge and without adding to any implied sense of failure if the exact original targets or goals are not met. Having a “backwash of expectancy” (as this has been embedded in our thinking from childhood and with the added pressure of schooling and workplace expectations) is a fundamental stress of life, and the coach ought not to reinforce this; so, how to overcome the inevitable sense of destabilisation that impinges on the very coaching conversation itself whether we like it or not?

Aligned-curriculum-model

The state of the world
We know that new language is acquired by “taking ownership” of the words and phrases that we identify with, not merely by mimicking parrot-fashion or in the died-in-the-wool Pavlovian “rewards” or carrot-and-stick style. In the words “new language” I include the “new language” of our Inner Talk and self-talk that we find ourselves echoing – in the chamber of our heads – that results from the constant bombardments of the external world and the plethora of conflicting voices and messages, seemingly and confusingly ever-changing and at odds with one-another. As the conversation moved from psychology to culture to political science to art and music, so we entered new states.

The limitations of language

And one state we commented on is that when one has a different native language, the way the words are processed and “felt” is different, and so is the ability of the language itself to handle notions and experience – some things literally cannot be put into words in the same way or at all.

Our state of awareness 
One thing I discussed with more than one person was the now ubiquitous assumption of the existence of “levels of skill” where performing tasks, whether as managers, teachers, sports people, in-company coaches working on goal-oriented matters, or counsellors or therapists helping unfortunates towards a better life, or indeed as coaches working towards a qualification, to become a coach!! And as we moved from place to place, building to building and room to room or person to person, so out awareness, and naturally, our states, changed..

Biggs solo_taxonomy

Stating the rules
Needless to say, it is in human nature in many ways to want to apply sets of rules – at the least, mutually-agreed ground rules or group cohesion rules – where a collective endeavour is concerned, and yet, when even we (as experienced coaches) were asked to abide by one-minute or 4-sentence-long self-imposed rules, or to move from table to table at a round-robin event every 15 minutes – and in one session, humorously, on pain of receiving a red card if we did not – we rarely abided by them completely, and conversations in groups could become slightly unevenly balanced and dare I say it, tending towards a more creative even chaotic sort!!  This didn’t make them in any sense less enjoyable, in my opinion at least.

Destabilisation is an embodied state
Then I am someone who quite likes the idea of the occasional spanner in the works that throws “the expected” into disarray. Not everyone is the same in this regard, and the “destabilisation” felt by one as a curious intellectual problem dissociated from themselves, may be felt as another as threatening – as it does to me too of course at times.  The so-called “frame games” (conscious or unconscious) that people experience (or play) can be equally confusing or disruptive, “are you addressing me as a coach, a mentor/master, follower/leader, or as a fellow human being here?”

 

Commenting upon one’s state of mind or of body
Specific comments can be disruptive in this way; if a colleague inexplicably comments “is there something wrong, you don’t look you normal self today?” it can be taken as real concern or as a clever game; the brilliant 1920s books by Stephen Potter on “Gamesmanship” and “One-upmanship” perfectly encapsulated the deliberate attempt to broadside a rival or social inferior using a variety of funny ploys that nowadays seem unkind yet are still embedded in the psyche, in ways that Freud’s work on the neurotic shed so much light on.

lifemanship

You know the words but do you know the music?

When we include reference to our embodied state, it can help to clarify the meaning of our words (and where those words come into our heads from). Since we can get in a “real state” due to people’s words and just as easily “tread on someone’s toes” and “put them out of kilter” inadvertently, I will hopefully be able to explain more in York’s coaching Circle, how I work with clients in embodied ways to overcome this.

 

Pitch and Tempo and using the voice to impact performance.

Pitch and Tempo and using the voice to impact performance.

Changes to where the coaching is carried out  are important – taking clients away from their busy schedule and environment to peaceful and beautiful settings, walking in nature – role-playing similar but more impersonal scenarios with a more neutral position; stepping out of or away from the experience in real, physical as well as metaphorical ways; and working with the voice to show how the range of tonality, tempo and rhythm – working with the music of language, is truly the embodied link between what we can imagine and what we can actually do.

dancing the dance

Dancing a dance comes from within: no amount of book-learning or talking about it, can take the place of the real feeling of movement. What we know about language acquisition reveals that prepping for a required outcome performance does not equate in any way to real acquisition – and this will be the same where shifting for changes in the coaching environment are concerned, or indeed any aspect of life.

What if it rains on the picnic?

If we organise a picnic, it’s not simply about deciding we want a picnic and then just having one. We first need to like the idea as well as find others who do, unpack the elements we and they choose and prefer, start to locate what else we need and think of where and when to do these things, before even attempting to actually go ahead. What if it rains on our picnic?

Coaching model & Neurological levels

What’s the Objective – and subjective ?

Of equal importance arguably to getting the objective evaluations and validation of the outcomes-based goal – if it is in fact ever attained in quite the ways laid down by syllabuses and discourse models – is to get a subjective feeling of enjoyment and pleasure from everything we do, as in that way we do start to become masters of our own, entering the experience of life, whole and not disrupted, in tune with the reality we help to create.

 

 

The Best Restaurant in the World

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.


 

Three Pies

Traditional foods…


A modern touch

A modern touch

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.


Wonderful surroundings

Wonderful surroundings

 

Ox tongue

Ox tongue

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.


IMG_0549

York Minster

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.


From world-class World-famous theatre, to world-class shooting, and world-class tea rooms.

Harrogate-VisitEnglandBettys-Tearoom1

World-famous

Anyone for tea?


…to world-class coaching…

Conference comfort

Conference comfort

 

 

 

Manage your words well

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!

~0523161

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.

The Ratners Jewellery store in Regent Street, London, part of the chain owned by Gerald Ratner, which made a 112 million profit in 1990.

The Ratners Jewellery store in Regent Street, London, part of the chain owned by Gerald Ratner, which made a 112 million profit in 1990.

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.

happy hooligan

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”

turn off

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

Impact

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.

portfolio-style

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.

U or non-U

English as spoken in Britain is a confusing thing at times.

U and non-U English usage (the “U” standing for “upper class”, and “non-U” representing the aspiring middle classes) was a curious debate that began in the 1950s.

During this debate, it was shown that the upper classes in Britain tended at times to use words that were more common with the working classes than they were with the middle classes.

Since the middle classes were keen to use “fancy words” (neologisms that made them seem fashionable and up-to-date) the upper classes sought to distance themselves from this by using ordinary (“common”) words instead!

Being “posh” was one thing, but sounding “posher than posh” was altogether “Non-U”.

Mitford56
The expression “U or non-U” was coined by the British linguist Alan S. C. Ross, professor of linguistics at the University of Birmingham, and soon afterwards, popularised, in an article and also her books, by the authoress, Nancy Mitford, from the famous family of socialites.  Nancy Mitford was one of the renowned Mitford sisters and one of the Bright Young People on the London social scene in the inter-war years,  and wrote novels about upper-class life in England and France.

What the upper-class were doing was showing that they were, above all, not middle-class!

The complexities of a meal…

For example, when issuing an invitation, it should be written on writing-paper rather than note-paper (a decidedly middle-class word!).

And what about the correct term for the meal itself? Is dinner taken at midday or in the evening? What about lunch and supper?  Lunch (or even luncheon) is in the middle of the day and dinner in the evening. To refer to lunch as dinner, or to use the term “evening meal” is to betray your non-U origins!

If a dinner guest praises the supper, then the implication is that the meal was insubstantial and unsatisfying. Never issue an invitation to high-tea, as this is an exclusively non-U invention. When stating the dress code, don’t use the terms dress-suit or evening-dress, but state simply: ‘We will be changing for dinner’.

On arrival, ensure that you praise your host’s lovely house rather than home.  When introduced to strangers, the correct response to ‘How do you do?’ is to repeat the phrase. Giving an answer, such as ‘Fine thanks’, is a major faux pas!

formal meal

During the meal

Linguistic etiquette during the meal is crucial. If you need to wipe your mouth, use your napkin, not your serviette.  Never ask for the toilet; U speakers refer directly to the lavatory or the loo. Saying pardon me or sorry is frightfully non-U. Say jam, not preserve; vegetables, not greens; eat rather than dine; have a drink, not a refreshment. Have pudding, not dessert.

Partly this was due to the middle-class believing that French-origin words and expressions were more fashionable; but the established upper-classes decided to set themselves further apart by resolutely using the Anglo-Saxon vernacular.

Since the 60s
In the last few decades, much has changed and it’s far more likely that eating together will be a relaxed and fun event, and not so “strait-laced” as it used to be; and the language we use is far more laid-back. The main thing is just to “be yourself” rather than conforming to a stereotype.

dinner-party-clip-art

As most know, English is a mix mainly of Anglo-Saxon and French words, linked back to Latin. The latter are more elaborate, mannerly and intellectual in sound; the former, more direct and down-to-earth, “calling a spade a spade”.  Whereas the common man might say “look into what’s been going on” or “get back to me when you can”, the more erudite person would say “explore recent events” and “please respond as soon as you are able”.

In this we can see the tremendous importance in spoken English of verb forms as contrasted with the use of nouns and adjectives in ordinary language. The peculiarity of U and non-U was to allow the upper classes to get away with sounding common!

The sometimes hilarious elements of the so-called “British class system” are well illustrated by the much-loved TV comedy series Keeping up Appearances; it makes good listening practice too!

These quizzes provide a bit of fun if you want to test yourself!

What should I do?

Don’t tell me what to do! – help me find it.

We sometimes feel we know what the other person means to say, or is trying to get across, and so advise them consciously or unconsciously towards solutions that we think work for us, and therefore would like to work for them. When we don’t understand, our first question is “why?” – but does this really help?

Business slogans on a road and street signs sign exit

The author and coach, Nancy Kline, provides a good list of what not to do, when another person is speaking, which is quite useful in helping us eliminate bad habits. These include:

  • Don’t finish the other people’s sentences.
  • Don’t interrupt them in mid-sentence.
  • Don’t look overly critical.
  • Don’t fill in the pauses with your own stories and anecdotes.
  • Don’t add information and ‘rules to follow’ during these listening phases.
  • Don’t distract them by – perhaps unintentionally – looking at the clock, sighing, etc..

matterhorn

These seem like good general rules, but bad habits die hard! When helping someone to reach their goals, our own goal of “good helper” might take priority. Putting it more positively:

  • Allow people to finish off their ideas
  • Let them get to the end of their sentence
  • Show interest in what they are bringing up
  • During pauses, pay attention to the thinking process that you are observing
  • While listening, develop rapport and collect important information
  • Encourage speech and think of deep questions.

Questions
If we want to really know what the best solution is, and to help someone reach it, the more time spent knowing what they feel and how they see the world, the better. One does not climb a mountain without a map of the terrain. What if there is a smoother path, a quicker one, or a more picturesque one? How do I know what you prefer if I don’t take the trouble to ask? And how do I know what you are willing to change, unless you tell me?

treasure map

I work regularly with managers and leaders who need to overcome difficulties of miscommunication – frequent where English is the lingua franca for business and negotiating. Finding ground for exploration working up from stable common perceptions is a very important skill, and one that, in the emotional heat of the moment, can be lost.

For this reason it is important to choose questions carefully and – often – to avoid the question “why?” until we have collected a lot more information first.

Where are we?
Where do we want to go?
How long do we have?
How long have we already spent?
Who are the best people to have involved?
What common ground do we have?
What makes the other person say what they do?
What are they not saying?
What is their aim?
What do they want to avoid?
What are they willing to consider changing?
What will they never change?
How can we proceed?

Being able to step back in one’s mind and having the firmly-anchored physical resources for doing so, are equally important (and very distinct). What may seem like a mountain to climb may be anything but

ziggurat