Language in Action
Thursday, Leeds railway station: 3.00 pm.
A tannoy echoed its train busy-ness in the huge, Starbucked, coffee-spooned hall. Behind me an Asian couple shared secret, whispered, signalling sounds. In front of me garish signs shouted: “Garment Doctor”, “Left Luggage” “Create Your Ideal Sofa.” Language was in action: inside, outside, all around me.
I was London bound to join a PPD course about “using language more purposefully”; had it already begun?
On the train I wondered about whether I should be cramming myself full of NLP language stuff to be ready for what I was about to learn (like cleaning before the cleaner arrives). Would I need the whole of The Meta Model at my finger/tongue tips? Should I make sure that I had Sleight of Mouth Patterns available for instant conscious recall? What about Metaprogramme language? Could I list all of those categories and questions? What if Christina wanted me to stand up in front of everyone and name a particular pattern and its question and I couldn’t; and me an English teacher! What if…?
Too many questions.
Too much language in action.
I needed some language inaction. I slept until Stevenage.
University of London Union Building: Friday, 9.30 am.
I arrive early to avoid entering just as Christina is introduced. The Union Building is not exactly an illustrious setting, but the PPD course assistants give me and the other newcomer ‘early birds’ a warm welcome and I begin to feel more at ease, still wishing that I’d ‘crammed’ more, studied more, worried more, on the journey down.
Christina arrives at 9.45 with no fanfare. She unpacks, approaches the flipchart and writes:
“Language in Action… As a Perceptual Tool”
I let myself relax into understanding the “Language in Action” bit, but I’m alerted, almost alarmed by the idea that language is a ‘perceptual tool’. If language is any kind of tool at all, surely it’s a communication tool, something that we use for communicating with our self and with each other? How can we use language as a ‘perceptual tool’, a tool for perceiving our self and others? I need time to process what she has written. Six words!
I don’t get processing time, because after a brief, understated, gently emphatic introduction by her PPD host, Judith Lowe, Christina is ready to start.
She talks about her early days as a ‘fledgling therapist’ and how she noticed that some of her clients changed and others didn’t seem to. And what this made her think was,
“What is change?”
As I experience her words there’s something about the way that she pauses when she says them that makes me think,
“Yes, what is change? When I change, or when other people change, exactly what, or even ‘who’, is changing and how does such change happen?”
I’m intrigued, hooked, ready for more. No jargon yet, no categories to learn; maybe I’ll get away with not having done my homework!
Christina goes on to describe an experience of watching her therapy supervisor work with one of her (Christina’s) clients. Very early on in the session the supervisor asked the client,
“What was the problem?”
Christina stops mid-story and repeats her supervisor’s question,
“What was the problem?” and goes on to tell us that that question is such a powerful, early question for any communicator to use with anyone who might consider that they have a problem.
She asks us to consider why; why, of all the questions he could have asked, did her supervisor ask that one? She pauses… gives us time to consider just why it is such a good question. She asks us to ask what is implied in that question that makes it so profoundly affecting and effective. What is it about “was” that is so good? As she asks us, I’m drawn back to the course title on the flipchart. Is this how language can be a tool for perceiving, by using the word “was” instead of “is”?
Sometime later, Friday pm.
Our first exercise is simple, direct, directing.
Question 1 (of 8) is:
“What motivated you to take action to begin the process of learning NLP?
(Christina’s emboldening, my italics)
Christina gently insists that we use her exact wording. Why?
Question 2, in three parts, asks:
a) What are some of your most particularly useful learnings from your NLP training?
b) How have you put these learnings into action?
c) How have these learnings made a difference in your life?
Question 3 asks:
“What do you consider as some of your strong inner resources that support you in the process of learning and change”?
While we engage in an animated, even “motivated”, exploration of the questions, I overhear Christina explain to a PPD assistant how important ‘time’ and ‘presupposition’ are in her exercise design, and in her everyday language. She wants us to “learn to use “how” and “when” questions because these are “process-oriented” and elicit where and when in time someone has perceived something as having started.”
As she’s explaining this I return to Question 1 to see if I can apply what I’m overhearing:
“What motivated you…?”
Ah, past tense, there’s the time bit. I think it’s presupposed here that something has motivated us and we’re just being asked to wonder what it was, and then move forward in time with that motivation in mind.
I’m beginning to catch her drift. The words: “begin the process…” imply a starting point and a proceeding, from that starting point in the past, towards our present state of “learning (of) NLP”.
Christina continues with,
“ It’s essential to use language that presupposes more of the response(s) we want to elicit, because our language always creates a focus and sets a direction…”
“… Learn to use language more in ways that presuppose certain things have happened, and will happen, and they will become connected.”
In her innocuous-seeming questions, she’s using language to direct our perception; gently nudging us into perceiving a direction that she feels may be useful for us. We are now re-engaged with, re- immersed in, our “process of learning NLP”. It’s presupposed that we’ll continue (because “processes” proceed) to learn, a useful proposal at the beginning of a 3-day NLP Language course. I think I’m getting this. No jargon, no labels, no complicated categories; just simple everyday language used precisely, purposefully!
Inspired, I check the wording of question 2a:
“What are some of the most particularly useful learnings…?
There’s that word “what” again; I wonder whether that’s significant.
“What are…?” is in the present tense; so whatever follows, I guess, is presumed to exist right now.
“What are some of…?” suggests a choice between several objects/aspects. I am definitely getting this!
“What are some… particularly useful learnings…?”
So, “learnings” are presupposed; “useful learnings” even, and then “particularly useful learnings”. Whether we’re reading this or listening to it, the presuppositions are just stacking up, directing, guiding our action. And look at that tiny word “most” sitting innocently in front of “…particularly useful learnings”. We are now being asked to make a judgement about “some of the most particularly useful learnings…” While we search for what is “most particularly useful”, we’ve innocently accepted several positive presuppositions about our NLP learnings. We have a 13-word sentence containing 5, or even 6 presuppositions (if you count the verb tense). This is beautiful, simply beautiful!
Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote:
“Prose = words in their best order; - poetry = the best words in the best order.” What we’ve been exploring is using the best, often the simplest, words in the best order, in ordinary conversation, in order to produce extraordinary results over time.
Later, I wander back to my hotel, mulling over 2 b) and 2c), wishing that I’d had this stuff when I was a younger, report-writing teacher. What a difference I could have made. I notice myself noticing my own verb tense: … “could have made.”
I think again
Saturday and Sunday…
The weekend continues in the same gently revelatory vein. Language is in action, exquisitely; it’s coming alive, for me and for others on the course. Christina weaves her word magic, within, and outside of, the exercises. Our worlds change in front of, and behind, our very eyes. It’s all done without smoke, without mirrors, without labels and categories! She is partly conjuring, worldweaving, and partly explaining the detailed construction of the warp and the weft of her fabric. For me, PPD have been doing something very right by inviting Christina Hall to deliver on their Master Practitioner Courses. For me, there is no substitute for such simple elegance, such elegant simplicity in training.
Sunday, Leeds railway station 9.40 pm
I’ll arrive in the Starbucked, coffee-cupped hall. Waking up fully as I smell the beans, I’ll travel back over the weekend I’ve had.
Viola will meet me.
“Hello, lovely. How was the course?”
“Good, really good, thanks. Getting much better.”
It still is…