Language skills for Coaching

Language skills for Coaching

So our objective for this particular article is that at the end of it you’ll be able to explain the importance of the use of language in coaching, you’ll be able to identify the impact of the way you say things to the person when you’re coaching, and you’ll be able to analyze the way language can be used to understand someone’s construction of the situation, and to aid change.

language skills

Let’s think first about how language fits into the creation of our model of the world and how it acts as one of the filters. So first of all, information comes into us through our senses. So we will see it, hear it, touch it, feel it, smell it, taste it.

And as we’ve seen from the communication model what we do is to turn that into our internal representation. And in that process we’ve deleted, distorted, and generalized it in order to make it a more manageable size for us to be able to deal with so the experience is changed by that particular process.

And then we take that into a new representation and we decide that we want to tell someone else about it and let some other person know about our experience. And so we will take that into a new representation and we’ll use this wonderful creation of ours of language to be able to share that experience.

So language does this remarkable job of letting us share our experiences, interpretations, thoughts with other people. And it’s a great gift that we have. And it’s important to remember that it does limit us too. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a really great experience and you’ve tried your very best to let someone else know about this experience. And yet however you use language there’s just not enough words, enough ways of being able to really tell someone what that experience was like.

I love walking and the other day I was lucky enough to be up in the Grand Canyon and I walked up to the top of the peak. And I don’t know if you’ve ever been there but when you get to the top of that you can just see from miles and miles and miles. And it was the most glorious sunny day. And you see, as I’m describing this it’s not easy for me to express to you completely exactly how wonderful I felt up there and what the experience was for me. Because language is a construction that we’ve made it’s limiting as well as being a great gift.

And then the other thing about it is of course that add it to our language and the way that we express things is the meaning that we make. Because we are just meaning-making machines, we are constantly taking information that’s coming into us and creating meaning from it. And when we make really useful meanings from situations then that helps us. And when we don’t, we sometimes get very stuck.

And then of course there’s grammar. We have grammar because those are the rules that we kind of all agreed on to the way that we communicate, the way we say things, and they’re there to help us understand each other even better. And it gives us a common way of expression.

But it’s also important to remember that sometimes because we stick to the rules that limits us too. Because the rules say we can only say things in a certain way. And so we have to say things or we think we have to say things within those rules otherwise people won’t understand us.

So language is fascinating and when you really pay attention to language then you learn so much more, think about how does this help us in coaching?

Well firstly, because of our ability to make meaning then your client is going to be making meaning of things all the time. And as a coach, if you listen very carefully to their language and the way that they use it, you can find out exactly how someone has constructed that model of the world and how they have created that meaning – and in all three parts of this article on language that we’ll be doing, we’ll be exploring this more and more.

So the first thing then in coaching is about being able to listen carefully to language. But of course the second thing is not only about listening to it but about how use language ourselves as a coach. And how we can use language to be able to help our client to make changes very easily and to be able to influence and help them in very powerful ways.

Let’s think about how we can use language to bring about change. Let’s imagine that you were helping someone to learn to ride a bike and you could say either these next two sentences. You could say to them; “You know, it’s really hard to learn to ride a bike. It’ll take you a long time to do it,” or you could say; “You’d be surprised how quickly and easily you’d pick it up.” So which one of those two sentences is true? I mean, who knows, really? Neither of them could be true or both of them could be true but the key thing is which one is likely to help the person to learn the quickest? And what are the presupposed suggestions that have been made in each of those sentences?

In the first one, it’s about being hard to learn, taking a long-time. And then in the second one it is totally assumed and presupposed that they will learn it and it’s just a question of how surprised they are about how quickly and easily they do it.

So what impact could each of those statements have?

And then let’s think about it, what about if it was the person themselves saying those things to themselves? If they were saying to themselves; “Oh, it’s going to be really hard to ride the bike,” or “I bet I’ll be surprised about how quick and easy I pick it up.” What difference do those two have?

So let’s investigate presuppositions by thinking about how we can listen to our clients in a different way. Presuppositions are the linguistic equivalent of assumptions and in every sentence that we say there are presuppositions. Otherwise, we’d have to explain everything in minute details each time.

So even at the most basic level if I say something like; “The dog followed the cat around the garden,” first of all, it presupposes that there is a cat, a dog, and a garden. And that the cat is in front of the dog because the word “follow,” is a label for having one person in front of someone else – or one thing in front of someone else. So presuppositions are what we have to assume for the sentence to make sense to the person who’s saying it.

As a coach, if you listen very carefully to the way that your clients are saying things this helps you a lot to find out how he or she has actually constructed their particular view of the world. So if someone is going to learn to ride a bike or to learn to do anything for that matter, and when you talk to them about it they say; “I just know it’s going to be so hard to do and I’m not sure I can do this,” it would be important to hear those presuppositions.

Because firstly, the sentence tells you that they presuppose it’s going to be hard. And secondly, that they’ve presupposed there is doubt about their ability to do it. If they wanted to have the greatest chance of success, as a coach, you would want to challenge both these presuppositions and help them create a view about it that’s going to be much more motivating, inspiring, and resourceful for them.

So here’s an exercise to start you off looking for presuppositions; in these sentences write down what you think are the main presuppositions or assumptions that have been made by the person who is saying them:

  1. I know the way my boss works, he won’t listen to me.
  2. The only way to handle this is to leave the job.
  3. Because of this new project I’m going to have to miss lunch.
  4. Being on-work experience means that I’m an inferior employee.

So how did you get on with doing those? It’s interesting, isn’t it when you start to pick more and more about the way a sentences is being constructed and how that person has constructed their model of the world.

Let’s think about the first one; “I know the way my boss works. He won’t listen to me.” What were the presuppositions in that?

The first one is that it’s possible to know how someone else works and thinks. Second is that this boss is not going to listen to her. And the third assumption that’s made in this sentence is that he or she is not capable of putting things over in a way that the boss will listen to.

So as a coach, you would want to challenge each of those and help the person think in a different way about the situation so that they can help to resolve it.

And what about the second one? If someone says to you; “The only way to handle this is to leave the job,” what presuppositions are in that one? Well firstly, it is that there’s only one way to handle a situation, and that leaving is the only option open to them.

Here again as a coach, you would certainly want to do some work about that and help them find new options, and new ways of being able to handle it if leaving the job was not something that they wanted to do.

How did you get on with the third one? This was the sentence; “Because of this new project I’m going to have to miss lunch.” What were the presuppositions in that one? Well the first one is that the person has assumed that there is a link between the new project and eating lunch or not. Secondly, they’ve assumed that the new project is the cause of missing lunch. And thirdly, it is interesting in terms of listening to the language they’ve said that “they’re going to have to miss lunch.” Because words like that; “have to,” assumes and presupposes that they have no choice, there is no other choice. It’s like they absolutely have to miss lunch. Here again as a coach, you’d want to look at those things.

And here’s the last one; “Being on work experience means that I can’t progress.” So what are the presuppositions in this person’s sentence? Well, they’ve assumed that their progress and being on work experience are linked together. And secondly, they’ve assumed that one thing means that they can’t do the other – and that you would certainly want to challenge with.

How did you get on with the third one? This was the sentence; “Because of this new project, I’m going to have to miss lunch.” What were the presuppositions in that one? Well the first one is that the person has assumed that there is a link between the new project and eating lunch or not. Secondly, they’ve assumed that the new project is the cause of missing lunch. And thirdly, it is interesting in terms of listening to the language they’ve said that “they’re going to have to miss lunch.” Because words like that; “have to,” assumes and presupposes that theyhave no choice, there is no other choice. It’s like they absolutely have to miss lunch. Here again as a coach, you’d want to look at those things.

And here’s the last one; “Being on work experience means that I can’t progress.” So what are the presuppositions in this person’s sentence? Well, they’ve assumed that their progress and being on work experience are linked together. And secondly, they’ve assumed that one thing means that they can’t do the other – and that you would certainly want to challenge with.

So listening to the presuppositions in the client’s language will let you challenge those things that they are just taking for granted. And it’s very often because the client has not challenged these assumptions for themselves that they’re not making all the progress that they really want to, and that they’re getting stuck.

So one of the things is about listening to presuppositions in our client’s language. Then of course the other thing was about the language that we use and what are the presuppositions in the language that we use as a coach. And thinking about the impact that that will have on our clients and how we can make it really easy for them to bring about change. And paying attention to our language, what is assumed in it is a really key skill in coaching and one that you’ll want to learn.

So let’s have a think about this sentence. What’s presupposed in this statement from a coach; “It’s always difficult moving into a new job and it’ll probably take you a long time to feel fully-settled in but I’m sure you’ll get there in the end