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Make yourself understood in business – by Geoff Rolls


Geoff Rolls discusses some of the ways in which he has helped organisations and corporations to communicate more clearly, and ensure that everyone can hear each other, loud and clear.

Some time ago a friend of mine told me a story about an order going down the line during a battle in World War II, when Britain still had the old non-decimalised money. It goes like this:

In the heat of battle, with noise all around, the Major shouted to his subordinate to pass on the following message to High Command: “Bring reinforcements, we’re going to advance…” By the end of a string of repeated orders down the line and a garbled call on the field telephone, the General at High Command was somewhat perplexed when an underling walked into his office and said: “Message from the Front, Sir. It’s an unusual request. Apparently we’re to bring three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance.”

Now, while this is a joke about the nature of Chinese Whispers, it does tell you how people so often “fill in the gaps” in organisations. Another wartime phrase that comes to mind in this context is the old slogan that used to appear on Ministry of Information posters: “Careless Talk Costs Lives.”

The problem with careless talk in a business context is that a message inaccurately or sloppily communicated can cause people to fill in the gaps for themselves, using filling material that has nothing to do with the original message. This happens a lot in the Corporate world and in big organisations generally. One of the reasons it happens is the common tendency to leave out the subject of a sentence. It is almost as if making a sentence abstract makes it more official. In NLP terms this is called the phenomenon of the Lost Performative.

For example, I recently read a CV of a high-ranking executive who was talking about the reasons why a company should take her on. Here is a flavour of what she wrote:

“Key aspirations are greater interconnectability. Job satisfaction is also a key goal through workplace development.”

Now, this woman was uniquely talented as the COO of a major corporation. But she had read so many reports written by engineers who assumed that the readers would know what she was talking about from the context, that she had absorbed their way of writing. And in a group in which everyone understands the context, this need not be a problem. The problem comes when you give Lost Performatives to people who don’t know the context, or haven’t been introduced to your way of speaking.

If you stack too many Lost Performative sentences on top of each other, you end up confusing the person who is reading. That person then has to keep going back over it, filling in the gaps. Which is where the confusion can begin. For example, if we look at the two sentences above, some questions might be:

Whose key aspirations are interconnectability?

When the sentence says “Key aspirations are interconnectibility” does it mean that you are giving a definition, such as: “Sows are female pigs”, or are you saying “my key aspirations are to improve interconnection between certain aspects of the organisation…” Or what?

As for the interconnectability, is it hers, or is the interconnectability an aspiration for the team and culture she is working in?

And what is actually meant by interconnectability? Is it interconnectability between people, teams, buildings, or pieces of Lego?

As for job satisfaction, is she talking of her own, or the people she employs?

The ambiguities in those sentences above leave so much to be misunderstood. Look again, and you will probably spot other ways in which the sentences can be misunderstood, too.

One of the ways in which NLP can help you to communicate better is to start asking the right questions to uncover the material that is so often left out in Corporate Communication.

Asking these questions can be incredibly important. For example, in meetings, being aware of what isn’t being said can lead you to ask questions that open up greater possibilities and opportunities. Sentences shape people’s perceptions all the time: they are the conceptual framework in which the raw data of reality is arranged. Using well-chosen questions will enable you to get more useful, powerful answers.

Asking the right questions can also empower your employees or team to start thinking in new ways, and to uncover for themselves the things they have overlooked.

The above is just one example of how to use NLP in a Corporate and work context. We offer trainings in exactly these skills, through the NLP Life Academy. What you find is that when people start to use them, suddenly members of organisations start to talk to each other, start to really hear, and really understand.

When your team gets the message loud and clear, they have clear goals in mind – and they will pull together to make a more successful future for your whole organisation.

Find out more about our trainings to help you improve your communication, here.


Bernardo Moya

Bernardo is the founder of The Best You, author of The Question, Find Your True Purpose, an entrepreneur, writer, publisher, TV producer and seminar promoter to some of the biggest names in Personal Development. He is editor-in-chief of The Best You magazine – a fascinating voice in the Personal Development world.

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