One of the things I have learned through studying NLP and linguistics is the effect the words we use have on those around us, whether they be work colleagues, friends, family or total strangers. Our language defines our own map of the world. Certain words we use in different contexts have semantic reference points which evoke unconscious representations and behavioural outputs in ourselves and others. Language is our way of making sense of the world around us. Language like other systems of behaviour is context dependent. For example the following words, love, sex and death can belong in different contexts ranging from a novel or to a highly personal experience, the context will evoke a different experience of the word. We all have internal references for language from a back catalogue of experiences throughout our lives.
In NLP we have the Meta Model as model of detecting syntactic structures present in every day language. There are many other patterns that feature in every day language that can be as limiting for people as the 13 language patterns present in the Meta Model. One pattern I have noticed lately is the tendency for people to say sorry when there is absolutely no need to do so. I call this the ‘apology pattern’, the speaker is deleting part of his/her experience and has thus over generalised the pattern of apology.
The other day I (Jack Carroll) was walking around my local Supermarket shopping, and being a person in a rush, occasionally bumped into fellow customers. Before I had a chance to say anything, the people I accidently bumped into APOLOGISED TO ME! This happened three times.The first time, I just thought ‘why are you apologising?’, the third person’s face was a picture when I said ‘why are you sorry mate?’, the question was a real pattern interrupt for this guy.
For the rest of week, I revelled in challenging the apology pattern.It seemed to me that people were sorry or afraid everywhere.
SORRY, CAN I TAKE THAT PLATE?: (Why are you sorry about taking the plate, it’s your plate isn’t it?)
SORRY, CAN I TAKE YOUR CARD DETAILS?: (Sorry about taking my money for your product?)
I’m afraid I can’t give you that discount: (You’re afraid, about anything in particular?)
I’m afraid to say there are no more tickets left: (I understand; there’s no need to be afraid though)
The definition for the word sorry is: ‘An expression of apology, or as sympathy/compassion to another perhaps for a personal loss.’ Now that’s a little strong when taking a person’s credit card details.
The definition of afraid is feeling fear or anxiety or worrying that something undesirable will happen. Once again is the intention in the above examples to convey this message? Is this person afraid there are no tickets left, or have they added this to their vocabulary incorrectly?
People unconsciously or consciously pick up from your verbal and non verbal outputs. They don’t have to be NLP’ers to be able to do this as a lot of people use NLP naturally everyday. If you ask me in a sales context “sorry can I take your card details?”, you’re apologising to me whilst trying to close a sale. This could be a demonstration of nervousness, not being confident about closing or not believing in the product. The sales person’s apology pattern in this context gives the buyer the upper hand and a strong position for negotiation. The apology pattern in this context transfers incongruence to the client. Of course the tone and pace that accompany the phrase will play a major part on how it is interpreted. It’s important to note that what one person picks up from you may well be different to another person’s interpretation as language is subjective.
The way we communicate is applicable in every situation from supermarkets to business, coaching, family, relationships and sports; the same rules apply. What are you saying each day to others which is incongruent to your intention? For example, the pattern operates in reverse, when there is a genuine need to apologise and the speaker’s non verbal behaviour is incongruent with the message, the message is not received as an apology.
Virginia Satir, one of the people who John Grinder and Richard Bandler modelled, observed the apology pattern in some of her clients. She called the apologisers ‘placators’ and noted their body language as arms outstretched, palms up, shoulders hunched as if they are apologising for their existence. In the extreme cases some people are so sorry in life, they exist in a subservient way. This type of person will need some special coaching to help break their ‘sorry pattern’. For others the pattern exists in much milder form such as apologising when some one bumps into you.
Our language is an expression of our inner world. It is important as a communicator is to ensure your verbal and non verbal are congruent with who you are. In NLP, we say state underpins congruency, if you have strong positive kinaesthetics, your tone, posture and language will accompany clear, concise communication. Over the next few days be aware of all the little phrases you say and whether they could possibly carry a mixed message. It doesn’t just have to be sorry or afraid; you will be surprised at how your language has your own routine expressions. For example I (Michael Carroll) notice two of my colleagues overusing the phrase ‘to be fair’. I wonder if using the statement ‘to be fair’ indicates that my colleagues just finished being unfair and now they feel the need to announce that fairness is now the order of the day, until further notice that is. We could begin a thread of ‘useless sayings’ that send out conflicting messages to people we communicate with. Feel free to post yours.