Playing with words

Language shapes our thinking – can you only think what you have words for?

 SnowmanWhat times we live in! I am struck by the contrasting ways in which human behaviour is described. That useful magazine “The Week” publishes extracts from newspapers of every complexion, and repeatedly you can find a single topic described in wildly different ways. “Hurray for openness!” says one commentator; “Terrible leaks!” wails another. “Personal responsibility”, states one; “savage cuts” complains another. “Freedom of self-determination” shouts one; “Terrorism!” proclaims another.

Abstract nouns! NLP has quite a bit to say about these. It calls them ‘nominalisations’ and nominalisations are famously slippery, elusive and vague.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things
.”�
                                                                                                     Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass.

Well, you certainly can if you use abstractions!

“Love” is a particularly vague abstract noun as it makes do for such a cornucopia of different emotions: parental love, sexual love, love of chocolate brownies, love of taking long lunch-breaks in the pub … Two thousand years ago the Greeks gave us a wise lead by employing four different words for love –  agape–affection, eros-desire , philia-friendship  and storge–family love. But the English language did not go the way of the Greeks …

Nor of the Eskimos: the author Edward De Bono describes the rich vocabulary of love among the Inuit people who use subtle distinctions to manage relationships in the confinement of their long snowy winters. He refers to one of their words for love that translates as “I like you very much, but I would not go seal-hunting with you”. Now that might serve as a useful comeback at a party this Christmas!

One suggestion NLP makes to help unravel the meaning of abstract nouns is to turn them into verbs or “action words”. Our “love” then becomes the process of how we love each other, and our “relationship” becomes the process of how we relate to each other. It’s often easier to understand the meaning of a situation when an abstraction is turned into a process.

The linguist Benjamin Whorf argued that the fact that the Eskimos have 200 words for snow indicates that they have a much richer thinking on the subject.  So what about our more limited language for the idea of love – or indeed, given the season, love, joy and peace? Are we impoverished by having “one size fits all” for such concepts?

When we turn these abstract nouns of love, joy and peace into processes (noun into verb) we can see more clearly their limitations. It involves a bit more grammar but for a purpose!

Verbs are either transitive (which means they have an object; for example “I hit you”); or they can be intransitive (which means there is no object – for example “I sleep”; “I sleep you doesn’t make sense). An intransitive verb describes a state of being rather than something that is done to someone else.

So love, joy and peace

If we play a little with these words as processes, love is already a transitive verb:  “I love you. I love my fellow man.” But there is no intransitive equivalent to describe loving as a state of being – “I am loving” gets quite close to it, but a verb meaning “I am love-ful” would really good to add to our vocabulary.

What do you do, where do you go, what do you remember in order to enter the state of feeling “love-ful”?

For joy, we can “enjoy”, but it would be useful to have the more generative verb meaning “I am joy-ful”. And it would also be good to have a transitive verb “to joy” to express the concept of spreading or extending joy to someone.

I can “hurt you”. What would it mean for me to “joy” you?

With regard to peace, we can express a state of being in the three words “I am peace-ful”. But what about a transitive verb “to peace someone”, meaning to spread or extend peace? As of now I can “fight” “attack” “assault” “combat” or “assail” you, but I have no verb to affect you with “peace”. The media use battle words constantly: to fight terror, fear, poverty, injustice, extradition, apathy, disease …

(Who said “Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist persists”? Ah, that was Eckhart Tolle.)

If we use war-like words we are liable to see life as a battle.

What would it be like to have an active sense of “peacing” the people you spend time with?

If we are missing the language does it matter?

Does it matter that we don’t have words for things we might want to say? Yes, I believe it does, because language shapes the way we think just as much as the way we think shapes language.* If we haven’t got the words for it we are unable to think it.

So what about going about your business in the next couple of weeks and having fun with made-up words: use love in the intransitive – to love, be love-ful, and joy and peace in the transitive – to joy and peace each other.

Love-ful, I joy and peace you all!

* (If you are interested in the concept of language shaping our thought have a look at Lera Boroditsky’s article, “How does our language shape the way we think?” at http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/boroditsky09/boroditsky09_index.html)

E-zine Articles – a wealth of interesting short articles can be found at www.ezinearticles.com – you might like to type in “Judy Apps” for a few of mine!

What or why?

 
 
 

Stephen Fry

beautiful voice...?

A beautiful voice…

A friend told me the other day that he thought Stephen Fry had a beautiful voice. I pressed him to tell me more about it. “It just has a fantastic rich tone,” he replied, “It’s a great voice.”

On one level I agree. But his remark takes me back many years to a moment in a shabby room in Rome entirely dominated by a grand piano. I am with my maestro for my daily singing lesson and he is speaking forcefully: “What’s this with beauty?” he rants. “A voice doesn’t have to be beautiful; it has to express something! Why do you sing?! You have to know why you sing!”

This has been a bit of a theme this week. I gave a presentation on Hypnotic Voices at the NLP Conference a couple of days ago and as so often the subject of what and why came up. Many trainee hypnotherapists are taught what to do to produce a deep voice in order to connect better with the deep unconscious of the client. But the voice – even a deep one – is powerless on its own to connect – it’s the intention behind itthe why – that counts. We need to ask about the effect of our voice on the client – it’s about purpose and connection.

There’s a notable difference between the warm resonant statement of someone whose intention is to produce a warm resonant voice and the warm resonant statement of someone who feels warmth towards the listener and resonates in tune with them. The sound of the former – the person creating the ‘voice’ – has a slight stiffness as he or she manipulates the physical space inside for the ‘warm’ sound, whereas the sound of the latter is more flexible, has more overtones – and is infinitely more interesting to listen to.

It’s great if we can tell the difference. Beware the empty sound bite! 

How to speak with influence

The impact of a voice cannot be separated from its meaning. Now, the way to a voice that expresses meaning is different from the way to a beautiful-sounding voice – very different actually.  If we think in terms of producing a nice-sounding voice we will be interested in technique alone and ask the question, “What do we need to do to sound good? What’s the technique?”

The renowned hypnotherapist and teacher Stephen Gilligan says that his student hypnotherapists are always asking, “What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?”  They want the techniques, and fast. Trainee coaches are often on a similar quest regarding powerful questioning tools: “What do I ask? What do I ask? What do I ask? Give me the techniques!”

“What?” can only get you so far. The way to an expressive voice as to successful hypnotherapy or coaching goes on from “what to do” or even “how to do it” to “why”; it’s an exploration of the live relationship between me and you expressed in my intention – the meaning and identity I bring to it.

This what versus why turns up everywhere. When doctors wanted to understand living human beings they studied dead bodies. They began to tell us what happened when you ‘fell’ ill or “caught” a virus. But why you at this particular time in these particular circumstances should be susceptible to one of the millions of viruses in circulation, ah, that they could not tell us.

Orators studied discourse. They discovered the rhetorical question, the rule of three as in “friends, Romans, countrymen” and the three dynamics of persuasive dialogue. They taught these things and yet it didn’t add up on its own to profound oratory. The great speakers used these devices – so much was true – but using these devices did not on its own produce great speakers. We can see this in some politicians well-schooled in oratory today…

In my NLP Conference talk I referenced the work of the extraordinary hypnotherapist Milton Erickson. Erickson used his voice with great mastery but he didn’t put vocal expression into what he was doing; rather, his meaning produced expression in his voice – entirely the other way around. To produce mastery you can get only so far through recreating tone of voice, volume, pitch and so on. You have also to understand the why and introduce your intention into that connected trance space and let go with trust. If given freedom to do so the powerful authentic voice emerges naturally from that intention within. 

How do you do that? The means to the why is more likely to be discovered through light-hearted exploration than through dreary technical drill. The great news is that the discovery of this inner intention shortcuts the what – the techniqueand you find you have the skills anyhow.

This what/why question has wide application. The next time you are in the throes of “gotta do, gotta do, gotta do” maybe you’ll just step back for a moment and ask yourself “Why? – what meaning am I making of this? What’s this really about? What’s my intention here?” And find your answer in the silence.

Free copy of article on hypnotic voices

I have written a few-page article on Hypnotic Voices that you might find useful if you are interested in influencing people with your voice. Just drop me an email (judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk) if you’d like to read it and I’ll email you a copy – there’s no charge.

If you are interested in one-to-one coaching – face-to-face, by telephone or Skype – that’s also a great way to learn how to communicate powerfully so do contact me to discuss it.

Go well!

Speak with power and influence

What makes a great voice? It’s about using your body as well as your head; it’s about breath; it’s about strong intention. Find out how you can develop your own voice to speak powerfully without years of training.

 

TigerTo communicate you use your voice … as well as gesture, posture, breathing and your general state. The sounds you make are infinitely subtle and communicate far more than the words you choose. So if you are interested in connecting with other people the voice is a highly important part of that communication.

The human has a big head and a big body with a narrowing in between – the neck! In that in-between area sits our voice box – the vocal cords. What mystery placed the vocal cords just there, mid-way between head and heart – mind and body? And what does it mean to us as communicating beings?

Many people assume that speaking is just a ‘head job’ – an intellectual process. They have the sensation of thinking in the head, taking air in through nose or mouth and speaking through the mouth, articulating the sound with lips, tongue and teeth. They are not aware of any other part of the body playing a part at all.

This is to miss major elements of the process however. First of all, the trigger to speak is an impulse in the body that is not the same as thinking. It’s an energetic call to action. This is the impulse which causes your body to get involved in taking in breath in a particular way and it begins the process of producing particular sounds. You speak because you are enthused, determined, angry, anxious, inspired or interested, because you have a desire to help, to impress, to convince, to charm, to motivate or reassure: that’s the impulse to speak.

Let’s say for example I am having a debate with you and you make a statement that I violently disagree with. In my eagerness to refute your statement I am quick to respond: I take a rapid breath which organises my body in such a way that the sound comes out resonating sharply again the breast plate and in the head.

Maybe, on another occasion I glance at someone beside me whom I love very much and am filled with a beautiful loving feeling which arouses the desire to say something. The slow breath I take, suffused with love, opens cavities around my heart and chest which resonate softly when I say my words of endearment.

It is the breath, affected by the trigger (desire, intention, emotion etc.), which moves the muscles of the body to open particular combinations of resonating cavities which then vibrate to make the particular quality of sound that expresses the intention accurately.

This is the miracle. Through this means you express in sound the intention in your being. People listening to you then catch your energy and intention and are influenced by your speaking. And what becomes possible then?…

Your Voice Gives You Away!

Voice gives you awayYour voice is a powerful tool – but it can be a liability if you talk stridently or in a dull monotone. Learn how to speak with a voice that connects with your energy and feelings and see what an enormous difference it makes to how people want to listen to you.

Your voice can be a powerful tool when you know how to use it. Your voice reveals a lot to the world about you so you need it to tell the story you want! Yet it is a subject that has been under-investigated. Apart from noticing different accents most of us distinguish very little about the voice: high voice maybe, deep voice, squeaky voice, rich voice, strident voice … But we all know the difference in how a voice makes us feel. We are all influenced greatly by the sound of a person’s voice.

The sound of your voice in fact tells a detailed story about you, not only about your present state of mind but about your history. 

What are the signposts to what is going on?

A voice that never changes

Many people have only one voice. They talk nasally, or in a dull monotone, or in a tight constricted way or very high like a child. Whatever they say, however emotional the content might presume to be, the voice just comes out the same.

Why is that? At some time in their life they have separated emotion from vocal expression and become tense around shoulders, neck or jaw or all three. Tension in these places can be of the moment, but some tension they will have been carrying around since they were very young in response to early life experiences. Full expression of the whole range of human communication is blocked by this tightness. If you close your throat or grip your jaw you are cutting off the part of your body where feelings, emotions, natural impulses and much of what makes us truly human lies. 

The manufactured voice

Some people speak in a pleasant way but still have a voice that is basically cut off and fails to connect. It can be deep and imposing, rich and resounding or warm and pleasant. But the sound does not express what is going on – and it never varies its quality. The listener is deceived – and often the speaker is deceived as well! 

Why is that?  Someone who speaks in this way decided (sub-consciously probably) at some stage in their life not to reveal everything that was going on – in other words to put up a mask to hide emotions that didn’t seem acceptable. You will never get a spontaneous response from someone who speaks like this – there is always an infinitesimal pause before they react. Ask a spontaneous person about an exciting occasion and they will come back on the instant with warmth and excitement in the voice, “Oh, it was wonderful!”  Ask a one-voice person and you are more likely to get a constrained “Er, we had a great time, thank you.”

The free voice

The voice that is truly expressive and thus influential is relatively free of bodily tension.  If your voice is free the sound resonates in all parts of your body communicating every nuance of what you are saying. As you become excited your voice goes up in pitch for a moment; as you sound determined the voice resonates against your chest and as you express care or concern your voice tone comes from your heart.  The voice does this automatically, constantly varying, reflecting spontaneously the meaning of your communication. Hundreds of bones and muscles in your body are involved in conveying your meaning through resonance.

Your voice does not lie. It reveals much more about you than you would imagine. If you want to be an effective communicator you need to learn to use all parts of your voice and the learning can be fun. Once you are able to use all parts of your voice you will find your influence increases beyond measure.

Barack Obama: extraordinary orator

Barack ObamaThe world’s media seem pretty much agreed about one thing following the election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States: Barack is a great speaker, and his oratory has served him well.

Yesterday’s headline in the Sunday Times read: “Orator in the mould of history’s best”, and continued, ”Even in the age of YouTube and the soundbite, Barack Obama has proved that soaring, sustained oratory still has great power. His victory address to crowds in Chicago last week was widely regarded as one of the finest speeches in modern politics, delivered by a master.”

Barack Hussein Obama “is a speaker of genius”, declares Andrew Gimsom of the Daily Telegraph.  “Obama’s extraordinary oratory made us feel less jaded, and less willing to humour those who made us jaded in the first place” asserts Marina Hyde of the Guardian.

In America they agree. “His soaring rhetoric is moving his audiences not just politically, but emotionally,” says CBS News.
Chris Matthews of CNBC talks about “the feeling most people get when they hear a Barack Obama speech. I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean – I don’t have that too often!”

One in a line

This isn’t his policies they are talking about: it’s the effect of his delivery on them. Barack is one in a line of politicians who have made their way to power through oratory, and his speeches look back and quote other great presidential orators, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, and civil rights activist Martin Luther King.

There are parallels in British politics. David Cameron was an outside candidate for the Tory leadership until he gave an unusually good speech. Ian Duncan Smith (remember him?) was considered a potentially good leader until he gave a bad one. Gordon Brown’s reputation has suffered from his lack of ability meet the occasion as a speaker. Tony Blair’s rise to power was helped considerably by his ability to connect well with his audience.

Good public speakers get promoted in business and politics. It happens again and again, and I’m sure you could quote examples from your own experience.

So, what is Obama’s secret?

What can we learn from Obama? Well, his speeches are brilliantly crafted, but that’s not the whole story. Let’s look at some of his skills.

Obama knows how to speak directly to us; he comes across as himself; he looks at ease; his words and his body language are in harmony; he has brilliant timing; you wouldn’t know that the speech was pre-written, it sounds spontaneous.

How can YOU do the same?

How can you learn to be a great communicator? Can you learn? … great speakers are born, not made, they say…

I don’t subscribe to that saying. I think there is a great speaker in most of us, and that such things as spontaneity, authenticity and connection can be learned. The reason I believe it is because I have seen it happen many times – in my workshops and one-to-one with people.

People often go to the great acting companies for help with public speaking, but acting specialists don’t necessarily have the answers for those who wish to be great orators. Great oratory is not acting: it uses speaking skills, true, but it relies more on a way of being. It happens so often that people learn in speaking courses how to act in public: they pronounce their words with great emphasis, they employ their practised gestures, they utilise the stage directions and pauses they have learned; but in the end they don’t connect with their audience and certainly don’t stir them or influence them. Not at all.

To be an orator in the mould of an Obama, Kennedy or Luther King you need to learn how to convert your heart beats into powerful communication. You need to have the ability to connect with this particular audience on this day. More than anything, you need to know how to be at ease with yourself. These abilities come from skill and they come from self belief, which can also be learned. Then you will be the best of you, and others will be attracted to what you have to say. It works every time.