In the field of professional communication, one of the most important skills that someone can have as a communication expert is the ability to artfully and covertly steer a conversation in what ever direction they determine is necessary to achieve their goal. The complexity of language leaves us with an almost infinite number of possible ways to do this. Some of the most powerful tools in the field of communication come from the field of study known as Pragmatics.
To define it, Pragmatics is the study of a natural language speaker’s ability to communicate information other than what they are explicitly stating. In other words, this is the study of certain facets of communication that surround and support, but are NOT the specific/exact verbiage used moment by moment in a communication.
Basically, this is the pursuit of the actual “Intent” in someones language. For example, the statement “You look great” can mean different things, when stated in different ways and in different situations. Much more goes into the actual understanding of the term than what the words “You look great” mean. If the person had a diaper on their head, then this would be sarcasm and not the compliment that we would expect from simply evaluating the verbiage.
Rhetoric, sarcasm, tonal inflection, word syntax, arrangement and context can all be a function of defining the actual intent of someones language. The field of Pragmatics is a phenomenal academic field for helping us to understand these nuances.
Now one of the most powerful and influential tools for conversational directionalization that has arisen out of the field of pragmatics is the usage of presuppositions. A presupposition is basically the information that is assumed to be TRUE and/or is assumed to EXIST in order for a sentence to be plausible.
When we communicate with someone, there are a vast number of processes and procedures constantly being executed in our minds. In particular, there is constant referencing of past experiences and stored data in order to “make sense” of the other person’s communication.
Linguistically, when you “hear” words, they are processed by a number of different areas in our brain (Wernicke’s area, Broca’s area, basal ganglia, etc…). Although each area has it’s own specific function, the most important part is the referencing of the recognized word with existing information in the brain. With out this, any word is just another sound…
Take this for example, say we are having a conversation about the picnic that I was at last week. I elaborate a story to you about how my drunk uncle was dancing around when he slipped and fell head first into a used “dweezlesnap”…
You would be clicking right along with me until I threw out the word “dweezlesnap”… this would throw you through a loop because you don’t know what the hell a “dweezlesnap” is. WHY don’t you know what it is? Because you have nothing in your mind to reference this with… No data attached to it visually, phonetically or linguistically (data).
What if I told you that a “dweezlesnap” was white and had elastic on it? You would now have a larger battery of references to work with to make sense of this word… What if I told you it is something that babies wear? We have added more referencing information…Still don’t get it yet? How about if I tell you that babies defecate and urinate in it? I think you now have enough information to know that “dweezlesnap” is just some jargon-esque name for a diaper.
The difference between the term “dweezlesnap” and “diaper” is that the term “diaper” has a vast number of underlying assumptions and attributes attached to it that help to make it meaningful.
- It is plastic
- It has elastic
- It is generally white
- Babies wear it
- It can contain human waste, etc…
Now take this concept and apply it to entire phrases… Presuppositions are the underlying information that MUST exist and be held true in order for a phrase to “work” in our mind. When you talk to someone, you naturally use presuppositions all of the time. The strength and power of a Presupposition comes into play when you are able to use them on cue in a volitional manner to help facilitate your own communication goals.
Almost conclusively, when you are attempting to persuade someone you can’t simply come right out and say EXACTLY what you want the other person to do… I can hear all of the idealists out there shouting “you should be able to just be open and let people know exactly what you want…” Yah, well I say “coulda, shoulda, woulda…” That isn’t how the real world works. Obviously there are times when you can be direct, but in my experience these times are few and far between.
Direct requests or statements will often times immediately call into play someone’s critical thinking mechanisms. The actual communication that can be conveyed, or understood from directness can possess many negative connotations. Control, force, abruptness, rudeness, cold demeanor, etc… Although you may not mean them, this is often what is communicated with an overly direct statement. As they say, it is all “in the spin”, or more accurately, how you state “it”.
When making a request, a statement or simply attempting to direct a conversation there are two outcomes that you want to achieve:
- You want the person to follow the request, statement or directionalization.
- You want them to do so willingly, happily and with good intent.
Effective communication is not only about getting what you want, it is about getting what you want AND having the other person feel good about it. Now you can come outright with your request, but in most instances it will not result in the outcome you want… Either they just won’t do it, or they will do it begrudgingly and this will cause longer term damage. Although this may win the “battle” for you, you will lose the proverbial war as it will do damage to your relationship (personal or professional).
So the million dollar question comes to bear, how can you convey your information in a manner that is below the “critical thinking radar” AND still effective? Aside from hypnotic language, Presuppositions are another powerful tool to help you accomplish this…
This may seem a bit complicated, but stick with me and you’ll soon see what I mean… To learn more about Presuppositions and other information that can help you refine your own effective communication, please visit my site The Communication Expert, or if I am online, please feel free to connect with me via Skype.