Creating Clarity

Ever had a conversation with someone--your boss, a customer, or your spouse--and realized that they didn't understand you or you didn't understand them because you got confused right from the start? I know I have.

In NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) there's a linguistic method for detecting and diagnosing these confusions quickly and clarifying them. It's called themeta-model. The meta-model helps identify where communications are unclear and then seeks to ask the "what, where, when, who, or how" to clarify them. There are nine types of clarity violations and each one has a question to ask for clarification:

1. Deletions/Additions:

"I'm confused!" (About what, specifically?)

I often find that people tend to paraphrase what the other person has said, which causes additions and/or deletions:

"So you're having trouble decyphering the instructions?" This sentence contains a new verb, decyphering, and added instructions. The correct answer to this question might be: "No idiot; I'm confused which button to push on the panel!"

2. Unspecified thing or person:

"They don't believe the numbers!" (Who doesn't believe them?)

"It's not accurate." (What isn't accurate?)

3. Unspecified verb:

"Excel crashed." (How did it crash?)

"I'm in love." (What kind of love?)

4. Verb turned into a noun:

"The installation didn't work." (How did you install the software?)

5. Right/Wrong:

"My numbers aren't right." (According to whom?)

"That's the wrong way to do that." (According to whom?)

6. Cause-Effect:

"I'm upset because you never answer the phone." (How do I make you upset? If I answered the phone, would you still be upset? )

7 Impossibility/Necessity

"I can't get the chart I want." (What would happen if you could? What stops you?)

Can't, must, should, and "have to" all imply necessity or impossibility.

8. Universals:

"Technology never works right?" (Never? Has it ever worked right?)

"It always rains in December." (Always?)

9. Mind Reading:

"I know what you're thinking." (How do you know that?)

Applications to Customer Service

I don't know about you but one of the things that drives me batty is when I ask a service representative one question and get a long, drawn out answer to a different question. Now, I know that the meaning of my communication is the response I get back from the other person, but I shouldn't hear about kiwis if I asked about apples.

Whenever I work with call centers, I find that they often have a 10-40% call back rate within 24-48 hours. This means that the service representative didn't really understand or answer the customer's question correctly or fully enough to prevent a call back. Most of the time this is caused by a failure to diagnose the real request and respond appropriately.

Whenever I take a call from my customers, I use these meta-model questions to get clear about the customer's issue, request or problem before I try to answer.

I find that I create a mental image or movie of their need, want or issue. I keep asking questions and refining my mental movie until I truly understand their desire.Then I answer the question. It might take a few seconds longer, but it saves me and the customer time and frustration.

Applications to Relationships

Out of the blue, my wife can say one sentence that sums up everything she's been thinking about for an hour, but I have no idea how she got to that point. Instead of launching into a tirade about what I think about the subject, I've learned that I have to ask her a few questions to figure out how she came to that conclusion. Sometimes I find I agree and other times I find that asking her questions helps her think it through in a different way and she comes to a revised conclusion.

This search for clarity before responding has done wonders for our marriage.

Here's My Point

Most of the time we are all artfully vague about what we really mean. We delete words and phrases, verbs and nouns, and insert limitations that don't exist. The person we're speaking to distorts, generalizes and deletes things we've said to the point that it's a wonder we can communicate at all.

Take some time to analyze the murky, missing and misleading nouns, verbs and phrases in your communications. Take one of these clarity issues and ask the clarifying question every time you hear it. You'll be surprised what you learn.

Clarity leads to a sense of understanding that let's you make concise responses and rapid decisions that will accelerate your success at home and in business. Debug your discussions. It leads to insights and connections.

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