The Generative Power Of Language

January 6, 2016

Hi and welcome to this video. In this video I want to talk to you about the generative power of language. This is one of the techniques that I use with my coaching clients and this is developed from Ontological Coaching. And the idea behind this is that language not only has a descriptive element it also has a generative element. And by that I mean language has the power to create a “hoped for” future.

It is forward-oriented, it is future oriented and in some sense can give meaning and value to the situations, events and interactions that you have in life.

So let me back up here and give you an example. The way most of us use and the way—you know?—I’ve used language in the past has been historical, has been descriptive. We study history in school, we memorize facts, we learn facts, and we learn skills that help us in our career. That’s a wonderful use of the historical and descriptive use of language because it allows us to do something in the future. That’s reasonable to expect from skills but what about creating a future that has meaning and has value for you?

The Unique Observer You Are

And this is where we get into the generative power of language. You see that unique observer that we are, that being that looks up from your eyes, interprets all of the situations, all of the events, and all of the conversations he gets into.

And the power of language in this sense, to generate conversations, to have effective conversations, creates a future that has meaning and that has value for you. And how does it do that? Well because that being that you are, that unique observer that you are, interprets things, why not interpret it in such a way that opens up new possibilities within that conversation?

Your conversations that you engage in with your spouse, with your family, with your friends, your peers, your coworkers, with your community that- those conversations are based on past experiences with those individuals. And those past interactions may have given you a positive outcome, or they may have given you a negative outcome, or they may have mixed outcomes. Whatever the case you can use the power of language and the constituent speech acts to engage in new conversations that can be more satisfactory for you and that can be more satisfactory for the other participants in the conversation. How does this happen then you might ask.

The Power Of Language Through Speech Acts

It happens when you understand which of the speech acts that you’re using in your conversations.

  • Are you making a request for help?
  • Are you asking somebody to help you with something that you could not do?
  • Or are you offering service?
  • Are you being in service to another human being?

In either of those situations, offers and requests, you or the other parties in the conversation will make promises or take commitments to action that creates the desirable outcome. But what is that outcome and that’s where the magic happens, I think. That outcome is something only you can declare.

  • What is it that will give you satisfaction in that conversation?
  • What is it that will give the other party satisfaction in that conversation?

Until you know very specifically what that satisfaction is, you will not be able to derive satisfaction from the conversation. And because you won’t be able to derive satisfaction, you won’t be able to create that hope for future.

An Example Of Clarity Using Speech Acts

So let’s take an example of this. Let’s say you are going to meet your boss and you want a raise. It’s the new year and you’ve been there for X number of years or months or whatever it is and you’ve got more and more responsibilities. And you want to be appropriately compensated for that. So you go and talk to your boss. And what exactly are you can ask your boss?

  • Are you going to ask for more money?
  • Well, how much more?
  • How often do you want that?
  • And is this raise going to be for a period of two weeks, two months, two years?
  • What is it for?
  • What are the specifics of it?
  • If it’s going to be an increase in responsibilities, what are the responsibilities?
  • What specifically will you be asked to do?
  • What are the deadlines on those responsibilities?

Do you see the power of clarity within that? And within the speech acts those specifics are declarations, or they can be. They can also be assertions; things that can be measured. You know, if you wanted a raise, that probably means you have more responsibility.

  • What are those responsibilities?
  • Will you be able to do it in your current office situation or will you need a bigger office?
  • How much bigger?
  • Does it have to be quieter?
  • How much quieter?
  • What are the specifics of all of that?

When we use language in this way, when we use it as a generative tool, we are able to create something that has value for us.

Developing Effective Conversations

Going back to the example of talking with your boss. Your boss represents the organization. Your boss represents certain values that the organization has instilled. Your boss represents certain goals of the organization wants to achieve. You, when you’re in conversation with your boss, in some sense you are engaged in conversation with your boss of the human being. You are engaged, in some sense, with your boss as a representative of the organization. You’re engaged in conversation with your boss who also has certain conditions of satisfaction to meet within the organization. So it gets very complicated very fast.

But going back to all that what does it mean for you? How can you use that particular conversation to derive some sort of value, to derive some sort of meaning, so that you can have a hoped for future that you can generate?

Effective Conversations Include Non Verbal Communication Skills

Now in all of this I’ve only talked about the language bit. I haven’t touched upon the emotion, or the body, or the way you show up in conversation with your boss, or within the organization. Whatever the case may be understanding it intellectually, linguistically first, helps greatly because that’s the way we’ve been taught. That’s the way we’ve practised our learning.

Once you understand that intellectually, once you understand that in a way that makes sense for you, then you can bring in the other components of emotion, of the physiological stance, and how you’re actually going to show up into that conversation. And all of that is interpreted by that unique being that you are, that unique observer that looks up from your eyes.

I hope this is been helpful to give you a sense of the power, the generative power of language, in creating future interactions where you can create some sort of meaning you can create some sort of value for you. And once you can practise this, once you can practise the future orientation of language, you can use that as a reference point for past interactions. And then you can use that to move further and further along.

So once again, I hope that is been helpful for you. If you have comments or questions please share them below and I’ll get to them as soon as I can.

Take care of yourself, have a beautiful day and I’ll see you in the next video!

Bye-bye for now!