Many of the best counselors, therapists and coaches I know are people who are able to use langauge effectively. However, not everyone knows the impact of language, so I’ll expound on this idea for a moment here.
Language has a surface structure and a deep structure. The surface structure is basically what we know as “syntax” or the rules of sentence formation. However, the deep structure of our experience is neither rule-based nor structured. If I said “Tall, tanned women purr seductively” we can make some sense out of it, and we can say that this is a properly well structured sentence. There’s a lot of meaning in there too!
But if I use Noam Chomsky’s famous “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously”, it basically follows the same darned sentence structure, but there’s no real semantic meaning here anymore. However, from a figurative standpoint, you could make certain deductions about that statement.
Why is this so important to know?
Well, we typically take for granted our knowledge. If you said “The cat jumped off the table” you must mean that there was a cat on the table at first and there was a table. But nowhere in that statement is there any indication what type of cat or table (deletion), or what setting this is taking place in.
Similarly, the structure of the sentence “She made me depressed” has missing information. As a mental health practitioner in Singapore, I often teach mental health practitioners how to focus on the nature and structure of the statement rather than the content of the statement itself. After all, we are focusing on moving the client toward health rather than away from illness.
The main thing remains true – if I can uncover the deep structure of a person’s language, I have a much richer universe of knowledge about the client’s world. Technically, then, counseling or therapy is nothing more than just a very well-structured conversation.
If you want to coach someone effectively, you should learn a little more about the language we use. Did you know, for instance, that statements mentioned by someone reflect their inner beliefs? If you are doing nothing but listening to content, you might well forget that people are exposing their beliefs and values in their spoken statements. As a coach, I can then identify limitations in their thinking and unleash their greater potential.
Sometimes, it may be difficult to create changes in people, but with the right kinds of skills such as reframing, you’re doing nothing more than allowing your client to open up pathways of possibility in their minds, thereby allowing them to gain greater awareness and once they are mindful of the mental roadblocks in their head, they can navigate better toward their goals and outcomes.