Life Coaching and Personal Coaching The Crucial Role of Words on Our Health

We have slowly, but progressively learned that in the fields of physical and mental health, it makes for sense and sanity to restore the mind-body split of western science and medicine. Increasingly, we are discovering more of the systemic connections between what we do with our Life Coaching clients and how we talk to them.

As we enter the new century and millennium, medical interventions and technologies have provided us incredible advances in the healing arts. We now have tools and methodologies for interventions that verge on the miraculous. And yet these technological improvements so dazzle and amaze us that we can easily forget about some other equally miraculous things. Namely, those that occur in the domain of the human neuro-linguistics and neuro-semantics and how they play a crucial role in the healing arts.

We (the authors) have joined to write this paper in order to refresh our memory and thinking about the entire mind-body system and the marvelous human technologies available to us.

The Hard and Soft Stuff of the Human Experience

Near the beginning of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud highlighted the importance of language as a neuro-linguistic process and technology. In those primitive beginnings, he discovered that how our minds and bodies responded to the power of language. In searching for the words to express his incredible insight that language can have upon human experience, Freud (1935) chose to describe it in terms of “magic.”

“Words and magic were in the beginning one and the same thing, and even today words retain much of their magical power. By words one of us can give another the greatest happiness or bring about utter despair; by words the teacher imparts his knowledge to his student; by words the orator sweeps his audience with him and determines its judgments and decisions. Words call forth emotions and are universally the means by which we influence our fellow creature. Therefore let us not despise the use of words in psychotherapy.” (pp. 21-22)

A few years later, another giant of the twentieth century, although one whose influence has been far less extensive, wrote about the same dynamics. In doing so, however, he used his knowledge of engineering and neurology to express his understandings. Founder of the field of General Semantics, Alfred Korzybski (1933/1994) expressed his genius in describing the neuro-linguistic nature of language. He related language processing to the abstracting functions of the nervous system and brain, and demonstrated throughout his masterful work, Science and Sanity, how the very structure and form of our languaging, symbolizing, or mapping of the territory was a metaphor for the function of the brain.

This enabled him to sort and separate the hard and soft stuff of human experience, or as we might say today, using computer technology as a metaphor the hardware and the software programs that govern the overall gestalt of human experiencing, emoting, relating, etc.

Using this construction, we now know that we are symbolic creatures. We live our lives not only within the structure of our bodies with all of their marvelous systems, but also within the constructs of our symbols, institutions, laws, and doctrinal systems. And, at the heart of all of our operations is language the product of our nervous system and the cerebral cortex functions at the sub-microscopic level in terms of bio-electrical impulses, neuro- transmitters, message carriers, the exchange of ions charges, etc.

Yet at a higher level of operation, the operating of cell assemblages in the higher cortices, we operate by symbols, representations, concepts, beliefs, understandings, etc. It is here that language provides us a neuro-linguistic (coaching) tool. By it we create phenomenological maps of reality and then use those maps to navigate through life. It is here that words and language and symbolization provides us a semantic (meaning) medium in which we live. It creates a neuro-linguistic environment one that we cannot escape from and yet one that inescapably effects and governs our lives, and our health.

We want to here focus on the significance of this neuro-linguistic environment, how it affects our well-being and functioning, and how we in the health professions can develop greater skill and insight in using it as a technology for healing.

Environments: External and Internal

That our well-being and health is related to the environments within which we live is so obvious that we hardly have to mention it. As biological organisms, where we live, what we experience in our immediate environment plays a very significant part of our lives. An equally impactful environment that we seldom consider, however, involves our neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic environment.

These terms refer to how our linguistics (words, language, the structure of our mental symbolization) and our semantics (meanings, higher level concepts, understandings and beliefs about ourselves, health, the world, etc.) not only operate at the immediate level of representation, but can become incorporated and instituted at higher levels. Words, language, and meaning, although strictly subjective, intra-psychic operations, can become externalised and made part of our actual, physical environment.

When we externalize our cognitive ideas, beliefs, understandings, paradigms, etc. into books, libraries, media, culture, rules, laws, etc., they begin to operate as a neuro-linguistic environment.

About this Korzybski (1933/1994) wrote:

“[Anthropology], at present, is used in a restricted sense to signify the animalistic natural history of man, disregarding the fact that the natural history of man must include factors non-existent in the animal world, but which are his natural functions, such as language and its structure, the building of his institutions, laws, doctrines, science and mathematics, which conditions his environment, his s.r. [semantic reactions], which, in turn, influence and determine his development.” (pp. 38-39)

Consider the impact of this structural understanding about the world we live in. As a symbolic class of life, we do not just live in the world of material things and forces. We also live in a symbolic world. We live in an environment that includes

“… language and its structure, the building of institutions, laws, doctrines, science and mathematics.”

Now, given this almost invisible environment of ideas, how does it affect us? What influence does it have upon our nervous system, how we function, and wellness or illness?

Given his time and place in history, Korzybski immediately applied this to the First World War.

“Take for instance, the example of the World War! Would the man in the trenches have endured all the horrors they had to live through if it had not been for words, and neurologically speaking, because of the conditional semantic reactions connected with words?” (p. 334)

It was the neuro-semantic environment that created the reality of that war, as well as every war since. Words lead to that momentous catastrophe that destroyed so many lives. Words also can lead to modern day stress and “mental and emotional breakdown.” Yet we seldom think about it in that way. We seldom realize that words and ideas can lead to such catastrophic consequences. And because we do not, we therefore seldom even consider the idea that the solution may totally involve gaining control over our language.

What explains this?

Our unawareness of this may simply arise from the fact that we are all born into a world of words. We grow and develop in a neuro-linguistic environment and then take it for granted. We then experience human life as we do by the words and concepts that we generate. It operates as our invisible environment. We live in this symbolic environment that affects our very neurology like the proverbial fish in the water.

Yet if we live in a sick and toxic neuro-linguistic environment, the very existence and structure of our language can make us ill. It can undermine our health. And yet, we now know that the very structure of our language can play a horrendous part in the genesis of the stresses that we suffer and endure. In recent years, the cognitive psychologies and therapies have identified numerous cognitive distortions that feed and foment a poisonous way of thinking and living along with the “cure” of exchanging the cognitive distortions for more healthy and accurate ways of mapping things out symbolically.

Life in an Invisible Neuro-Linguistic Environment

To compound the complexity and nature of our neuro-linguistic environment, Korzybski also noted that we tend to “read unconsciously into the world the structure of the language we use.” (p. 60).

How does this complicate things?

We then assume that our worlds are “real.” We confuse our words, our ideas, our way of talking with the territory and forget that they are but symbols, maps of the territory. When this happens, our capacity for adjusting to the territory and predicting how things works becomes hindered and limited. In that we become just a little less “sane.” We become “unsane” (to use the term invented by psychiatrist P.S. Graven). Today we use the term “neurotic” (full of nerves and nervous energy). And, with the use of more and more “unsane” words and maps, our neuro-linguistic, neuro-semantic environment becomes less and less sane … ordered, meaningful, significant. It fits the way things are with less and less accuracy. Yet as the mind-and-body attempts to adjust in such an environment, psychological “stress” increases which then creates more tensions and physical stress symptoms in the organism.

In a neuro-linguistic environment, we live, breathe, and have our being according to the frames set by the particular language we use. In other words, the very form and shape of our words and language formats and structures our “reality.” As we take it for granted, we give power to the ideas, beliefs, doctrines, etc.

Realizing this, Korzybski warned that many, if not most “human problems” arise from the structure of the language, from our neuro-linguistic environments, and that we needed to develop consciousness of our language and languaging in order to take control of this very powerful and “magic like” force. To that end he developed General Semantics and from that later came Neuro-Linguistic Programming (Bandler and Grinder, 1975), and even more currently, Neuro-Semantics®.

Each of these fields seek to create and provide more powerful linguistic tools so that people can take charge of their neuro-linguistic mapping. In this way, we can generate the kind of languaging and language environments that will promote health and well-being.

Languaging For Health

First we need to learn to make the distinction between map and territory. Korzybski wrote extensively about this:

“A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness. … If we reflect upon our language, we find that at best they must be considered only as maps. A word is not the object it represents…” (p. 58)

Upon making this distinction between these two levels, we next dis-identify and recognize the inherent unsanity in “the ‘is’ of identity.”

“… whatever we may say an object ‘is’, it is not because the statement is verbal, the facts are not.” (p. xxix)

“‘Whatever one might say ‘is’, it is not.’ Whatever we say belongs to the verbal level and not to the unspeakable objective levels.” (p. 409)

When we identify our words with the objective level, we confuse words and facts, language and actualities, and treat them as “the same in all respects.” This projects a false structure onto the world and disorients us in our adjustments to things. From this initial confusion, we have a powerful tendency to blame. Once we confuse a triggering stimuli with our neurological, emotional, and psychological responses, we then assume that the “cause” of our stress is “out there” and so we move into blaming. We fail to see our role and part in the process.

Yet the coping mechanism of blaming only increases the unsanity. The initial confusion of map and territory disorients us about the processes at work that generate our experiences. So we fail to adequately map the structure of the experience. Then, with the disorientation, and the mental map that “the problem” or “the source of the problem is the trigger out there, we try to make things better by accusing, judging, and blaming. Yet since we have little power to control things “out there,” we feel more and more insecure and dis-empowered. Attempting to adjust things in this way then increases the problem, especiallywhen we are “blaming” other people.”

To complicate things, we may then use another neuro-linguistic map, we may attempt to impose our rules, expectations, and desires on others by telling them what they “should” think, feel, or do. This, more often than not, does not work. And when it doesn’t, we make things even worse for ourselves (and them), by using another form of neuro-linguistic unsanity. We ask them “why” they won’t do what we “know” will improve their reality.

“Why not?”

“Why won’t you?”

Of course, what we then typically hear are lots of reasons, rationalizations, explanations, and history that supports and validates their refusal. Now they have become even more entrenched in their own neuro-linguistic environment. And we helped them. After all, we invited them to access all of the supporting frames as higher level states (meta-states) and that only solidified their resistance.

So we blame them some more!

And with that, we then solidify our own “Blame Frame” as our neuro-linguistic environment that gives meaning and significance to our experience.

Are Words Benign? Can They be Malignant?

We have provided this description of a common neuro-linguistic experience in order to highlight the power and neurological impact of words. So, what do you say if we now ask, “Are the words in the previous description benign?” Isn’t it clear that they are, of course, not? And what do you answer if we ask, “Could these words work in malignant and toxic ways?”

Given this, what can we do? How can we escape from them?

Does it not direct us to become conscious of our language and languaging, and the structuring that they create? Of course. Consciousness of our symbolizing empowers us to become mindful about our use of symbols and words. And that leads us to checking the usefulness, productiveness, and ecology of using shoulds, whys, etc.

Food For Thought

With this awareness of ourselves as neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic beings living in neuro-linguistic environments and handling the technology of language, what does this mean in terms of health?

* What does it imply for health professionals in terms of carrying out the tasks of providing health care?

* How can we create a more healthy and health-producing neuro-semantic for our patients?

* What words and terms promote good adjustment?

* What words and terms increase unsanity and illness?


Neuro-Semantics (The foundation of Meta Coaching) is a discipline about communication, about high quality and masterful communication skills. Arising from NLP and the cognitive-behavioral sciences, we have identified seven critical distinctions for unleashing your best communication skills and performance and for mobilizing the resources for becoming the most professional and masterful communicator that’s possible.

These seven critical distinctions are based the extended Meta-Model (see Communication Magic, 2000) and on the Meta-States Model. With them you have the ability to make seven distinctions that replicates those that every masterful communicator makes.

– What are these key distinctions?

– What do they signify?

– How does one learn the distinction so that it’s intuitive?

The Seven Critical Distinctions of a Masterful Communicator

“Genius” in every area involves making distinctions, making finer and the critical distinctions which others do not. In the area of being a professional communicator, this involves distinguishing between the following-

1) Map and Territory

2) Person and Behavior

3) Meaning and Response

4) Sensory and Evaluation information

5) Frame and Feeling

6) Exploring and Asserting (questioning and telling)

7) Current and Desired state

Now when a person (perhaps coaching themselves) can clearly make these distinctions and use these distinctions as governing frames in communicating, it eliminates the major communication diseases. Do you know about those diseases? These create tremendous dis-ease in the process of seeking to understand and work out negotiations. Ellis and Beck in Cognitive-Behavioral psychology describes these as the ways to make yourself and others miserable.

– Confusion of words with reality

– Mind-reading and hallucinating

– Judging, judgmentalism, exaggerating

– Emotionalizing: minimizing, maximizing

– Personalizing: over-identifying, defensiveness

– Blaming, accusations, insults.

– Distracting, changing the subject, refusing to focus.

By way of contrast, the seven critical distinctions create the foundation for those powerfully profound skills and states that facilitate the very best of communication. These include:

– Sensory awareness

– Ability to be present in to the moment and focus on the now

– Stepping back into an observing or witnessing state that facilitates objectivity

– Getting the ego out of the way to be as “clean” as possible ( a key Personal Coaching ability)

– Staying open and receptive to feedback

– Flexibility to adjust to real-time feedback and making on-course corrections

– Thinking systemically and recognizing leverage points

– Exploring curiously to discover what is

– Seeking clarity in problem-definition

– Solution-focus thinking in creating forward moving

– Suspending meaning so there can be true dia-logue


“The map is not the territory” summarises the common-sense wisdom that a map never is the territory it is designed to represent. The menu is not the meal; the sex manual is not love making; the photo is not the person. These are different phenomenon. They operate at different levels and in different dimensions.

So simple, yet so profound. So simple and yet so easy to forget. How and when do we forget it? When we think (and feel) that what we think (our mapping), what we perceive, what we believe in, what we value, what we identify with, etc. is what is real. That’s the delusion. Yet it never is; it cannot be. At best it can be a good, useful, and fairly accurate map about it.

But when we forget, we identify. We identify map and territory. What I think about something is real, is the final word, is absolute, is beyond question, is unquestionable, etc. And this describes the concrete thinker, the absolutist, the pulpit pounding pundit who has “the answers,” the guru who demands blind and unquestioning obedience, the fundamentalist in any and every system (Christian, Moslem, Liberal, Conservative, Political, etc.).

Map is all of the stuff inside, from the way the outside world impacts upon your senses and sense receptors (eyes, ears, skin, etc.). Map is all of the ideas, beliefs, understandings, feelings, memories, etc. that you create inside about. We do not deal with the world directly, but indirectly. We interface with the electromagnetic spectrum as mediated through our sense receptors, neuro-pathways, brain cortexes, beliefs, belief systems, etc. Territory is the outside world, all of the experiences, words, events, and happenings “out there.”

The masterful communicator knows that all of our mapping is fallible and is, at its highest development, still our best guess. He or she also knows that the value of a map lies in its usefulness, lies in it being able to provide us some navigational guidance as we move through the world and experiences. Does the map correspond well enough so that we can use it to direct our thoughts and actions? Does it facilitate me having the experiences I want to have? To achieve the things I want to accomplish?

How well do you recognize that all of your mental mapping about things is just that, a map? How much is this your frame of mind? How quick are you to explore and ask questions rather than go into “deity mode” of telling, demanding, or giving advice? How grounded is your recognition that your feelings are functions of your maps, not of the world? How intuitive have you driven in this distinction so that you recognize that any and every emotion is the difference between your map of the world and your experience in the world?

These are questions that help us benchmark where we are in our own development of making the map/territory distinction and meta-stating ourselves with this as a premise for moving through the world so that it becomes our in-knowing (intuition) as we communicate.


A person is not his or her behavior. What we do differs from what we are. In this, we are more than our behaviors. Our behaviors are expressions of our thinking and feeling, expressions of our states, understandings, skills, development, contexts, environment, and many other variables. In this our behaviors develop over time from incompetence (at the time of birth) to various degrees of competence and perhaps even mastery in a certain number of areas. Our behaviors at 2 years old, 13, 23, 37, or 65 are just behaviors and reflect our learning, aptitudes, discipline, interests, etc. at that time.

Our behaviors also are always and inevitably fallible. What we do is a function of how our aptitudes, talents, strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, and learnings come together in any given context and time to express ourselves. This is performance. It leads to achievements or to the lack of achievement. This is the area that we call self-confidence, confidence in what we can do, in our skills and competencies.

What we are, well that’s a very different question and dimension. What are we? We are a class of life that’s semantically governed. Without the kind of instincts that animals have, we have room to define what to do and how to be. We are not born knowing how to be, how to live, how to function. We have to learn; we get to learn. Using our mind to learn is the human instinct par excellence.

What else are we? We are a class of life that has the ability to reflect on ourselves and to create conceptual frames that we are a highly reflective beings who inevitably (and inescapably) reflect on ourselves, our states, our thoughts, our feelings, our experiences, our history, our future, our origin, our destiny, our values, our meanings. It is this reflexivity that gives us a special power, the power to transcend our state, our moment, ourselves, and to construct a whole set of frames, an entire matrix of frames.

This describes one of our biggest challenges in life-coping with our reflexive mind, managing that reflexive mind. The problem is that if we don’t manage our higher mind well, we can get into a spin. We can reflect back on ourselves with anger, fear, distress, worry, etc. and then reflect on our anger-at-our-self with more anger, fear, stress, shame, guilt, etc. Do that layer upon layer, and we can create self-sabotaging as our way of moving through the world.

Do that when you are simply trying to gather information as you communicate, and we can set ourselves and another into a spin. It depends on what we meta-state the other with. Meta-state self and/or other with suspicion, fear, anger, hate, judgment, etc. and watch communication become a fight, become distortion, become mis-understanding, become ugly and hurtful.

No wonder this person/behavior distinction is critical for becoming more professional as a communicator. I am more than my behavior; you are more than your behavior. Behavior is behavior and always fallible and therefore always game for correcting and adjusting. Talking about behavior is not talking about who we ultimately are. Yet, if we don’t make that distinction, we will feel that we ourselves are being attacked. And that will elicit defensiveness, judgment, yelling, closed-mindedness, self-righteousness, counter-attack, and escalating responses.

It is the person/behavior distinction that enables us to step into the state of being un-insultable so that we can defuse someone who has “lost it” and has become judgmental, blaming, accusing, etc. We become more professional and more masterful to the extent that we can manage our own state, stay focused on the issue and separate issue from person.


This distinction is best expressed in the NLP premise, “The meaning of your communication is the response you get, regardless of your intention.” And the rest of this premise is, “We never know what we have communicated. We never know what the other person ‘heard.’ It is only in the response of the other person that we can begin to discover what the other person ‘heard,’ the meanings that the other generated, and therefore the meaning that was inadvertently co-created (communication, the communing of meaning).”

Because Neuro-Semantic is about the meanings (semantics) that get communicated and programmed into our body (neurology) and the meanings that we then act out or perform, meaning is a phenomenon of the mind-body system. It does not exist outside in the world. In this, meaning is not externally real. It does not exist “out there.” You have never walked down the street and stubbled over some meaning that someone dropped. It’s not that kind of thing.

Meaning is a construct, a construct that occurs within a mind-body-emotion system, and a construct that only arises from how we link and associate things, and then reflexively apply to ourselves as our frame-of-reference or frame of meaning. So meaning is an inside thing; response is an outside thing. These differ radically as they occur in different dimensions.

That’s why a person’s response begins to give us some clue about the meanings that must exist in the other’s mind. So we explore further. What did you hear? What does that mean to you? And if we discover that the other has constructed meanings that we did not intent to transmit, we can ask if we can try again. “Sorry, that’s not what I was attempting to say. I’ll give it another try.”

This meaning/response distinction also means that another person’s response is not the same as the meanings you give to it. The other’s stressed tone of voice is just a response, what meanings we give to that is our meanings. It may correspond to the other’s meanings, it may not. If we don’t suspend our meanings, and if we don’t ask, we won’t know if we are just hallucinating.

When we automatically and quickly attribute meaning to the responses of others we are coming from our maps of the world and so we are hallucinating what it means to us. We are not communicating. We are not giving the other person a chance to transmit his or her meanings. We are jumping-to-conclusions and perhaps confusing map/territory and then assuming that the meanings we create is what the other is saying or doing. This is a great way to create confusions and distortions and to completely ruin relationships.

To avoid that we have to use the meaning/response distinction to our advantage and do one of the most challenging things for us meaning-makers to do, namely, suspend our meanings and explore with the other from the state of refusing to over-trust our meanings. This is what those most masterful at communicating do. They know that they don’t know. They know that the greatest seduction in the world is that of coming from our meaning constructs (our matrix) and seeing responses through our filters.

They also know that this is the formula for being blind and deaf to others. That’s why just witnessing responses and distinguishing responses from meaning is so important for staying in the game.


When I took my first NLP training with Richard Bandler, a refrain was repeated over and over. It went like this, “If you’re going to be a professional communicator, you have to distinguish sensory based information and evaluative based information. If you can’t do that, you will make a mess of the communication enterprise.” This was my first introduction to the Meta-Model that maps out how to sort out the inner mapping of a meaning-maker so that we can ask precision questions and meet the other person at his or her map of the world, instead of at our map.

Sensory data occurs as information and events impact our senses and sense receptors and at first is outside of our conscious awareness. By the time it comes into awareness, we have the “sense” of seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting that information and so we can representationally track that information to the movie screen of our mind. That’s when we begin to make our inner movies as we bring the world inside our mind and re-present it to ourselves. This also was the stroke of genius from NLP, that we think in the sensory languages of images, sounds, sensations, etc.

Yet all of this is very, very different from evaluative data. While both occur in the mind, we first make sensory representations and then we make evaluations about it. This is the meta-stating process of stepping back from ourselves, in our mind, and bringing other thoughts and feelings to it. In doing so, we abstract at a higher level as we draw conclusions, make generalizations, create distortions, make decisions, invent beliefs, set intentions, etc.

You can tell that you or another has jumped a logical level to the evaluative level if you cannot put the terms, words, phrases, or language on a table. We can put the referents of sensory words on the table, or in a chair, or in a wheelbarrow. Chair. Dog. Green grass. Man with large nose. But we cannot put the referents of evaluative language out on the table. Good, bad, brilliant, disappointing, rude, nice, mean, beautiful. As evaluations, these things are creatures of the mind.

This is where the Meta-Model comes in as a tool for creating specificity, precision, and clarity. We use the linguistic distinctions to bring our high level evaluations down to the representational screen. With the precision questions, we step back down from our matrix of invented reality and back into sensory life.

Yet this is the challenge. Most of us are so easily seduced and hypnotized by evaluative language and do not make the sensory/evaluative distinction. Someone says, “He’s mean. He blasted that waiter.” And we’re off hallucinating and inventing our meanings about what those non-specific words means. In this, there is no “meanness,” no “rudeness,” no “kindness,” no “hurtful,” “healing,” out there in the sensory world. These are words from the evaluative world of mind. And unless we ask, “What do you mean by this word?” “How do you know that it is this X?” we are not communicating, we are in a hypnotic trance or we are imposing our trance on others.

Whenever we accuse someone of being defensive, hypocritical, incongruent, loving, sensitive, intuitive, or ten-thousand other things, to be masterful at communicate we need to immediately feel the lack of precision, the inability to track those words directly to the theater of our mind, and begin to explore with Meta-Model questions. If we don’t, we will be seduced into a story. And to the extent we go into that trance, we are creating more and more mis-understandings and distortions, putting us further and further from clear communication.

Without this sensory/evaluative distinction we become poor communicators and great mind-readers. We can then even impose our judgments on others and never have a clue that that’s what we’re doing. With the best of intentions of trying to understand others, we are actually not seeing them at all, but seeing them through our filters. Our judgments then come out in a most subtle way, a way that may make it almost impossible for the other to push away those impositions.

That’s why the kindest and most compassionate thing we can do with our loved ones is to drill in this distinction between sensory/evaluative data so that we stop imposing our maps and judgments on them. Doing so is not a loving thing.


As the sensory/evaluative distinction occur inside us and differ at different levels of experience, so also the frame/feeling distinction. This is what makes both of these distinctions difficult to catch and takes training to develop this intuitive knowledge. They occur within and we can jump the levels in a nana second. In fact, if sensory/evaluative is tough to catch, the frame/feeling distinction is probably even more challenging.

Frame refers to our evaluative judgments, understandings, beliefs, decisions, history, values, criteria, and so on and it is from these higher frames in our matrix that create our feelings. Emotions as the “moving” (motion) “out” (ex-) of a response as our motor cortex is activated by our evaluations. That’s why an emotion is the difference between our mapping of the world and our experience of the world. We feel movement and motion in our bodies given the ideas, beliefs, and understandings in our mind in relation to how well do the ideas work in the outside world.

Frame and feelings relate systemically. Generally, our frames create our emotions. Yet the circular nature of a system with interactive elements means that our emotions also can influence and even create our frames. Yet they are different phenomenon. Feelings are mostly expressions of our frames. That’s why just because we feel something, that in itself is no reason to act on it and certainly not to obey it. The frame may be toxic, distorted, or wrong.

Feelings are mostly symptoms of our frames and indicate that we may need to update or change the frame or update and enhance our skills in relating to the world as we navigate some arena. And while symptoms are important as information signals, they differ from the cause, the frame. Because our emotions reflect the difference between our mapping and experiencing of the territory, all of them are right. They rightly weigh the difference. They are also relative, they are relative to the mapping and the experiencing. Yet because our mapping may be off and our neurology (health, skills, competencies, environment, etc.) may be off, emotions invite us to explore, to discover what’s creating the difference.

The danger is setting a frame of believing in our emotions and thinking we have to “be true to them.” That was the big mistake during the 1960s with the emotive therapies. They made emotion primary rather than secondary. An even bigger mistake is to assume that “if we feel something, that’s evidence and proof that something is real.” Believe that and you will become a slave of your emotions and every emotional experience will become so loaded semantically, that you can come to believe in all kinds of crazy things.

If we do that we can become more professional as a communicator. If we don’t, we can kiss it goodbye because we will personalize things, emotionalize (assume that we have to obey every feeling that we experience, and that if we feel something, it’s must be so), minimize, maximize, exaggerate, and be driven and tormented by other cognitive distortions.


When it comes to communicating, there are dozens upon dozens of things we can do with words. Yet the two major categories are exploring and asserting. We explore by asking questions, being curious, wondering, just witnessing so that we can seek first to understand. We assert by giving advice, telling, making definitive statements, feel certain, close the mind to other possibilities, and push our way through.

In the exploring/asserting differentiation, the second feels much more powerful. We feel powerful when we are taking a stand and asserting. We feel strong when we are telling someone something, giving advice, teaching, preaching, and informing. We are taking our model of the world, the maps and meanings we have created and we are imposing them on the other. And, true enough, there are times for this. There are situations in which we even get paid for this-as a lecturer at a University, a teacher in a classroom, a consultant with expert advice to offer, etc.

The other side of this distinction feels much weaker. When we are just asking questions, just exploring, seeking to gather information, and seeking to understand, we are coming from a place of openness and emptiness. We are not certain, not sure, not absolute, not definitive. And yet, questioning operates in the brain in a way that’s a hundred times more powerfully. This is due to the nature of the brain, it is “the ultimate answering machine.” Put a question to a brain and it has a compulsive need to come up with an answer! Place a question in a brain, especially one that it cannot answer, and the brain will primarily go into over-drive seeking an answer.

How different with a statement or advice. Because every brain already has answers, because we have already mapped out some meanings, the meanings as the ideas we literally “hold in mind,” also operate as a defense against contrary ideas. Because our minds like to know and has a vested interest in what we already know, it will automatically eliminate ideas that doesn’t fit. So to tell someone something that doesn’t have easy access in elicits the ego-defenses so that the ideas (even if they are great and brilliant ideas) can’t get in.

Obviously, in communicating, to commune meanings, to work through meanings (dia- “through,” logos, meaning), and to share and expand meanings, exploring and asking questions provides a tremendously more powerful approach. That’s why master coaches and communicators ask questions. Out of the gate they ask questions. They even ask questions about their questions. They explore meaning, significance, intention, etc. They assume little and massively explore. And when they assert, they can feel the difference.


The final distinction required for becoming more professional and masterful as a communicator is the current/desired state differentiation. This is the ability to look at ourselves and others and to recognize two temporal dimensions, now/then.

Current state asks such questions as: Where are we now? Where are you now? What’s currently going on? What are the challenges, problems, constraints, pros and cons, etc. of the current situation? This is the ability to be present, to come into the now, to acknowledge and accept whatever is for whatever it is without needing to defend, argue, rationalize, or use any other ego-defense mechanism. Obviously, to do this takes a lot of ego-strength-the strength to accept what is without caving in or going into a fight/flight type of response

Desire state is the other time dimension, the dimension of imagining, envisioning, and creating a future that we can then move to. We elicit this by asking, Where do we want to go? Where will we go if we don’t make a change? How will we get there? What’s involved in the journey? What resources do we need? What are the steps and stages along the way? How will we know when we get there?

In current state we need problem solving skills, and the ability to create a well-formed problem. Without that, we may be solving a pseudo-problem. Without that, we may be trying to work on a mere symptom, a paradox, or the wrong problem. In desired state we need to create a well-formed solution and to use the precision questions to clearly define what we want.

This distinction keeps problem and solution separate and empowers us to clearly define both so that we can think and communicate strategically as we develop the plans, tactics, and resources for making a dream come true. This distinction enables us to then synergize our away-from and toward motivational energies so that we build up a propulsion system and not suffer from a out-of-balance motivation strategy where we only are pushed by aversions or pulled by attractors.

Summary: Rising up to your highest Communication Excellence

– How well developed are these distinctions in your repertoire of communication frames?

– Which one of these master keys for communication are you best at?

– Which one of these master keys are you the weakest in?

– What plans do you have for learning and drilling them into your response style?

– What kind of Life or personal coaching have you had or will you have to unleash your potentials for masterful communicating?