Weasel Words – do they mean it? Do you mean it?

Cop our or weasel wordsThose cop-out or weasel words

In NLP we aim to be very thorough in how we communicate with people – and, especially, in how we understand them.

Because we want to get both their surface message and their underlying or real messages – it's the difference, sometimes, between what a person says and what they mean or feel.

For example, some people talk a great talk. And they can be very convincing. But they dream rather than do - because they don’t commit to things.

And some of us announce that we’ll do something but in a way which avoids real commitment - we have now commitment to do it.

The give-away clues

You can ‘hear’ what a person really feels if you listen for cop-out or weasel words such as might, maybe, I hope, with luck, possible, if I can, try, hopefully and so on.

For example, you can hear whether they are going to

  • Meet you next week… or ‘do their best’ to meet you
  • Finish this project on time… or ‘see if they can’ finish it
  • Complete that essay for school tomorrow… or ‘try and do it’
  • Make a big change in their life… or have a go at it.

What they say – and what they feel

The cop-out words or qualifiers are typically used unconsciously and indicate how the person is really feeling. Yet, because their use is so widespread (we all use them at times) we rarely pay attention to them.

So we don’t hear what the person is feeling.  Instead we take things at face value – instead verifying if there is real commitment.

For example, let’s say we have asked someone if they will deliver something on time.

They say: Yes, of course, I’ll aim to make every effort to deliver this on time if this is at all possible.

We hear: Yes, of course, I’ll deliver this on time

How come? Because we don’t listen to the cop-outs – and there are three of them:

I’ll aim to

Make every effort

If this is at all possible.

Listening for fluffy qualifiers is a useful skill

For parents: get a firm commitment that they will do the homework, clean the room, be home on time

Managers: get a firm commitment on what been agreed in the appraisal

Coaches: get a commitment from the client that they take action before the next session

Yourself: make a firm commitment to do rather than ‘aim to do’.

There is a Pegasus NLP Newsletter article on this topic here