The rush-hour train from London was crowded but I got a seat at a table in the noisy, smoky buffet section. (This was just before smoking in public places was outlawed in the UK).
So I was sitting there, listening to relaxing music in the headphones to drown out the noisy boozy office workers at the bar, and quietly reading my book when, out of the corner of my eye, I became aware of two male bellies beside the table – and addressing me.
Even above the music I could make out the plummy “Why aren’t you having fan?”
I looked up at my questioner. He and his laughing friend were standing over me, swaying to the motion of the train, each with glass of booze in one hand and cigarette in the other; a couple of sozzled Hooray Henrys on their way home from the City.
Jolted out of my concentration, I had no idea what he was asking about: although smoky the train wasn’t all that stuffy so I could see no need for a fan. I shrugged my shoulders, put the earplugs back in, and returned to my book. The Hooray Henry uttered a few more inane comments, and then he and his friend swayed off to rejoin their colleagues at the bar.
Later, while chatting about the incident at home, it dawned on me. “Why aren’t you having fan?” was Public School English for “Why aren’t you having fun?” Not having been to public school I’d completely missed the point of his question.
So, because of our ‘language difference’, it took me a couple of hours to recognise that my drunken friend was demonstrating an important NLP pattern. (In traditional NLP it’s usually called Complex Equivalence, although here at Pegasus NLP we use the Plain English Attaching Meaning, since this describes what is actually going on).
The pattern worked like this:
- In his view my public school acquaintance recognised that I wasn’t having fun.
- To him having fun meant lots of booze, lots of cigarettes, and sharing loud chatter/laughter with his peers.
- To him silently listening to music and reading meant that I was unhappy.
- He attached his meaning to my behaviour.
How it works
It’s a very common thinking pattern: we attach our meaning to other people’s behaviour like this:
- We observe somebody behaving in a certain way
- We decide: “If I were acting like that I’d be in this mood”
- Now we know what it is like to be them. Simple!
It’s so much easier than going to the trouble of actually asking them how they are, isn’t it… 🙂
And, not surprisingly, it causes lots of problems in our personal and working relationships!
My rules rule!
It’s very similar to the old “my rules for me, my rules for you” thing. Let’s look at a few examples::
- She laughs a lot – therefore she must be a happy person. (Could she be laughing to cover up other feelings?)
- He’s very quiet – he must be depressed. (Could he have an amazing imagination? Or be absorbed in planning things?)
- My colleagues never acknowledge me when I arrive at work – they hate me. (Could they be so intent on getting on with their work they hardly notice your arrival. Or, since you do not speak with them either, think you prefer to be left alone?)
- My team are great at their job – they never bother me with problems. (Could they be intimidated by you? Or quietly floundering in a mess?)
- They’re a very happy family – the children are so well-behaved. (Could there be another explanation for the children’s obedient behaviour?)
- She doesn’t love me – she never buys me flowers. (Does she know you want her to buy you flowers?)
- I didn’t finish that on time – I’m useless. (Let’s look at what occurred in the process – and see if that verdict is accurate.)
Jumping to (our own) conclusions
When you find that you or others are jumping to conclusions is this way recognise that it is lazy thinking. Rather than think things through, or actually ask people how they are, we decide we know what ‘s going on.
- Lots of parents do it – rather than take the time to engage with their children
- Lots of managers do it – rather than take the time to ask their team members what is going on for them
- Lots of teachers do it – rather than take the time to engage with the pupil
- Lots of people in relationships do it – ‘ I don’t need to ask; we’ve been together so long I can read him like a book!”
When we first learn this pattern it’s tempting to rush out and put the world to rights by questioning every single example of this type of verdict thinking!
This does not endear you to your friends or family.
I know I’ve tried it – briefly.
(Incidentally, the Attaching Meaning pattern is just one of the 13 patterns in the wonderful NLP Meta Model – which could really be called ‘How to recognise Fuzzy Thinking’.) The Meta Model is a great tool for gaining insight into what makes people tick and for improving our understanding of them.)