Open Loops

Like many of the things he said back in the 80’s, Richard Bandler’s observation that people often use ‘just’ as a way of being unjust initially puzzled me. And, of course and as intended, it opened up a loop which my brain continued to puzzle at until I got my answer – weeks, or maybe it was months, later.

(How do I know it was intended? Because the Open Loops process is a standard NLP process for eliciting a deeper level of learning. And we use the process in our own Pegasus NLP training programmes. The Open Loops process is very interesting and was wonderfully highlighted by Bluma Zeigarnik back in the 1920s.  But that’s another story… and it’s also an Open Loop…)

So what’s wrong with ‘just’

What about the tiny little word ‘just? Well, in and of itself, there’s nothing actually wrong with it. However it can have an unuseful impact on people depending on when, where and how it’s used.

And, along with its equally potent friend ‘only’, ‘just’ can be used quite unjustly, quite sneakily and as a way of undermining.

For example:

  • I’m just trying to help you
  • I’m only saying this for your own good
  • I’d just like to give you some feedback..!
  • If you’d just listen to some common sense
  • It’s just that you never…
  • It’s just that you always…
  • Now you’re just trying to be nice…!
  • If you’d only see it my way
  • If you’d just listen to reason
  • You’re just not up to the task, are you?
  • I’d just like to have a little chat with you – in my office!

Yes, they can be used constructively

Very few words, in and of themselves, are bad. Their meaning and their impact dependon how they are used and where they are used – and, of course, how they are received or interpreted by the recipient.

As effective communicators our responsibility is to recognise when something can be used usefully and when it can be used un-usefully, or destructively.

But I meant well

Sometimes we say things with the best of intentions but which are received negatively by the other person.  They feel hurt, or undermined, or put down, or got at.

And we become frustrated or even angry with them for misinterpreting our wonderfully idealistic intentions!

Yes, from an NLP perspective , if we didn’t intend them to have this negative response, it’s our responsibility to do something about this. It’s not good enough to ‘mean well’.

One of our fundamental principles is ‘the meaning of your communication is the response you get’. In Plain English this simply means that your intentions aren’t important – what is important is how people respond to you.

And if they are not responding to you as you’d wish them to respond then it’s your responsibility to change how you are communicating. Yes, I know it’s probably quite unfair as a principle, but it’s the price you pay if you want to be an effective communicator.

So what about just and only

These two words are often used as a ploy to quite sneakily put people off their guard. So that we can put them down or undermine them, in the knowledge that they are unlikely to recognise what we are doing.

Because we’re ‘just trying to help’ it puts them at ease.

Because we’re ‘only giving feedback’ they assume our intentions are honourable.

I mean, how can you possibly take issue with somebody who is just trying to help you., Or who is only giving you feedback?

Action points

Read through the list at the beginning of this article and consider times when you’ve been on the receiving end of such statements – how did you feel afterwards?

Now, for a week or two listen to how often people use these two little words – and recognise when they are being used justly – and when they are being used to insidiously undermine.

Scroll to Top