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The things that people actually say are often rather different from what they mean, equally parts of their story may be missing without them realising it.
The clarification technique helps communication to others and will often release problems and help the problem owner as well. The material below shows how important language analyses are, on the left are some common forms of language fuzziness, and on the right are some question for clarifying them.
Specific answers are requested in the questions, not only for clarifying the speaker’s own thoughts, but also preventing questioners imposing their own (possibly incorrect) interpretations on it.
Notice that these are powerful questions, and used insensitively they can feel like interrogation rather than help!
- Deletion: Where material has been completely omitted from the sentence
‘I’m inadequate’. To do what?
‘My thinking is better’. About what? Better than what
- Referential index deletion: A Place, person or thing is brought into the sentence but not specified
‘Thing get me down’. What things?
‘Something should be done about it? What should be done about what?
- Unspecified verbs: The verb is introduced but is not clarified
‘I can deal with it’. How, specifically?
‘I’m stuck’. How are you stuck?
- Nominalizations: Abstract nouns like ‘pride’, ‘respect’, ‘love’, ‘confidence’, are introduced. Though apparently important to the speaker, they do not have fixed, clear meanings
‘There is no respect here’. Who is not respecting whom? Respecting in what way?
‘Knowledge is most important’. Who knows what and in what way?
- Modal operators: Use of limiting words like ‘cant’, and ‘must’
‘I cant do anything right’. What prevents you?
‘You must go’. What might happen if I don’t?
- Lost perfomatives: A ‘should’ or ‘must’ statement that doesn’t state where its authority come from – e.g.‘People should know better’ (Who, exactly, says they should?)
- Generalisations and Universal quantifiers: Associating a whole class of experience with same meaning, e.g. ‘Staplers never work!’, ‘Ill never accept another sales trip again!’, ‘Everyone hats me!’.
- Presuppositions: Parts of a statement that must have some existence for the statement to be true or valid, e.g. ‘The manager tried to lie to me again’ presupposes a manager and past lying (Exactly when and in what circumstances did the manager lie to you in the past?).
- Causal modelling: Any cause-effect statement that will link two or more situations in a cause-effect fashion, e.g. ‘The printer breakdown was the reason for me being late with the draft’. (Is this the only possible explanation?)
- Mind reading: The speaker alleges to be privy to the internal states of others, e.g. ‘I know what you are thinking’, ‘and I think he is doing that because he wants the contract’. (What is the person actually thinking or wanting?)