And yet we’re all guilty of doing the same thing, and most of the time you don’t even realise it.
My friend came to meet me from work, then took me out for a meal, and we ended up watching a film.
Now, read the scene over again once or twice, allowing mental pictures to form spontaneously.
In your mind’s eye, did you fill in any extra details for yourself? It is normal human nature to fill in details that help us to make sense of any communication. So you might have made some assumptions, or conjured up pictures about all sorts of things, for example:
- Is my friend male or female?
- What kind of a building do I work in?
- How did we travel?
- What kind of meal did we have?
- Did we go to a cinema, or watch a film at home?
- What film did we watch?
Almost everyone will fill in some details spontaneously, even to the point of believing their own “mind’s eye” version to be true. So if you made a picture of a female friend meeting me from a city centre office block in a black 4x4, taking me for a Chinese meal before watching a James Bond film on Netflix, then that will be your version of the “truth”.
You might even be prepared to swear that I had told you all those “facts”.
And yet someone else hearing the same scenario may believe that a male friend met me outside the university on a tandem and we cooked lasagne at my place before going out to a late-night, art-house film noir.
Your brain needs colour and pattern and imagery and sounds and feelings to make sense of anything that you feed into it. When that is missing, you will supply your own embellishments. The embellishments are what creates meaning, and so the embellished version becomes your understanding.
At the same time, your brain will delete anything that it doesn't recognise as being relevant. Whole chunks of your communication go missing.
So next time someone takes away a completely different “meaning” to the one that you intended – acknowledge that deletions and distortions are normal. If you want to reduce the risk of this happening, make sure that you add some pictures, sounds and feelings into your communication. You can help your listener to make sense of what you are saying, and to understand what you wanted to convey.
Do you want to learn about how we make deletions and distortions in communication, and ways to overcome these? Join us on our next NLP Diploma in Edinburgh.