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Using neutral language April 16, 2008

Posted by Vincent in Assertiveness, Business coaching, Celebrity coaching, Coaching in general, Conflict resolution, Executive Coaching, Life Coaching, NLP, Team coaching, Uncategorized.

I have recently been coaching someone for whom, after a number of ‘slow-to-get-going’ coaching sessions the penny suddenly dropped. The ‘penny’ I am referring to is an awareness of the effectiveness of using neutral language.

She explained what this had opened up for her.

She had, for many years, avoided what she called ‘bland’ language deeming it to be ‘wooly’ and non-comittal. She replaced it with blaming and confronting language or descriptive language distorted by ‘big’ words like “always”, “never”, “every” “must” and “all”. 

She habitually took a cynical and sarcastic stance. Not only that, she was harshly judgemental about anyone who used ‘bland language’ with her.

BUT… she also had a history of getting herself into conflicts, causing frictions and divisions, and, most recently had run very close to being severely disciplined by her employer. She also lived alone and had a long history of unsuccessful relationships. Despite this she failed to either see or accept that her communication style may have any bearing on this; apart from a dismissive and wry-smile accompanied admission of suffering from ‘foot-in-mouth’ syndrome. There was also an air of inevitability about this lasting as long as shed does!

So, after a number of roller-coaster coaching sessions, I was beginning to make noises that perhaps the coaching relationship was not working – I would often feel frustrated at her lack of engagement and ability to ‘call it a day’ as soon as she was required to involve herself in any analysis or reflection. At this point she said that although she’d always ‘despised’ bland language, the way I had modelled it, consistently even when under provocation, she started to realise it as a virtue and also saw how it could help her to change her relationships with others. She felt she could use it to continue to make her own point of view known – BUT – without causing a negative response.

So what is this so-called neutral language? It is where the focus of the conversation is on the ISSUE and not PERSONAL.

Neutral language allows people to discuss ‘undiscussables’ whilst maintaining dignity and respect for each other

It is a combination of the key principles of assertiveness and NLP’s ‘Meta Model’ and ‘reframing’.  Here are the main points I draw from in taking this approach:

  1. Maintain or enhance self esteem – I really believe people should feel at the least the same about themselves at the end of an interaction as they did at the beginning. Where appropriate, they should be helped to feel better about themselves. (Applies to me too!)
  2. Provide support without removing responsibility (more potent than it may appear)
  3. Listen and respond with empathy (working in THEIR model of the world)
  4. Use language that is precise. (Replace deleted words or people)
  5. Avoid using and clarify generalisations from others (same word + different people = potentially different meaning)
  6. Use ‘outcomes’ not ‘blame’
  7. Avoid distorting meaning by being specific (avoid using ‘big’ words ALL, EVERY, etc and indicators of necessity (SHOULD, MUST, COULD, MUST NOT etc)
  8. Avoid confrontation by replacing “WHY?” with a ‘What’ variant and “Even though…” instead of “BUT”
  9. Share my thoughts, feelings and RATIONALE (“And I say that because…”)

I thank DDI Ltd for intoducing me to the KEY PRINCIPLES.


1. More on using neutral language « Morpheus Coaching - October 2, 2009

[…] October 2, 2009 Posted by Vincent in Uncategorized. trackback In an earlier post https://m0rpheus.wordpress.com/2008/04/16/using-neutral-language/ I described the impact of neutral language on a coaching relationship. This has been my most […]

2. Pozycjonowanie - December 7, 2010

This is aninstructiveblog and a truly revelation.

3. brak szkolenia bhp - December 17, 2010

worthwhile point. I am going to be checking out other pages to learn a bit more.

4. Johnd113 - May 7, 2014

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Vincent - May 29, 2014

Hi John, yes of course use any ideas you want to. It is nice to share ideas.

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