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Talk Isn’t Cheap

The 4 Canons Of Speaking That Create vs Describe

Talk isn’t cheap; people are just cheap with their talk. 

People always love to talk about how actions speak louder than words. And yes, obviously, if you’re saying one thing and doing another, people will stop taking you seriously. 

However, talk is actually incredibly important. Without language, we would have very little to almost no access to experience. Reality in and of itself is created in language. And, no, I’m not talking about the fucking bullshit positive thinking where you just say happy shit and positive affirmations and your world shifts. In fact, that’s a very on-the-surface access of what goes much deeper.

I’m not even saying there’s anything wrong with thinking positively or using affirmations. If it makes a difference for you, use it when appropriate. However, that can become a new inauthentic technique to fix things, and it tends to be rather ineffective when it becomes the new coping mechanism to cover something up.

Language can be used to create and destroy. For instance, if you tell some 5-year-old that he’s stupid and surround him with people who also tell him that, he may eventually believe it and live his life under a context of being stupid or that there’s something wrong with him. 

Context, which is created in language, is for human beings as water is for fish. For the most part, human beings are blind to it. However, it’s the context we have for our lives that shapes our actions. 

There’s a TED talk given by the world-renowned coach Tony Robbins who talks about how when he was 11-years-old, his life was transformed. I want to share with you a quote from that talk that speaks to the power of context and how language impacts that:

“My life was touched because when I was 11-years-old, Thanksgiving, no money, no food, we were not going to starve, but my father was totally messed up, my mom was letting him know how bad he messed up, and somebody came to the door and delivered food. My father made three decisions, I know what they were, briefly. His focus was ‘This is charity. What does it mean? I’m worthless. What do I have to do? Leave my family,’ which he did. It was one of the most painful experiences of life. My three decisions gave me a different path. I set focus on ‘There’s food.’ What a concept! But this is what changed my life, shaped me as a human being. Somebody’s gift, I don’t even know who it is. My father always said, ‘No one gives a shit.’ And now somebody I don’t know, they’re not asking for anything, just giving us food, looking out for us. It made me believe this: that strangers care. And that made me decide if strangers care about me and my family, I care about them. I’m going to do something to make a difference. So when I was 17, I went out on Thanksgiving, it was my target for years to have enough money to feed two families. The most fun and moving thing I ever did in my life. Next year, I did four, then eight. I didn’t tell anybody what I was doing, I wasn’t doing it for brownie points. But after eight, I thought I could use some help. So I went out, got my friends involved, then I grew companies, got 11, and I built the foundation. 18 years later, I’m proud to tell you last year we fed 2 million people in 35 countries through our foundation. All during the holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, in different countries around the world.”

So what Tony shares here is brilliant. When he shares about his father—you could say his father had a context for himself in that situation that he was a failure. At some point in Tony’s father’s life, he made a decision that he was a failure or there was something wrong with him, or he could never do it right or something in that realm. I could guarantee you that wasn’t the first time he had a version of that in his life. On the contrary, Tony created a completely different context for the situation and used that context to be in the background for the actions in his life up to this day—one of being a contribution and being of service. 

While we can’t always control our circumstances, we can in each moment choose the context for our lives. For ourselves, for others, for every situation, and for our life on a macro-level. While that can occur as bullshit positive thinking, it’s actually quite real. 

Here’s a quick exercise if this isn’t real for you yet—for one week take on an empowering context for your life. This being theoretical makes no difference hence why I stress doing the work. It’s easy for this to be another nice sounding bumper sticker that doesn’t alter what’s possible for yourself in life. 

Here are some possible contexts to choose:

– Fun & Play

– Contribution

– Ease

– Making a difference

– Discipline & Focus

I could list 100 easily. The point is just pick something that aligns with you. If what shows up right now for you is resignation or cynicism take a look at what the context is for your life. If it’s something like I don’t make a difference and there’s something wrong with me and I need to fix myself—well, no empowering context would validate or fit into that worldview. When you can distinguish the stories you’ve created about yourself, others, your life, and the world around you (which are created in language!!!) they cease to occur as reality and then occur as something you made up. When you get that (and there’s never a “now I get it,” it’s a constant game of distinguishing shit we makeup and becoming free when we experience ourselves being disempowered in life which happens to anyone up to something big in life)—you become free of it. That’s a moment by moment phenomenon. The moment you start to tell yourself that everything is distinguished and you have no disempowering stories—then that can easily turn into the new inauthenticity. 

So I hope this starts to open up for you that while language occurs for many of us like something to describe the world it’s actually creating our world. If you don’t have much experience with this principle this can come off as a bit woo-woo or in the realm of a nice sounding bumper-sticker or theory. If that’s where you’re at, I strongly encourage you to get the most out of this, to really spend some time doing the work below and being totally okay where you’re at. For those of you who are experienced in this kind of thinking—then I hope this serves you as a reminder and a way to stay in this conversation. (It’s just a conversation created in language!)

So when we communicate using language, you could say there are three basic guidelines for effective communication. This is something that one of my friends and mentors, John King, co-author of the New York Times bestseller, “Tribal Leadership,” shared with me.

    1. Communication begins with listening and ends with speaking

    2. It’s not what you get out; it’s what you get in.

    3. You are responsible for what people are left with after you’re gone.

That third point doesn’t mean it’s your fault. But if you take the position that you’re responsible for what people are left with after you’re gone, then when you see someone not getting what your intention is or being left in a way that doesn’t leave them with what you intended, then it’s up to you to for them to get it. It’s not something I can tell you how to do. However, if you’re reading this and into personal growth and development than you’re already in the minority of people who are even interested in engaging in these kinds of conversations. These ideas aren’t for most people (at least not yet). So if you set your intention and make the commitment that you are responsible for what people are left with after you’re gone and create it as a matter of your own integrity (created in language vs. it being more cheap talk) then what will show up for you are possible actions you can take.

However, as John King would say, “there’s no such thing as failure, just correctable results.” When you find yourself out of integrity with point 3, remember, there’s nothing wrong and nothing to fix but simply just new actions to take. One common way that is appropriate is to simply acknowledge that it wasn’t your intention to leave them in any kind of disempowering space and apologize without invalidating yourself. 

An example of this would be something like: “hey I’m sorry that what I said left you feeling like X, it wasn’t my intention. My intention was to share with you Y out my commitment to Z.”

This compares to invalidating yourself which could sound something like this: “Oh my god…I’m so so so sorry…please don’t hate me…I feel so bad right now…am I ok? I’m such an idiot for saying that…I don’t know what I was thinking…please forgive me for saying the wrong thing.”

While language inherently creates, being able to distinguish that it creates gives you some power over what you’re creating as many people think they’re describing a situation when really they’re creating it.

There are 4 ways language is used to create. These are what are called the 4 canons of speech which is one of many principles and models John King created: 

Canon 1: Declaration

Declarations are the most powerful kind of statement we as human beings can make. Declarations can be shared standing in the presence of no evidence, support, or agreement. Think about Gandhi standing for peace in an environment that called for violence. Or Martin Luther King, Jr. sharing his dream which created a whole new future for African Americans in the United States or JFK declaring we were going to put a man on the moon. 

If these men had used “best practices,” “case studies,” or were looking to the past to best predict what would have happened in the future they would have found that Gandhi should have used arms, that Martin Luther King’s dream was not an accurate assessment of reality, and that JFK was delusional as he was saying something that was currently not in the realm of possibility for most people. 

Essentially, declaration statements that actually create futures for both yourself and/or others to step into, they take no proof or evidence, and it’s simply about creating a new possibility. Sharing declarations takes no empirical evidence as empirical evidence lives in the realm of probability, not possibility.

However, the world of probability is incredibly important as most people cannot hear declarations without some kind of probability or evidence.

That leads to Canon 2.

Canon 2: Assertion

Assertions are standing in the presence of looking to the past to predict a probable and almost certain future. Examples of assertion-based speaking show up in case studies, best practices, white papers, and tactics such as “underpromise-overdeliver.”

Before I continue to the third and fourth canon I want to make a few points:

Point 1.  Declarations are not any better than assertions or vice versa. Both can be used at appropriate times.

Point 2. If you want to take the love out of love—ask why. Think about that for a second. Love is a declaration. Something moves in a relationship between two people when you declare love for someone else and they experience love in that very moment. The moment you go into the trap called “why do you love me?” leads one to justify and come up with reasons for the experience you created, and before you know it, that experience degrades into the realm of belief and intellectual knowing and kills off the experience. Essentially, when we look for reasons or ask why, we undermine a declaration. Don’t take my word for it though.

Point 3. We live in an assertive or agreement reality; therefore, one needs to be responsible for the listening of the room (listen for the listening) in order to gauge what is appropriate to share that forwards the conversation and create something. When I say listening for the listening of the room, what I mean is to gauge intuitively what can be heard and can’t be heard in any given environment.

Point 4. Create enough evidence to warm up the listening in the room to be able to hear a declaration so it lands with people and they really get it (see above for three guidelines of effective speaking).

Canon 3: Requests

  1. Generated by a complaint
  1. The effectiveness of mastery is turning complaints into requests
    1. 2.1.“I get your complaint—what is your request?”
    2. 2.2.Turn a problem into an opportunity. Make a request of someone else vs. complaining about the situation
  2. Find Complaints
    1. 3.1.Complaints have very little value. Examples would be: “The American People are fed up with Hillary Clinton” or “The American People are fed up with Donald Trump.” In those examples, there’s no point of action. Compare this to “The American People are fed up with Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump and his/her point of view”…(and then identify an opportunity)
  3. Accept, Reject, Counter-Offer
    1. 4.1.Making a request of someone is not the same as making a demand of someone. When you make a request of someone, they have full freedom and space to say yes, no, or make a counteroffer to you. The more you come from this way of thinking, the more environments and situations you’ll create around you that leave others feeling freed up with their own Self-expression, and, you’ll end up being more effective in the process.

How requests fit into demands and invitations:

Requests create. 

Here’s an example:

“I request you have this done by July 13th at 9 am.” 

The pitfalls with requests are when they are disguised as demands.

I’m sure we all know that boss that makes requests but you really have no choice to say no or make a counteroffer. That’s a demand disguised as a request and it’s nasty and inauthentic. 

Demands are not necessary in life. I know for some people that may cause some internal resistance. If you’re someone who makes a lot of demands of others and feels the need to constantly control—then I would especially encourage you to spend two weeks giving up all demands. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you’re willing to take that on.

Then there are invitations.

Invitations are a bit lighter in how they feel. They aren’t necessary either. However, they have helped me a lot in my own training and development. 

By default, I’m a push in life. I have a habit of forcing outcomes. I push to make things happen. It gets in the way and people can be left feeling suffocated or feel a lack of freedom around me. My requests can sometimes occur as demands to others even when they’re not. It’s something I need to constantly be responsible for and also clean up when someone feels disempowered or experiences a lack of freedom around me as that’s never the intent. 

If you’re someone who has a naturally dominant personality and is successful in life and up to big things perhaps you’re a natural push too. If you’re a natural pull then making requests may actually take some muscle and you’ll have the opposite problem! 

For you pushers out there like me, your requests can often land with others as demands.

An exercise that worked for me was to spend a few weeks only making invitations. This felt incredibly counter-intuitive. However, it made a huge difference in experientially learning how to let things happen and be naturally pulled my way. It allowed me to tame down my forceful personality without feeling like I was diminishing my own Self-expression or hiding myself in any way. After just a few weeks, my requests became much more effective. 

That’s all I have to say about that. Take from it what works for you.

Canon 4: Promises

If you asked most people the question: “who is responsible for the fulfillment of a promise?” they would usually say the other person. However, a much more effective point of view (not the truth) is to come from a place that you are the one accountable for the fulfillment of another person’s promise to you. 

If you’re the CEO of an organization, then an even more powerful place to come from is to actually take the view that you are responsible for the fulfillment of promises from employee to employee and creating and fostering a culture of integrity. Here is one simple thing that I will commonly share with another when they promise me something or become accountable to me. I will ask them a question along the lines of: “Do you need anything from me to support you in keeping that promise/accountability?”

This creates space for them to see what they can put in place with my support to help fulfill on their word. It also enhances the experience of partnership. It’s not that people don’t want to ask for help even though that is sometimes the case. Instead, that question can often get someone thinking about actions they could take around building support structures that they wouldn’t even have thought to take in the first place.

So remember a few things:

  • Talk isn’t cheap. People are cheap with their talk
  • The three principles of effective communication
  • The 4 canons of speech
  • Don’t let your speaking devolve into inauthentic positive thinking

Have life be of your design and you’re the artist! Language is your paintbrush. You’re either creating or destroying. You either have language or language has you. That’s your choice in each moment.

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