That’s Like What?

The linguistic
In my book “Navigating The Ship of You” is a chapter
called The Iceberg of Language
(here in article form
In it I talk about Language in the metaphorical sense of an iceberg, with some language
above the water’s surface and a much larger amount below the surface.
Now the conscious language, the seen or aware language above
the surface, is verbal – it is the language we are not born with, but rather we
learn in the course of our lives.  The
other non-verbal languages are below the surface, out of conscious awareness.
These are the various languages of our senses.
Also below the surface is a rather misty, grey area of inner language that I
describe as the language of our Inner Self.
These below the surface languages are ones we are born with,
albeit in a rather raw form.
As we grow we learn and gain a knowledge of verbal language, and we enhance and
cultivate our ‘below the surface’ languages.
Yet here’s the thing – we use our knowledge of verbal
language as our preferred vehicle of making, retaining and communicating
Of course certain things mean so much more to us in a
non-verbal sense – the tender touch of a loved one, the sound of a beautiful
melody, the smell of a rose, the sight of a beautiful sunset, the taste of a lemon
– yet when we come to describe them, we use the vehicle of words.
When a baby cries, smiles or laughs it knows no words. It is
communicating what is felt, experienced, at the level of the language
of the Inner Self
by the means of the most immediate physical response
that comes to hand. As the baby becomes the infant, the toddler, it also starts
to utilise the sounds, and eventually the words, it has learned that mean
In the broadest sense, the growing child discovers a “code”
that makes communicating what it experiences, and what it feels, SIMPLER. And that interpretive code we
know is verbal language.
One of the things we get very good at, even from an early
age, is pattern recognition. It seems to be another of those inner capabilities
we are born with, and that we then fashion and nurture from a very raw sense
into something much more sophisticated. I would contend that it is part of our language
of the Inner Self
– the whole and wide ranging ability to perceive
something as being LIKE something
And out of that wide ranging ability – once we have learned enough verbal
language – comes our propensity for using metaphor in our pattern recognition
and its communication, both with ourselves and others.

That’s Like What
Recently I was interviewed by my good friend Judy Rees for
her Collaboration
series of podcasts. Whilst this was a pleasure and a privilege
in and of itself – it is always great to have lengthy chats with friends and
colleagues – of course there was a purpose to it all. And that was to explore,
in terms of collaborative functionality, how I deal with the teams I coach with
regards to their competitive performance.
Now, with Judy being “at the helm” so to speak, the
particular lingua franca of the
conversation involved her using Clean Language questions to elicit
my metaphorical representations; to facilitate in a directed way, a journey
through my metaphorical landscape.
Or – to put it another way – she used the linguistic lever
of Clean
to find out what was going on for me in my language
of the Inner Self
. And the most straightforward way to communicate with
that below-the-surface Inner language is metaphor. Metaphor – our verbally learned
means of representing one thing in terms of another, used below the level of
conscious awareness by a part of us that has been dealing with pattern
recognition since before our birth.
Now we use metaphor thousands of times all day and every day.
We use it in our outer conversations AND we use it in our conversations with
ourselves. In a way, the ratio of our outer usage to our inner usage, is also
like the iceberg – with the inner usage being below the surface and therefore
much more outside our awareness.
Now when we are present with any communication we are trying
– all the while – to make meaning of it. This can be listening to someone
talking in our own mother tongue, someone speaking in a foreign language, a
painting we are looking at, certain sounds or music, the taste or smell of
something, the time of day, where we are spatially, how we are being, etc etc. It
is all data we are endeavouring to make meaning of. As we know, part of the
meaning-making process is the question “Is it LIKE anything else I already know?”
And the very clever linguistic lever that makes Clean
Language so powerful is the way that that particular question is structured.
When I hear, “What’s that like?” I give myself a different interpretation
than if I hear it put as, “That’s like what?”
The juxtaposition of those three words, the position of the apostrophe, and the
presence or the lack of any tonal nuance, all go to make something completely
Think about when you go to get a copy of a key. The
key-cutter takes the original and matches it with a template key, and then cuts
the template key on the lathe to match the original. A simple process – yes –
and yet sometimes the new copy key will not fit the lock in the same way.
Sometimes, if the cutter has not been diligent enough, the new key will not
operate the lock at all.
And, in a similar way, “That’s like what?” seems to match
the lock to the language of the Inner Self in a much better way than “What’s
that like?”
could ever do.

Now the content and direction of my conversation with Judy
Rees was quite a fascinating journey of discovery for me, even though I have a
familiarity with Clean Language, how it functions and how powerful it is.
My familiarity, needless to say, has been with using it on
occasions with clients, or people I’m coaching. Sometimes, the revelations that
have emerged for clients have been extremely useful and for one – a young
student about to take his Common Entrance exams – quite life-changing.
I’ll allow you to come to your own conclusions from the
podcast, rather than reveal my own retrospective discoveries. You can access
the podcasts via the links below.