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Institute of Semantic Restructuring

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Semantic Restructuring is the pursuit of enlightenment, enlivenment, empowerment through the creative re-arranging of the building blocks of meaning. For a better description, Start Here.

Handbook of Semantic Restructuring


This project is what tech folks would call "pre-alpha."


Semantic Restructuring defies normal methods of definition, partly because of its relationship to the work of Dr. Alfred Korzybski, who wrote compellingly about the dangers of the normal methods of definition. Semantic Restructuring owes as much to the fiction of Robert A. Heinlein as it does to the models of John Grinder and Richard Bandler. It is is an inter-disciplinary hybrid distillation of the work of people such as Korsybski, Chomsky and Bateson, who were researcher/theorists, and people such as Perls, Satir and Erickson, who were pioneering clinicians. As such Semantic Restructuring remains controversial and inaccessible to those unable to let go of the Western empirical epistemology; this does not diminish its practical value when used for these same people to evoke prfound behavioral change.


Milton Erickson, MD. used to suggest to his students that they engage in all manner of curious activities for the ostensible purpose of changing their perceptions, response patterns, behaviors and lives. One such exercise was to take some novel in which the student had some interest and to read the last chapter of that novel. After reading the last chapter of the book the student was to take some time and ponder what must have come in the immediately preceding chapter, to try and imagine back through time to the beginning of the story. Then, having read and pondered the last chapter, the student would proceed backwards through the entire book, speculating at length after reading chapter n exactly what might have happened in chapter n-1. Milton might even have suggested this method as training for solving "whodunit" mysteries.

Any text is a whodunit of sorts. There is the question of why this item was omitted while that was included. There is the curiosity provoked by wondering about the sequencing of what is included. This handbook is no exception. The reader is encouraged to speculate, even attempt to second guess the author's reasoning and intended outcomes for the content and syntax of this text.

When talking about the skill sets that are part of Semantic Restructuring this handbook will usually assume a two-person communication scenario, with one person using Semantic Restructuring skill sets designated as the worker, the speaker, the operator, or simply "you", in contrast with the person being worked on, the listener, the subject, or simply "they/them".

Some History

In the beginning there was religion. Many of the techniques taught in various systems today were originally developed in some fashion by the ancient Hindus. Raja yoga overtly claims that all the phenomena of hypnosis is really the result of inadvertently tapping into prana. Of course modern inquirers frequently pass off the phenomena of Hindu mystics and others as having inadvertently tapped into hypnotic states.

Semantic Restructuring declines to argue about which is real, which is inadvertently tapping into the other. Instead, the it seeks that which works in both, what is common to both, what is possibly superfluous in terms of eliciting the desired results. Rather than paying homage to any single master or teacher, Semantic Restructuring seeks the wisdom and skill of all and any persons with wisdom or skill.

In the early nineteen-thirties Dr. Alfred Korzybski wrote his classic work on General Semantics, " Science and Sanity." Korzybski's previous book, "Manhood of Humanity", described human culture as evolving in a Lamarckian fashion. Korzybski referred to this as man's ability to operate in a "time binding" fashion. In further pursuit of using this time-binding nature, which is the primary thing claimed by Korzybski to separate us from other animals, Korzybski pointed out that human culture does not progress as it might largely in part because of the failing to acknowledge that what most people take for reality is actually only a representation of reality, a subtle but powerful distinction. Korzybski envisioned the development of a language which, by conforming in structure more closely to "reality", would result in perceptions and behaviors which would be more "sane", which would allow the culture to evolve in a manner in keeping with the growth of our ability to destroy ourselves and others, possibly averting the re-occurrence of such tragedies as Nazi Germany and Hiroshima.

The most banal and over-worked quote from Korzybski's work is

The map is not the territory

The full implications of this one sentence are beyond the scope of any one mind; it is an invitation to notice that what makes up the fabric of one's knowledge is no more than a guide. When this quote is offered as a quick quip to invoke an obscure author there is a great tragedy. This is the sense in which it is banal and over-worked. Yet for simple power per syllable it is a worthy rival or "thou art that", and worthy of equal contemplation.

This criminally brief introduction of Korzybski's work sets the stage for similar treatment of other forbears of Semantic Restructuring. Noam Chomsky, a linguist of the nineteen-fifties, postulated that for every sentence a person utters there is at an unconscious level a fully grammatical sentence from which the spoken sentence was derived. Gregory Bateson offered many cogent observations about the nature of thought and behavior, contributing the fruits of his observations as an ethologist for those who would emulate his genius. Bateson's most famous work may well be his theory of the double-bind and its relationship to schizophrenia. It was through Bateson that luminaries such as Jay Haley and Paul Watzlawick came into close contact with the work of Milton Erickson, and there is much of Haley and Watzalwick in Semantic Restructuring.

To give credit where it is due, we must turn for a moment to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (N-LP). Originally Neuro-Linguistic Programming, the brainchild of John Grinder and Richard Bandler, was a promising effort to use Chomsky's notions of grammar as a model for what makes therapy work. Sadly, N-LP has become largely the purview of snake oil hucksters who "sell" you the power to walk on hot coals or seduce that hot blonde in under 30 seconds.

John Grinder was a linguistics Professor at U.C. Santa Cruz, where Richard Bandler was doing under-graduate work. Bandler was utilizing a university option which permitted under-graduates to hold seminars. Bandler's seminars primarily explored, via attendee participation, various forms of self awareness techniques, modeled largely on the work of Perls and Satir. (A wonderful source-book for these exercises is "Awareness" by Steve Andreas (formerly John O. Stevens)). Grinder's initial role was as academic supervisor for these seminars. But together Grinder and Bandler developed the material for their first book, "The Structure of Magic, Vol. 1". This first book related consistent questioning and information gathering techniques of Perls and Satir to Chomsky's Transformational Grammar. John and Richard state the rest of the body of N-LP was developed primarily by using this questioning technique and interpreting a person's responses literally. When asking a formerly phobic client how s/he had resolved their phobia, the client might respond by saying "Well, first I followed the phobic feeling back to my past, to the first time I ever had it. Then its like I floated up out of my body and looked down below at my body and at the picture of what I actually saw the first time..." Rather than interpreting such statements as being metaphorical, Grinder and Bandler accepted them as valid reports of the client's actual subjective experience. At one point Grinder and Bandler defined N-LP as "the structure of subjective experience." Sadly, by that time all academic rigor had gone from the endeavor and it would soon be hijacked by the aforementioned self-help gurus.

Along with the langauge patterns Grinder and Bandler identified comes the notion of a reference structure. This is a simple enough idea, that the meaning or interpretation of an event will most often be informed by prior experiences. Put another way, we learn by what happens to us. In fact, this kind of learning is often faster and stronger than learning by words. Although this is a book, it is a book that reminds you how nice it is to know something and then find the words for it; that is a style of learning and teaching that is used to teach Semantic Restructuring. Its teaching systematically provides structured experiences aimed at the conscious and unconscious minds of the student to provide the foundation for discovering corresponding competencies and creativities in the student. However, you are reading a book, the next best thing is to read wisely and DO the exercises (@@) in this book until they indeed become second nature.

Modeling Principles

One way of thinking about Semantic Restructuring is that is is a model, or a map, or a representation. Semantic Restructuring is one of many models of how humans use models; a model about models is called a meta-modal. Semantic Restructuring is a meta-model, with a menu of options for influencing behavior by altering an individual's models.

Consider the following: Visible light represents only a small portion of the electro-magnetic spectrum. It is the only part we humans experience directly as vision. The rest of the spectrum is available to us only through the use of tools that translate the other parts of the spectrum into visible light. If the preceding description is accepted as valid (despite its grotesque oversimplification of technical matters), then it is equally valid to say that we directly sense or perceive information from only a similarly small portion of the world. Our senses filter out more than they bring in. Bats navigate by sounds which humans can't hear. Snakes do similarly by taste. Human ears, human tongues filter out this information.

The point is that what Westerners commonly refer to as reality --- the world of empirical evidence --- is only a map, model, or representation, of events. We don't see an apple, we see the light waves bouncing off the apple, and, for that matter, we only see a small portion of the light waves that are bouncing off the apple. We can't see the bottom until we turn it over, then we lose sight of the top. What we see is only a small portion of the light bouncing off an object at any given time; this has to suffice for us, but it isn't the whole thing. We mostly ignore this fact, that we only see little bits and that seeing doesn't convey flavor or smell or texture. We say we see the apple as if that was all there was to it, because it is awkward to go around saying, "I am experiencing a set of sensory experiences more or less in relationship to the thing I call an apple." Instead of talking that way, we take normal and customary shortcuts.

This problem comes up because our senses simply can't provide us with a complete map. For example, the facts of electromagnetic perception are analogous to having a map of Alaska showing land between 1,000 and 2,500 feet above sea level. That leaves out an awful lot of land. The relationship of the map to the real world might be wonderful for those parts listed on the map, but when you drop below 1,000 feet you are on your own (and good luck finding Anchorage.) But notice, just because Anchorage isn't on the map doesn't mean that Anchorage doesn't exist; it just means you will have to use something other than your map to get you there. And the point of this now over-extended metaphor is that vision is like a map of the world, and hearing another map, and smell still another. Each good in its place, and each even overlapping some with others, but in the end there is still an awful lot of what, for lack of a better word, we might as well call "reality" that our senses, and even the machines we can build to extend our senses, just can't map for us.

More bad news, not only are we stuck with this limited access to whatever reality might be, it turns out our behavior is limited or dictated by our maps or models of the world. These maps start with raw sensation at their base. Of all things or events that exist, there is a much smaller group which we can sense; call this sensible reality. Of all things that we can sense, there is a much smaller group which we do actually sense; call this experienced reality. Of our experiences there is a much smaller group which we can attend to with conscious awareness; call this perceived reality. Preceived reality, the part of experienced reality that we can bring into conscious awareness, is an incredibly limited thing.@@ Further, most people quickly confirm that much of the time conscious awareness is attending to previously stored perceptions. There is also an interplay between experienced reality and perceived reality. We might not be aware of certain sensory experiences at one moment, but when we think back we can still bring those sensations to mind, like when we suddenly become aware the refigerator compressor has turned off. When we suddenly notice the quiet we very easily recall the sound we hadn't been conscious of (most often because we were simply more involved in something other than listening to the various routine noises around us.) At any given moment our direct contact with reality is tenuous.. Instead we live in a world of perception, of representation.

Perception does not control reality. I'll say that again: Perception DOES NOT control, govern, create or in any other way make reality. Reality is what it is, whatever that may be. And we only have a small line on it. Perception does not govern reality, and if anyone tells you it does you probably ought to put your hand on your wallet.

Now that we have dismissed one of the most absurd, and abused, nonsensical claims ever to come out of a self-help seminar, let's look at what may be a more useful statement, with some notable similarities: Your perception of reality has a strong influence on your behavior. A good example is if you truly believe a thing is impossible you probably won't attempt it. In this case, "believe" is another way to say "perceive." What happens if you perceive a thing is impossible? You don't try it. If you perceive it is possible? You try. We will set aside the idea of correct and incorrect perceptions; for now take it for granted that perceptions can indeed be inaccurate.

This is not, repeat NOT the same as saying your belief is what makes it impossible. It might be perfectly possible. Take sailing around the globe. It was always possible. It's not as if the world really were flat until Columbus set sail. The world was always round (and, for the record, the ancient Greeks knew it) but because people believed it was flat they acted accordingly. Their belief didn't make the world flat, any more than Columbus's belief made the world round. But notice how these beliefs, these perceptions influenced behavior. Think of all the people who could have beat Columbus to the punch if only they had perceived the world differently.

Having offered a description of the relationship of reality to perception, it is valuable to state simply that a change of perception will affect behavior.

There are three basic principles which seem to govern how we make our models of the world. They are: Deletion, Generalization, Distortion. We delete more electromagnetic phenomena than we detect. Similarly, most people won't be able to taste the difference between a potato and an apple if they are sampled while nose plugged and eyes blindfolded. Our taste perceptions generalize. Any person familiar with the works of M.C. Escher has seen visual distortions where a two dimensional drawing suggests spatial relationship that are simply impossible in three dimensions. These are three powerful concepts to use when trying to make sense of another person's behavior; the other person's behavior will be understandable to the extent that we can delete what they delete, generalize what they generalize, and distort what they distort. This is a slightly more technical way of putting the old folk-wisdom addage, "To succeed in life you have to be able to see things from the other person's point of view." (Note that this addage applies both to making friends and besting enemies; being able to see the board from the other side's point of view is considered an essential skill in chess.)

Diagram of Reality-to-Behavior


What is, about which our knowledge is severly limited.


Our means of knowing reality. Western thought tends to think in terms of five senses, although modern physiology shows us the number is more like 17, assuming we lump all of olfaction (smell) into one group, despite each odor receptor being physically distinct from others. This refers to that part of reality that can be sensed.


Of the things that can be sensed, experience is the set of things that actually are sensed.


The subset of experience of which we are, or can become, consciously aware.

Linguisically Complete Representation

This idea comes from Chomsky, by way of Grinder and Bandler; it is basically the assumption that for every spoken or written sentence there is in the unconscious mind of the speaker/writer another sentence that is a complete and full version. This is one way of making sense from the observation that most of the time human speech isn't particularly grammatical, yet we all seem to understand each other an awful lot of the time.

In conjunction with this idea from Chomsky's Transformational Grammar, we add an analogous idea that there are clusters of perception/experience/sensation that form the reference structure, or context, or subtext, for a person's observable behavior.


Specifically, this is behavior that can be observed. Thinking is not an observable behavior (although the astute observer can indeed learn to spot valuable, observable manifestations of thinking, and exercises (@@) to develop such skills are part of this handbook.) Speaking, walking, pointing and other observable behaviors are considered to be a natural product of the current sensory environment (stimulation) and reference structures (programming.)

Model Driven Behavior

A person will behave in accordance with their experience, their maps of the world. These maps dictate that behaviors A-E are viable options when confronted with stimulus m and that behaviors F-L are not. A representation that dictates behavior in this fashion is called a reference structure. Reference structures can be thought of as being the experiences which compel us to build our general rules for how we behave. What ever basic injunctions, prohibitions, or behavioral menus we may have, they are reliant on certain combinations of sensation perceived at certain signal strengths. Semantic Restructuring includes studying how people generate their current reference structures and how to interact with people in ways that increase the number of reference structures they have available, either by guiding them through new experiences or helping change the rules of which existing structures can be accessed when. With variety in reference structure comes variety in behavior.

For spoken language the reference structure is the L.C.R.. One way of thinking about spoken language is as a very refined complex of motor skills. When these motor skills are mastered then highly sophisticated communications can ensue. This level of analysis permits us to equate spoken sentences with other motor skills. Just as the spoken sentence will alter with the adjustments of the L.C.R., so will the selection and performance of other motor skills alter with alterations in the perceptions which govern them. Herein lies our model of how "mere talk" can produce behavioral change.

This description is also the basis for one of the cardinal tenets of Semantic Restructuring. A person's behavior at a given moment is strictly a function of their reference structures. The most bizarre, distressful, unesthetic behaviors are expressions of what that person's map of the world dictates as most appropriate given the perceived circumstances. Thus, through the application of these principles we are granted a marvelous boon: Unconditional Positive Regard. Otherwise inexplicable behavior is now taken as evidence of differences between our models of the world and those of the person we are interacting with. And we have the ability to alter our and their models of the world, gaining behavioral change.

Models of Consciousness

Semantic Restructuring takes a very simple description of the phenomena casually referred to as "mind". For our purposes, mind is thought of as the sum of all the perceptions and experiences a person has formed in relation to all the sensations a person has encountered, and all patternings and correlations that a person has formed from those perceptions and experiences. Since this is not actually a handbook of philosophy book there will be little effort devoted to supporting this idea. Instead, we let it stand that this description is useful and elegant (i.e., uses the fewest necessary distinctions) for building a model that guides us in changing the perceptions underlying behavior, and thereby also changing behavior.

The first part of the Semantic Restructuring model of consciousness is that mind is simply the sum of perceptions and experiences, and the way they interrelate. The next piece to add is a differentiation between two types of perception, conscious and non-conscious. This definition is inspired by the work of George Miller, whose experimentation concluded that human awareness is capable of attending to 7(+or-2) "chunks" of perception at a given moment. This is Semantic Restructuring defines conscious mind: those perceptions which are currently "in" the 7(+or-2). Those that are not in the 7(+or-2) at a given moment are considered non-conscious. Do'nt be surprised if this definition is different than the one you are used to hearing. Casually accepted descriptions of mind, and even some officially sanctioned models of mind, are hotly debated; they are also mostly useless for the purposes of helping people evolve towards behavioral change. This is the state of affairs which the present work seeks to address.

Regarding Miller's use of the word chunk: The term is necessarily vague, because the event/object referred to is similarly undefined. A chunk of conscious awareness can be of variable size. This would seem to be the result of the processes of classification and symbol manipulation. Because of these processes a finite event—a mark on a piece of paper, as an example—can be used to represent an infinite event—the digits of pi, as an example. Thus, it would seem, instead of devoting the cognitive resources necessary to actually recall all the digits of pi, the mind is able to manipulate a symbol instead. The net result in terms of "consciousness" is that the conscious mind can be aware of 7 grains of sand, 7 beaches, 7 coasts, 7 continents, 7 planets, 7 solar systems, etc....

Semantic Restructuring nomenclature uses the word chunk to refer to the way a piece of information is grouped within a class or hierarchy. Answering the question "To what larger group does the item in consideration belong?" yields a chunk up or logical level shift up. Answering the question "What would constitute a more detailed example of the class which the item in consideration in question defines?" yields a chunk down or logical level shift down. Thus, to start with a thought of my car in my garage and proceed to think of all the cars I have owned would be considered a "chunk up" or a logical level shift up. To instead proceed by thinking of the Tercel in my garage as opposed to the Camry in my garage would be a "chunk down" or a logical level shift down. Classical taxonomy from high school biology is a well known example of a series of logical levels.

Another valuable concept for the Adept is the notion of the T.O.T.E.. This is an acronym for Test, Operate, Test, Exit, which is a way of describing specific behaviors. At one time the process known as shaking hands was a complex task to be learned. It required the coordination of muscles in precise timing with certain visual and tactile stimuli. The young child goes through the process of learning "how long" a hand shake is, and how to recognize when it is time to release based on certain signals sent by the hand shake partner. The learning child has to go through the steps of testing her/his ongoing experience in comparison with internal representa-tions, when the external and internal experience mismatch then the learning child engages some motor pattern—squeezing or shaking the other person's hand—and then tests again. The child will cycle through the steps test and operate until the internal and external experiences match sufficiently, where-upon the child will exit into another behavioral program. (Caveat: Don't let this model, which seems faintly mechanistic, trick you into thinking Semantic Restructuring takes a mechanistic view of what it means to be human. We are much more than what can be described in a formula. That doesn't mean formulae can't be valuable, even powerful, in the right time and place.)

One beauty of these two concepts, chunk and T.O.T.E. is the way they interact to describe the learning process. At the beginning of the learning experience the student must pay attention to small details which will occupy the entire field of conscious attention. At this stage of learning the student will likely be aware of all the steps of the T.O.T.E. involved. As the student becomes more proficient the entire T.O.T.E. becomes a single chunk of behavior. A nearly universal example is that of learning to drive a car. The individual tasks of coordinating visual information from outside the car with visual information from the instrument panel with the motor patterns for controlling the steering wheel, the motor patterns for accelerating, the motor patterns for braking, the motor patterns for clutching was a seemingly overwhelming task. At a later point many people learn to drive with almost no conscious awareness, so much so that they may even comment, "I can't believe I'm here already. I almost forgot I was even driving."

The chunk, the T.O.T.E., and the 7(+or-2) are concepts that will be referred to throughout the training. The student will be provided with exercises (@@) to provide experience with these conceptual tools, and is encouraged to spend whatever time necessary to become comfortable with them.


Semantic Restructuring includes a set of skills which increase the ease of and effectiveness with which you can communicate with others. Collectively these skills will be referred to as Rapport Skills.


What do we mean by Rapport? First there is the notion of avoiding conflict with you listener's model of the world. The inductive language patterns allow you to seem very precise while actually speaking in a manner which is devoid of content, causing your listener to fill in the blanks from their own model of the world. The deductive language patterns help you navigate someone else's model of the world with precision. Through it all you willfully stipulate that it is the client's "maps" which dictate the client's behavior. You apply Miller's law, which assumes that the utterances of a person are true and asks "What are they true of?" Descriptions of a client's subjective experience are to be taken as being literal. One strategy used to great success is to adopt the role of an actor or spy studying the client so as to skillfully impersonate the client. Ask questions such as "If I had to be you for the day, exactly how would I know that it is time to feel anxious? Exactly how would I have to feel inside? What would I notice on the outside?"

Exploring and matching the client's model of the world happens in a variety of ways. Another aspect of rapport is the notion of synchrony. At the cultural level there are things we do to be "in step" with the society. For example, in India one belches after eating to give praise for the food. Societal expectations dictate what we call Macro-Rapport. "Dress for Success", charm schools, elocution lessons are all methods of attaining macro-rapport. Micro-Rapport relates to matching or synchronizing with individual behaviors of the client. This includes the verbal-conceptual matching of the client's model (Inductive and Deductive Language Patterns.) It also includes synchronizing with the nonverbal behaviors of the client. The handbook includes exercises (@@)to train you in the ability to effectively synchronize with the non-verbal behavior of others.

Semantic Restructuring Model of Language

When a person grows up speaking a given language, they are referred to as being a native speaker of that language. The primary difference between a native speaker a trained speaker is that the native speaker intuitively knows the rules of their language even if they can't express them explicitly. The trained speaker may have a profound command of the explicated rules of an acquired language, but might never replicate the intuitive level of mastery of those rules. Consider the following two sentences :

A native speaker of English will intuitively know without a doubt that the two sentences are completely opposite in meaning, even if they never had a day of grammar in school.

Semantic Restructuring leans heavily on two views of a fairly small and simple set of language patterns. The first view of, or approach to, language patterns lets you seem precise and meaningful while actually speaking in a way which requires the client to provide meaning from their own models of the world. These are the Inductive Language Patterns. The second view of, or approach to, language patterns are to recognized this set of patterns in the verbalizations of others, and let this prompt you to systematically question the other person in a fashion which will cause their representations to be updated in useful ways. These are the Deductive Language Patterns. Using these two sets of patterns you can structure your communication in a way that maximizes overlap with the client's map of the world. This overlap decreases resistance and protects the psychic integrity of the client, preventing imposition of your values and beliefs onto the other person.

Sensory Representation

Although modern physiology shows us we have at least 17 structurally different sensory organs or structures, it's still easiest to say that at the level of sensation we have five systems of representation: Seeing, Hearing, Feeling, Tasting, and Smelling. Most of us can use any or all of our senses at any given moment, but we also, most of us, end up being more comfortable with one kind of sensory infomation than others. In times of stress it is not unusual to find we've shut down to just the one system we most comfortable with. This can be a big problem, because each sensory system reports on portions of the world which the others can't. Similarly, each sense carries the ability to trigger resources which the others can't. There are some tasks that are almost impossible to solve with one type of sensory information, but which solve very rapidly when worked in the proper mode. For example, an allergist must develop highly refined visual perception to aid in proper diagnosis. Trying to diagnose a rash by listening to it is obviously futile. The student is encouraged to generate examples of sensory-system-to-task relationships for each of the systems.

The notions of process and content become relevant here. Frequently the only thing you need to do with Semantic Restructuring to help a situation evolve towards some specific outcome is to help participants select and utilize the sensory systems most appropriate to the given tasks. Oft times the content can be almost ignored, because instead you work to change how the client senses things, rather than worrying about exactly what they are paying attention to with their senses.

When people speak, especially when they describe internal processes, they frequently use terms which presuppose the use of a certain sensory mode. With Semantic Restructuring you train yourself to take these terms at face value. When someone describes the way they came to some decision as, "I just looked over the options and really looked at them from all sides and then zoomed in on the right one", Semantic Restructuring teaches you to assume the client literally experienced internal visualization as part of making the decision. Below you will find lists of words or phrases which presuppose certain sensory processing. Each list is titled with sense which it presupposes. Of special interest are the non-sensory referring words. Some are simply non-referring, and as such have no annotation next to them. Some potentially presuppose two or more systems and only context and non-verbal cues from the "client" will let you know which system is being referred to. Practices using each of these lists until you can use any of the words or phrases easily and naturally. None of the lists are exhaustive. When you have mastered using the words on the lists you should try to add to them whatever words and or phrases you encounter.

Once you are competent in each sensory vocabulary, then a simple but powerful option for establishing rapport is available: Use the same types of sensory predicates as the person you are speaking with. This will vary in value in direct proportion with the tendency for a given person to speak exclusively in one mode. The person who is only using one set of predicates is the person most likely to be incapable (at that time) of processing information from other systems. With your refined ability to match predicates, you have the ability to "speak the other person's language", thereby increasing rapport.

Words and Phrases that Presuppose Given Sensory System Processing

spectacle discussjoinflavorarrange(S,F)

Reality Gap and Common Ambiguity

Most of the time we pretty much understand both what we hear and what we say. But at the same time we are pretty much overlooking all the different things that could be meant with the same words in the same order, whether we're doing the hearing or the saying.

Learning to keep track of the different ways a given word is used is important in Semantic Restructuring, both for the words you use and the words being used by others. Remembering the slippery way a small set of words can have many different meanings is a very important part of the attitudinal or conceptual side of Semantic Restructuring because overlooking or dismissing ambiguity is a large source of confusion and conflict amongst and between people. As simple a word as romance can be fraught with peril. Both parties in a couple may agree that there should be more romance in the relationship. But if one is using the word romance to stand for the various non-sexual actions involved with courtship and the other is using the word romance to stand for foreplay and intercourse, then the more each tries to proceed with what they have agreed to the more each will perceive the other as breaking the agreement. We call this a reality gap, in the sense that the sights and sounds and feelings represented by the word romance, which is to say the perceived realities represented by the word romance, for any two people, or even one person at given times, can be tremendously different from each other. This isn't only true in love relationships. Business, educational, and social interactions all fall victim to these gaps in perceived reality which can divide us when we assume we know what a word or sentence means. The handbook has exercises (@@) and procedures for dealing with ambiguities, both spotting them and even knowing when and how to use them helpfully. That is a concrete, learnable skill. But underlying the skill must be either a mistrust of what we think we know, or a celebration of all the different things a word or sentence could mean. These accomplish much the same thing, although I suggest the second way is a more pleasant way to see the world. Either way, the goal is not to abolish ambiguity; it would be impossible. As long as language (and indeed all learning) is built on generalization then there will be ambiguity. If you think about it, ambiguity and generalization are heads and tails of the same coin. no desire to eliminate these terms from speech, only to recognize the potential gaps in perceived reality that ambiguities can herald. As you learn to recognize what seems like inexplicable behavior you become more sensitive to ambiguity and reality gaps. This is a very valuable clue to the differences in world maps which produce the behavior in question.

Satir Categories: Introduction to Ethology

ethology n:

the branch of zoology that studies the behavior of animals in their natural habitats

ethnology n:

the branch of anthropology that deals with the division of humankind into races and with their origins and distribution and distinctive characteristics

Easy terms to confuse. Semantic Restructuring owes an awful lot to both sciences, but for now focus on the first one, the observing of animals in their natural environment. You might even wonder if the ethnology isn't a subset of ethology (but don't say that to an anthropologist.) The issue at stake here is observation, and the assumptions we bring about the things we are observing. The ethologist simply tends to observe more, to assume less, and that is a good way to approach Semantic Restructuring. Observe more, assume less.

This is easier said than done, especially when the animals being observed are those strange and wonderful primates, h. sapiens, and the natural habitats in question include any social grouping since the taming of fire. It is terribly hard to abondon, or even momentarily set aside our assumptions, to let go all the things we already know about people when we start the process of observing people. It's hard to see what we're normally trained to ignore. But we can learn.

In this learning process we will, as always, build on what has gone before. Just remember, as you learn some of what follows, the time will come when your perceptions are acute and refined enough to move on to subtler, harder to verbalize distinctions. What this handbook offers is a very basic, beginning set of things to look for, as a way of setting you on the path for looking. That is because Semantic Restructuring is about seeing the world differently as much as it is about playing with words. And this "seeing the world differently" isn't some vague, mystical idea; it is a literal, willful act, as much so as bending over to look at the world upside down and framed by your legs, or closing one eye. You can learn to see the world differently, and it is of great value being able to shift between different ways of looking.[1] What follows is just a start.

Virginia Satir was a successful and well known family therapist. Specifically, she was a social worker. This means her approach to helping people was vastly different from the way a psycho-analyst would go about things. Social work, understandably , often deals with very concrete issues, such as where to place a child after being removed from an abusive home.

Satir observed people. This handbook starts you on the path of observing people by sharing some of Satir's observations. Based on her experience as a therapist, Satir noted that in stressful situations many people fall into one of three styles of communicating. We call these three styles of communicating "Satir Stances," or "Satir Modes."

The first thing to keep in mind is that the three stances are not theoretical, they are VISIBLE. That is the whole point of this section, learning new ways to see. The second thing to keep in mind is that these three stances are ways people communicate, they are not diagnoses or descriptions of people. To repeat, the stances are descriptions of way people communicate. It is fine and good to say, "Yesterday during the meeting Paul was showing signs of what Satir would call a placater stance." It is not fine, or good, to say "Paul is a placater."[2] This is a very important distinction to keep in mind, one that will come up again later in reference to other material.

With the help of written descriptions and illustrations (@@), you will learn to spot when people have taken on one of these three ways of communicating. As you learn to spot Satir stances, you will also learn ways of dealing with people based on how they are communicating (@@)[3]. When you think in terms of Satir stances you are actually practicing two valuable skills: learning to see differently and learning to let this new way of seeing influence what you do and how you do it.

The names of the three stances are Blamer, Computer, Placater. These three stances or modes are about how people say things, not what they actually say. As an example, the words, "I love you and my life is sweet when you are near", can be said in a whisper, in a melody, or in a shout. Likewise, they can be delivered in any of the three Satir stances. The handbook will include exercises (@@) to help you practice adopting each of the stances and also to learn how to communicate from within each stance. Also there are exercises (@@) in recognizing and responding to each stance. It is vital to keep in mind that these stances are labels for how people send messages, and may have little or no relationship to the message being sent.

We will start with the Blamer stance. Visible signs of the extreme Blamer stance include tension in the neck and shoulders, pointing index finger, hand on hip, flush face, bulging eyes, shallow and rapid breathing. In addition to the visible aspects of the Blamer stance, the person communicating in Blamer will frequently make statements that claim cause and effect relationships between the actions of others and the "Blamer's" responses. A person communicating in Blamer stance will use words like always, never, every, only--quantifiers which claim universality. (@@)

The Placater stance is recognizable by its physiology as well. The Placater's body will approximate groveling, with hands palm up and cupped as if begging for something. The head will be tilted up, with the shoulders slightly rolled forward, and eye contact will be made with the placater's eyes below those of their communication partner if at all possible. The content of a person communicating in Placater stance will often include statements of mind-reading (claiming to know what another is thinking without specifying how this knowledge was obtained) and qualifying words (if, even, only, just).

The third category is called the Computer stance. The posture of the person communicating in the Computer stance is most noteworthy for being nearly motionless. Arms and legs will frequently touch each other or the body, and the spine will be rigidly erect. The Computer stance words will be as long and obscure as possible, will follow the "scientific" rule of omitting direct reference to people and things, and will contain intangibles words like frustration, understanding, stress, etc..

There are two other types of communication that Satir talks about in her system; Distracter and Leveler. Technically they are not separate examples of different patterns. The Distracter stance is a way of describing a person who rapidly shifts from one stance to another to another to another.... The Distracter stance will alternately evidence each of the other stances posturally and verbally. The final category, Leveler stance, is actually the absence of the other stances. The Leveler is communicating congruently, and their words and postures will be consistent with whatever messages are being communicated. All the stances are considered socially appropriate in some settings; but this is perhaps putting the cart before the horse. There are pathological situations where adopting one of these stances may well be one's best option. Universities favor Computer Stance. Football teams favor Blamers. And some people helpers favor Placaters. None of these generalazations are completely true, but they are true often enough to make the point that any and all of these stances can be adopted and even defined as normal, healthy, good. For our purposes Leveler is the only stance considered to be truly healthy, and a goal in therapy is to help people give up the main stances and learn to level. Having said that, Semantic Restrucutring includes knowing how (and when) to take on one of the styles of communicating; there are times when the ability to adopt a given stance can be valuable in helping the person you are working with shift their model of the world, and thus shift their behavior. Semantic Restructuring teaches you to match or mismatch the stance of the person with whom you are communicating as a way to acheive your desired outcome (@@) Choosing to match someon's Satir Stance might be a way to acheive micro-rapport. Mismatching would be an option for interrupting a someone's ongoing state prior to attempting to elicit another state. You will have ample opportunity to practice (@@) adopting the various stances and to explore the ramifications of doing so in various situations.


1.) For another approach to this idea of seeing differently try "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain," by Betty Edwards. This book contains exercises (@@) aimed not so much at teaching you to draw as teaching you to shift the way you are processing visual information.

2.) Yes, we all will slip and say things like, "Paul is a placater." And there is nothing wrong, really, with saying it that way...if what you mean is "I have seen Paul exhibit placater style behavior often enough that I would rather just use a verbal short-cut because this isn't an occasion that warrants giving a laundry list of my experiences supporting my statement." So, feel free, always to say things the way that make sense, as long as you don't fall into the the perceived reality gap, and as long as you don't forget that it's just a verbal shortcut.

3.) For now you mgiht take a look at incongruence in the ISR Glossary.

Email: rl (at) robertlink (dot) org.

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