Self-Management in Difficult Situations

A programme of reflections and studies

by Laurence Cox MA


Dedicated to the memory

of my mentors,

Lawrence Inkster and George Doris.

Copyright ã 2000 Lawrence Cox.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system , or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher.

First printed in 2000.

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Why this book?

The Author's Varied Career





Chapter 1:
How Our Assumptions-Theories-Generalisations etc. Shape Our Actions

  • Our 'Attitudinal Set'
  • The Working Couple Example
  • Tracing Assumptions, Beliefs and Personal Values
  • Our 'Hidden Triggers'
  • The 'Thinking-Feeling' Combination
  • The Principle of Uncertainty
  • The 'Car Red Light' example *
Chapter 2:
Questioning Ourselves and Others ... Closely, Intently and Diplomatically
  • Avoid Talking Ourselves into Trouble
  • The 'Stolen Bicycle' Example
  • Questioning and Specificity
  • The School Report Example
  • The Paraplegic Example
  • Facing Change
  • *
Chapter 3:
Making Better Assessments
  • "Map-Territory" - The Geographic & Human Situations
  • Discriminating between 'Fact' and 'Assumption'
  • Self-Questioning
  • The Scientist's Map-Making
  • The Two Architects Example
  • Different Experts - Different Maps
  • The Medical Example
  • One Person Alone Can Change the Discussion 'Climate'*

Chapter 4:
'Fine Tuning' our Self-Talk

  • Our Nervous System
  • What we Talk About
  • Living with Change
  • Over-Generalisations in our Inner and Outer Dialogue
  • The Element of Uncertainty
  • Living with Uncertainty
  • Talking Ourselves into Trouble!
  • Using more Accurate Terms
  • *

Chapter 5:
Re-examining Our Assumptions, Interpretations and Conclusions, etc.

  • Jumping to Conclusions
  • The Spilt Wine Example
  • The Car's Red Light Example
  • The "Redundancy" Example
  • The "Diagnosed with Cancer" Example
  • Less-informed vs Better-informed.*

Chapter 6:
Conflicts, Disputes and How We Manage Them

  • The Stress of Conflicting Views
  • Distinguishing the Happening from the Wording
  • Pausing to Reflect
  • The Critiquing Process
  • Language Awareness
  • The "Management-Union Dispute" Example *
Chapter 7:
June: A Study in Personal Insight
  • The "June's Quest" Example*

Introduction to General-Semantics

  • Language as Shaper of Ideas
  • Ethical Considerations
  • World War I and General-Semantics*

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This booklet is generally oriented towards developing one's personal skills in settling disputes, managing stress and analysing conflict between people..

Based on aspects of psychology, anthropology, communication and general-semantics it concerns managing ourselves in our daily challenges. This may include problem solving, unravelling misunderstandings, setting realistic goals, etc.

Handling misunderstandings, disputes, conflicts, necessarily involves stress. Our effectiveness in dealing with them depends primarily on our ability to see them sufficiently clearly. That is, to assess them in sufficient depth.

An important aspect so often missed is the part that language plays in this. How the words we use TO OURSELVES affect us. How the words OTHERS DIRECT TO, OR AT, US affect us. How both of these can distort our perceptions.

While the facts of a difficult situation may be enough to evoke stress, this stress is very often magnified by the interpretations we make of the situation, or the talk we indulge in concerning it.

Much research has gone into this area. In this booklet I present what I believe to be important aspects of this research.


Readers who find this approach interesting will, I am sure, gain much more from a willingness to apply it. That is, to put at least some of its ideas into practice when relating to work associates, family members, friends, clients, people one meets, etc.

In my experience as a teacher/consultant, specialising in communication, I have found that rewards can be many and varied. They include increased skill in:

  •  assessing people
  •  analysing situations
  •  reaching understanding and agreement
  • Books and articles concerned with personal relations, human interaction, etc., cover a very wide area. This short presentation concerns self management and focuses on language use.
I believe this to be an important aspect which deserves more attention than it is often given.



What is required, more than anything else, is a willingness to practise and apply certain principles and techniques.

The reward of such willingness may be seen as two-fold:

  •  An increased freedom from reflex reactions which impede understanding and agreement.
  •  Increased skill in reading people and situations which, in the short run, and more
  • particularly in the long run, lead to more speedy, more satisfying decision making.

We mention the 'long run' because this small booklet can only be introductory to a very large field. This field consists of the meanings we give to people and situations -- and the interpretations we make on the basis of these meanings.

*For readers who wish to follow this approach in greater depth, the bibliography may be of considerable help.

However, my colleagues and I provide face-to-face training in seminars, small groups and individual consultations where the principles and methods contained in this booklet are dealt with at greater length.

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Why This Book ?

Some years ago I found myself involved in difficult situations which I could not solve. These included close family relationships, work relationships and choices regarding my career.

Having embarked on a journey of discovery, as indicated below, I now find that I can handle many difficult situations in more constructive ways, of which the following are examples:

* 1. Reflecting on many statements made by myself and others, and meditatively questioning the beliefs that might lie behind them.

* 2. Deciding how to respond to people who assess situations differently from the way I do.

* 3. Negotiating effectively with such people, avoiding unproductive argument.

* 4. Agreeing to disagree, if necessary, in a mutually satisfactory way.

* 5. Often reaching deeper levels of understanding.


How did all this start ?

On reflection, after the failure of my first marriage, I decided that communication had much to do with it.

In my reading I found the intriguing suggestion that before we can communicate effectively with others, we must learn to communicate effectively with ourselves.


I am Australian. Most of the books I was reading at the time were American. I learned that the University of Iowa was offering a correspondence course in what appeared to be a very effective method of assessing or evaluating situations, communicating within them and making decisions about them.


I completed this course, continued reading in this general area, and formed a small study group for mutual development and support within this field. This occurred while I was completing a Bachelor of Arts degree at Sydney University in which I majored in anthropology and later obtained a Master's degree.

These qualifications have enabled me to conduct communication classes for adult educational organisations or institutions.


In due course I attended an advanced seminar-workshop in the United States on effectively assessing situations and communicating about them, conducted by the Institute of General Semantics. This was an intensive day and night experience for almost two weeks. This seminar-workshop was a very valuable extension of my studies in anthropology and education at the University of Sydney. (An attempt to explain the meaning of the term "general-semantics" is made in the appendix of this publication).

While in America I learned of another Australian, Andrew Lohrey, who had undertaken general-semantics training in the United States, after which he had returned to Sydney. When I met him in Sydney he was completing his doctorate in language at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Andrew and I jointly formed the Australian General Semantics Society which has since become affiliated with the Institute in New Jersey, U.S.A.

The decision to write this book was a consequence of these events. It was the result of my gradual realisation of the importance of such aspects as:

* 1. That our perception of events is influenced by the words we use -- to others and ourselves.

* 2. That embedded in our language are ideas and beliefs which, in varying ways, mislead and channel us into arguments, false conclusions, conflicts, etc.

* 3. That very often this is a factor in stress, worry, even depression -- which could have been lessened or avoided by different wording.

* 4. Unfortunately the general community, at present, has very little understanding of these aspects.

I believe, in conclusion, that people need help and guidance in these matters. Remedies in the form of knowledge and techniques are available -- to which this book is an introduction.

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As a mature aged student I was awarded a Master's degree from the University of Sydney for a thesis on work satisfaction.

Gathering material, or researching for this degree, was very rewarding as it entailed working in small organisations in more than a dozen different capacities.

An additional (grade A) qualification in assessing difficult situations and communicating about them was awarded by the University of Iowa, U.S.A. This was a 2 year correspondence course focusing on linguistics and other aspects of communication including decision making, negotiating. and reaching agreement. The correspondence course was conducted by Professor Wendell Johnson, a psychologist.

I later consolidated this training by attending an intensive seminar-workshop in the United States over 11 days and nights. This seminar-workshop was conducted by a panel of professionals specialising in this field.

In Australia my practical experience has included:

* * Recording evidence in a Court of Petty Sessions.

* * Being secretary to a Commissioner in the Australian Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.

* * Summarising commercial law cases for a business magazine.

* * Observing and summarising discussions on inter-personal conflict in a psychiatric clinic.

* * Conducting adult educational courses and seminars on communicating effectively in ways that reduce stress and facilitate agreement.

Laurie Cox MA

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This partly explains statements in the two previous sections.

The idea of my writing something of this kind was first mooted in San Francisco in 1989. It was when I was in conversation with Paul Johnston and Russell Joyner, both executive members of the International Society for General-semantics, based in that city. The suggestion was that I should, after my return to Australia, write a correspondence course based on general-semantics to be used in both California and Australia. Over the years I changed this original plan, so that the project has now turned into a book. Russell Joyner has now unfortunately passed on, but I express my grateful thanks to my friend Paul for his continuing interest and express my regrets that Russell is no longer with us.

I am writing this foreword at the beginning of the year 2000. In the eleven years since that meeting in San Francisco, many friends and colleagues have been involved, giving me much support in this project. These friends and colleagues are in five countries -- Australia, the U.S.A., England, New Zealand and Canada. I give details of their valuable assistance in "Acknowledgments".

This book is based on a cross-disciplinary approach which spans both the social and the exact sciences. Examples of these are psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, communication theory, linguistics, ethics and applied scientific method. The system-discipline spanning these is called "general-semantics".

What is meant by 'general-semantics'?

This is not an easy term to understand. Hopefully the following chapters and the Appendix will make it more clear than I can describe it here. For now, suffice it to say that the term refers -- in part -- to the meanings we give to the situations we are involved in, and the remarks that we and others make accordingly. This includes the interpretations we make of the ever-changing situations, difficulties, patterns of living in which we find ourselves.

General-semantics is concerned with developing our intuitions-perceptions in these and other areas. It takes time - and effort - to develop our awareness and ability to manage ourselves in today's ever changing, and often difficult, circumstances.

The following paraphrasing of statements by two distinguished general-semantics authors may make the foregoing remarks more clear:

(1) General-semantics training develops accuracy and discrimination in

our thinking about situations;

our assessment or evaluation of them;

our talking about them.

(Professor Irving J. Lee of North Western University, Chicago U.S.A.,

in his book "Language Habits in Human Affairs" page xvii).

(2) General-semantics introduces techniques of enquiry which emphasise scientific

method as a useful tool in everyday living, that is, in assessing or evaluating

situations and the people in them.

(Professor Wendell Johnson of Iowa University, U.S.A.,

in his book "People in Quandaries" page vii).

To these remarks we add that application of general-semantic principles include negotiating skills, conflict and dispute resolution, communication between couples, within families and in the workplace. Its application can enhance one's skill in any occupation or profession. It is useful, also, in diplomatic negotiation.

As to this author's introduction to and use of general-semantics, I commenced by studying some of the books listed in the bibliography at the back of this book, after which I completed a two year correspondence course in it, conducted by Professor Wendell Johnson whom I have quoted above. After this I formed, in Sydney, Australia, successive study groups in general-semantics. In 1986, I found myself in England. There I met two general-semanticists who became my very close friends and colleagues. These were Lawrence Inkster and George Doris. They had both been to the United States for first hand training in general-semantics, and were well versed in it.

My relationships with Lawrence and George were developed by correspondence after my return to Australia in 1996 and cemented by my two further visits to England in 1988 and 1992. Sadly they both died in 1994, shortly before I was to visit them for a fourth time. They had been my mentors in the discipline since meeting them, and it is to their memory that I dedicate this book.

At their urging I went to the United States myself, for first hand training, in 1989. I completed an intensive eleven day residential seminar, and this was a decisive turning point for me.

On my return to Australia I met another general-semanticist who had been introduced to general-semantics some years previously and had spent some months in San Francisco, closely associated with the Society there. This was Andrew Lohrey. He and I became co-founders of what is now know as the Australian General Semantics Society. This Society is now in its tenth year of operation and meets twice monthly in Sydney.

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In expressing my sincere thanks to so many people, it seems necessary to record the co-operative efforts of HOW this book was written as distinct from WHY it was.

The first person whose help I must acknowledge is Gavan Callaghan of Sydney, a key member of the Australian General-semantics Society (usually referred to as "A.G.S."). In 1994, after making a number of very effective training models and diagrams, Gavan painstakingly produced several bound copies of a preliminary draft of the whole book which I had completed in that year. I sent a copy of this draft to a senior general-semanticist, Mrs Charlotte Schuchardt Read of New York. Charlotte sent it on to another senior general-semanticist whom, at that stage, I had not met. This was Dr. Bruce Kodish, of Baltimore, U.S.A. Charlotte asked Bruce to appraise, or evaluate, this preliminary draft in terms of its accuracy in presenting general-semantic principles or formulations.

Bruce wrote to me declaring the draft accurate in this sense, but recommending relatively minor changes. One might well think that this resulted in my making such changes and proceeding to publication, but this was not so. The next five years, 1995 to 1999, brought a series of major as well as minor changes. Additions took the form of further chapters and diagrams, which were made as I gained new perspectives and insights.

During that period, '95 to '99, Gavan continued to help in various ways. Now, however, another key member of our Australian General-semantics Society, Robert James of Canberra helped by using his personal computer to bring out successive drafts of the new chapters, together with changes in the then existing chapters. Robert did this in Canberra as he received my rough drafts from Sydney, 200 miles away. Like Gavan, Robert gave most generously of his time, resources and expertise, and I am most grateful to them both.

I must now mention a third very helpful person. This is Joan Holst M.B.E. of Kiama, New South Wales, Australia. One of Joan's professional tasks, pre-retirement, was to travel the globe visiting motels of an international chain, training staff in clear, concise communicating, spoken and written. She generously applied this skill -- again over this period of years, 1994 to 1999, improving by re-phrasing my successive drafts, changing my often ponderous language to the much clearer, more concise form in which I am now proud to present this final production. I am extremely grateful to Joan for this help which so well reinforces the work of Gavan and Robert.

I think it fair to say that my key helpers were Gavan, Robert and Joan. Others, however, have contributed both directly and indirectly.

In February '99 my wife Betty and I spent five days in Nelson, New Zealand, as guests of my friend and colleague, David Hewson. David is among the small number of g-s colleagues who had, by that time, completed the Advanced Training and Teacher Certification Program in the U.S.A. During our stay with him David and I reviewed and expanded the later chapters, and I am very grateful to David for this collaboration.

In September of that same year, 1999, Betty and I were guests, this time of John Russell in Melbourne, Australia. John is not a member of A.G.S., but is a social worker and co-founder of the Social Developers' Network of Australia, an organisation of which my wife and I am also members. Mainly from his social work perspective, John critiqued some of my diagrams and written summaries. His suggestions regarding diagrams were later developed by my architect son Graham after we returned to Sydney. The combined work of John and Graham now appears in the book for which I am also very grateful.

I would like also to express my appreciation of assistance given me over a long period by my old friend John Flint, retired Chief Librarian of Willoughby City Council (headquarters in Chatswood, Sydney). John's final assistance was during this year, 2000, when he re-framed some of my difficult expressions in chapter 5,

I would like to mention another long term fried, Ray Tucker, who, in the late 1970's, urged me to produce something of this nature.

Other members of our Australian General-semantics Society -- in addition to those mentioned above -- have also helped a great deal. Firstly in comments and suggestions made during our monthly meetings as a society, and secondly in personal conversations. These include Brett MacDonald, Phillip Anthony, Fred Kren, Gary Erickson and Barbara Boland.

I must also mention the whole hearted and generous help of my colleagues in the U.S.A.. Their names are too numerous to mention individually, so I will just refer to them as members of three general-semantic organisations, namely the Institute of General Semantics with its headquarters in New Jersey; the International Society for General Semantics based on San Francisco and the Mid-west General Semantics Society in Milwaukee. Members of these three organisations are spread throughout the United States, Canada and other parts of the world. I convey my sincere thanks for the help which so many of these members have given me over the years.

I would like to thank members of my own family. First my wife Betty for her continued love and support and practical help in reading drafts, proof reading and commenting on them. Then my daughter Judy for her interest and enthusiasm.

I also thank Sue Colthorpe, a close friend of Betty and myself, for her support in so many ways, including her expertise, as a professional librarian, in organising the library which was a bequest to us from England (as described elsewhere).

I would like, also, to express my gratitude to Doctor Harry Oxley of Canberra University, Australia, who was my supervisor during the 1980's for my Master's thesis on "Work Satisfaction in Small Organisations". I wrote this largely from a general-semantics perspective and thank Harry sincerely for his patience, interest and enthusiasm in entering a field which was new to him.

I am grateful also to two health professionals who helped me, over three decades, to understand some in-depth aspects of psychiatry and psychology, and which I have used, both directly and indirectly, in this book. They are Doctor Hugh Fraser, psychiatrist, of Sydney, now unfortunately deceased, and Doctor Zoltan Torey, psychologist, of Sydney, now of Newcastle and author of "The Crucible of Consciousness" (1999)

Finally, I am grateful to my many students in adult communication classes and study groups in Sydney where communication and stress factors were dealt with. I am grateful for the insights and clarifications which I personally gained from these students. I firmly believe that teaching is a two-way process, and so, like so many others, I am deeply grateful for the input of my students.

In conclusion, this is a story of a co-operative effort which I have been privileged to share with so many people, many of whom I cannot recall. Others are students in some of my previous courses and groups -- dating from 1980. These ex-students are so numerous that space does not permit naming them individually. I will simply express my deep appreciation of their responses, comments and interest.

In this sense I feel myself to be the recipient of multiple efforts for all of which I am deeply grateful.

Laurie Cox

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Self-Management in Difficult Situations


Chapter 1


How Our Assumptions-Theories-Generalisations etc.
Shape Our Actions


It can be demonstrated that we all carry around with us an 'attitudinal set' through which we FILTER what we see, hear, or otherwise register with our sensory receptors.

It can also be demonstrated that this attitudinal set is made up of assumptions, presuppositions, perceptions and generalisations, some of which we are aware of; many of which we are not aware of, having long forgotten how, or where, we first learned them.

My colleagues and I take the view that most of our attitudes and social behaviours have been 'learned' by us throughout life. In saying this we do not, of course, deny the existence of other innate behaviours.

We believe, however, that it is largely through our acquired set of assumptions, pre-suppositions, generalisations, etc., that we respond to what is going on around us.

This is dealt with more fully in later sections, but for now I can assert that we do not do anything, we do not say anything, without being guided TO SOME EXTENT by a set of assumptions, theories, generalisations of one kind or another, that we have already learned.

In other words, our assumptions, theories, generalisations etc., shape our interpretations from moment to moment. Unless we have been specially trained to observe this in ourselves, it is fair to say that we are not generally aware of the process.

In the language to be introduced in later chapters, our assumptions-theories-generalisations etc. SHAPE THE CONCLUSIONS WE DRAW from moment to moment.


This example is based on an American report, published I think in the 1940's. I have given it a fictional Australian setting in the 1990's. I believe it represents situations which commonly occur.

It concerns a husband's 'attitudinal set' which he PROJECTED on to financial arrangements with his wife.

For some years the husband had been earning, let us say, $700 a week. During this time his wife had been earning $500 a week. They loved each other, so they felt, and although they would have liked more money, were living happily together.

Then the situation changed. The wife got a new position which earned her close to $1,000 per week.

If one were to take what is commonly called "a common sense" view of this, one would probably say that they "should have been" quite content with this. Not so. The husband began finding faults in his wife in a way that he had not done before. He also started drinking excessively and coming home late. This all led to sexual dysfunction and things went from bad to worse.

They agreed to marriage counselling which, in their case, was successful. The husband was able to reflect on the counsellor's suggestion that he began to feel inferior when the wife's income exceeded his. The counsellor then led him to recognise that he had grown up with a set of assumptions-theories-generalisations including his view that as a man he 'SHOULD' be the 'strong' partner; 'in control' all the time. H could not reconcile this with the fact that his wife was suddenly earning considerably more than he was.

In the counselling experience over time, the husband was able to accept that his drinking-quarrelling behaviour was a consequence of his attitudinal set. WHEN HE CHANGED THIS SET, HIS BEHAVIOUR CHANGED.

The couple resumed living happily together. Although this may sound like the fictional "happy ending" to a love story, we have to say that such a change is possible, given applications of theory which will be presented later.

In the meantime, let us analyse the case a little further:


The couple became interested in "attitudinal set" as explained by the counsellor. At the counsellor's suggestion they read a couple of articles on how our assumptions-theories-generalisations affect our behaviour. They discussed the articles together and reflected on their own situation. They formed some guiding principles which might be termed a better 'attitudinal set'. That is, a better combination of assumptions- theories- generalisations etc.

In brief, they decided that:

1. As a couple they could possibly see themselves as a team; and that

2. With this new 'definition' of themselves, they could co-operate and work together;

and that

3. The wife's extra income could give them more scope for enjoyment.

Of course, accepting this set of assumptions-theories-generalisations necessarily meant the husband dropping his previous set.

In a later presentation we will describe how this kind of CHANGE OR SWITCH may be made, even by oneself without the help of a counsellor.

Many couples experience change and uncertainty in the workplace and in their personal lives. We believe that the ability to RECOGNISE long held assumptions theories, generalisations, and to SWITCH to other ways of looking at a situation is very important when life circumstances demand coping with difficulties.


As an introduction to bringing to awareness some of our personal values, beliefs, assumptions, etc., we submit the following assertions:



So many of our assumptions and theories are operating unconsciously within us, HIDDEN from our awareness.



To restate what has already been suggested:

If we recognise our hidden assumptions-theories-generalisations, then question them, we may change them to more accurate ones.

This statement is based on modern research concerning our activities and use of language.


I suggest that many of our reactions, such as anger, frustration or anxiety --- are 'triggered' by assumptions, pre-suppositions, generalisations and the like which we hold beneath the level of awareness.

Saline Beeches, a Sydney based counsellor, suggests viewing this process as something, or someone, "pushing one of our buttons".

Whether or not, when self-communicating, we use terms like 'assumptions', 'belief systems', 'buttons', or others, we suggest that 'THINKING' and 'FEELING' CANNOT IN REALITY BE SEPARATED.

A useful approach, suggested by Alfred Korzybski, is to consider them as joined together by a hyphen, viz:


That is to say, we cannot have 'thinking' without 'feeling' nor 'feeling' without 'thinking'.

We will return to this proposition later.

In the meantime let us consider a related aspect:


This term, also coined by Alfred Korzybski, may be a useful one with which to summarise our unconscious or semiconscious assumptions, theories, etc. If we lump these together under the term "hidden assumptions" we may be able to accept that:

TO CHANGE THE HIDDEN ASSUMPTION (or set of assumptions)




The general principle of 'UNCERTAINTY', can be very useful when 'tracking' our hidden assumptions. This important principle suggests that there is an element of doubt, uncertainty or probability in many of the conclusions we come to.

As part of the principle of uncertainty, there is also the suggestion that a situation NEVER REPEATS ITSELF EXACTLY.

This is to say that one situation may well have STRONG SIMILARITIES to a previous one, but is never exactly the same. The question is whether the SIMILARITIES outweigh the differences, or VICE-VERSA.

Alfred Korzybski generalised the principle of uncertainty to human affairs. The principle was originally formulated by Heisenberg as an application to physics.

To put in a nutshell the 'uncertainty factor' and 'hidden assumptions', we might refer to the field of RATIONAL-EMOTIVE therapy (or re-education) by Albert Ellis Ph.D. One of Ellis's key principles may be summarised as follow:


is not so much



How we PERCEIVE it;

How we TALK ABOUT it;

How we REACT to it.

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Self-Management in Difficult Situations

Chapter 2

Questioning Ourselves and Others Closely, Intently, Diplomatically

"The human being, it is said, is the only creature on earth that can talk itself into trouble"

Since we have evolved complex systems such as politics, economics, law, religion, family structures, languages, etc., common observation would tend to support this statement.

But how can we AVOID talking ourselves into trouble?

We suggest the use of QUESTIONING TO RE-DIRECT our thinking-feeling,

That is, we suggest, learning to question ourselves closely so as to bring out some of our own 'hidden' ideas, assumptions, personal values, etc.

And we can learn to question others skilfully, sympathetically, in a way that helps to bring out some of their assumptions.

The late Professor Wendell Johnson (previously mentioned) suggested that we should often ask ourselves three questions:

What does this person mean ?

How does he or she know?

What are the implications if their statement be true or false?

("Living With Change", Wendell Johnson, approx. 1970).

Having asked ourselves these questions, we may put them to the other person in different words. Of course the questions we put to the other person will depend on our assessment of that person and the situation. It will also depend on our questioning skill, in so far as we have developed it at that particular time.

The "Stolen" Bicycle

To illustrate this approach to questioning, originated by Professor Wendell Johnson, I summarise a case study provided by him:

At a dinner party a lady guest (let's call her Mrs. Jones) remarked that a family new to the neighbourhood had a young son who was a thief. This boy, said Mrs. Jones, had stolen a bicycle belonging to the son of a family long established in the neighbourhood.

"I was told we would have to watch them," said Mrs. Jones, "but I didn't think this meant stealing. We will all have to lock up carefully now."

Conversation around the dinner table turned to "What is the district coming to" etc. But another guest, Mrs. Hill, was doubtful.

Mrs Hill put some courteous, but carefully worded questions to Mrs. Jones, to establish:

How did Mrs. Jones know about this?

Had Mrs. Jones been involved personally ?

If somebody else had told Mrs. Jones, how did that person know?

Discussion around the table now took an exploratory turn. Everybody knew the well-established family whose son owned the bicycle. Someone suggested telephoning them. This was agreed to and the call made. It resulted in corrective information.

It appeared that the young owner of the bicycle had agreed to the new boy's request to borrow the bicycle for an errand. When the new boy rode off, the young owner called out:

"Hey Mum ... Tommy's just taken my bike!"

The mother took this as an accusation of theft. Later, however, the young bike owner admitted that he only wanted to create "some fun". The story as reported to neighbours omitted this important addition.


Though understandable, the first error was, of course, by the mother assuming theft. After that the story became distorted as it was told by one person to another, then to another.

But for the careful questioning of the second guest, Mrs. Hill, the dinner party would have been left with a false picture of the newly arrived family. Let us look briefly at Mrs. Hill's questioning style:

We assume that Mrs. Hill chose her words carefully and regulated her voice tone and facial expression so as not to appear accusing, or threatening, to Mrs. Jones, the guest who had told the story. We can also assume that Mrs. Hill deftly avoided being side tracked into a less important issue. In this way she kept the conversation focussed on the central question of accurate knowledge.

Mrs. Hill's questioning led to the phone call, which in turn led to uncovering the hidden assumption of theft. Everyone had been taking this assumption as fact.

So often, it is very hard to distinguish assumption from fact.

For this reason, we very often find it useful to pause AND ASK OURSELVES what do they mean, how do they know, and what are the implications.

Our questioning can then establish clarity, validity and disciplined generalisation. We might add that it can also increase our learning and personal development. (We gratefully acknowledge this example from Professor Johnson.)


Closely related to Professor Johnson's three questions are those by Don Fabin in his booklet entitled "Communication, the Transfer of Meanings" (see pages 26-34 in particular).

We all know the problems of inaccuracy in 2nd or 3rd hand reports, as in the 'stolen' bicycle incident. What may be less apparent, however, are difficulties inherent in a first-hand observer's report:

That there are problems and inaccuracies in 2nd and 3rd hand reporting is testified in many writings on communication.

That the same problem exists, to some extent, in an observer's 1st hand report seems to be less well documented.

Don Fabin deals with questioning 1st hand reports, as well as 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or still more remote reports. He does so in his very well illustrated booklet: "Communications, the Transfer of Meanings." He suggests 4 questions applicable to almost any situation. (Elaborations in brackets are those of the present author).:


This in response to a vague or general statement.


This question is asked to minimise distortion, and to establish what was said as closely as possible.


The speaker's meaning is invariably a matter of his or her personal interpretation.

Their MIS-interpretation can very easily occur. The ideal situation would be awareness by both parties of this 'distortion factor'. Unfortunately, this awareness is uncommon. However, a satisfactory result can be obtained if the questioner alone is aware of the high probability of distortion.


This question asks:

What was the source of the information? How reliable was that source, etc.?


The aim of such questioning techniques, it may be said, is to establish specificity.

In Neurolinguistic Programming, two authors emphasise the use of the term: "SPECIFICALLY":

WHO specifically?

WHAT specifically?

HOW specifically ?

WHEN specifically ?

WHERE specifically ?

(Ref. Bandler and Grinder "The Structure of Magic" volume 1).

The idea of questioning for specificity is obviously very desirable. But again, the choice of wording to obtain it is a matter of the questioner's judgement. The present writer frequently uses a question something like this:

"May I know something more on that point? Could you tell me more exactly what the person said, or how they seemed to know?"

In using this kind of wording, I want to establish, amongst other things, whether they 'know' by first hand observation, by second-hand report, etc. Different situations call for different questioning forms. This, of course, calls for flexibility on the part of the questioner.


A businessman was negotiating a deal with a company. That company requested a firm of solicitors to draw up a contract. This was done by a solicitor partner, who sent a copy to his client, the company, and a copy to the businessman. When the latter received his copy of the contract, his anger rose. It contained provisions which he felt unduly favoured the company and to which he could not agree.

The businessman had not thought it necessary to engage a solicitor himself. At first he was tempted to ring the company and criticise it for including provisions in the contract which had not been previously discussed. But he paused to re-consider. For his own benefit, for his further consideration, he wrote down the following four questions:

1. Did the company request its solicitor to "write in" the 'objectionable' provisions?
Or did its solicitor "write them in" on his own initiative?

2. What did the provisions actually mean?

Or more specifically, what meaning did the company's management ascribe to them?

3. How did the solicitor know the company's intent? Was he fully informed?

4. What implications would follow answers to these three questions?

My comment is that this kind of specific questioning facilitates agreement.


A high school report arrived at the home by mail. It concerned a girl of 16. It failed her in maths, and showed her below average in other subjects, including English. Brief comments by teachers were critical .

The parents reacted with stress, blaming first their daughter, then the school. Before approaching the school, however, they talked to an experienced friend who helped them formulate the following 3 questions:

1. What (specifically) did teachers mean by their brief comments - in particular the Maths and English teachers?

2. What had they observed about the girl which they considered significant?

3. What conclusions, or implications could the parents draw from teachers' answers to

these questions?

During discussion, the parents recalled a protracted illness of the girl when she was in primary school. The teachers suggested that they talk to the school counsellor.

Their talk with the counsellor led to the further question:

"Did she lack basic grounding in Maths and English?"

Further discussion led to the counsellor suggesting that the parents contact a private tutor who, as the counsellor was aware, specialised in remedying lost grounding. The parents took this advice. The tutor established lost grounding, and was able to remedy this in a shorter time than had been expected.

While this was a satisfactory conclusion, we think that it is important to note that the parents basically wanted an answer to the question:

"Why the adverse or unsatisfactory report?"

This may be considered a WHY question. This type of question warrants further consideration, as the following example indicates.


Resulting from an accident on his motor bike, a young man was in hospital. The accident had rendered him paraplegic.

"WHY did this have to happen to me?" he asked himself and others.

If by this he means, for instance, "What did I do wrongly just before the accident?", he might have been able, on reflection, to find a possible answer. But for this he would have had to change the WHY into a question something like:

"What was going on at the time? Did I, for instance, accelerate instead of braking?

Was there something wrong with my motor bike? Was I distracted by something?

Did I lose concentration for a moment?" Etc.

By asking himself specific, and answerable, questions of this kind he may have been able to find some kind of answer which would at least give him some satisfaction.

But if by the 'why' question he meant something like:

"Why did Fate have to dish this out to me?"

We believe his chances of finding any kind of satisfying answer would be very remote.

We believe that the unanswerable question: "Why did this have to happen to me?" would merely increase his frustration.

Hospital rehabilitation staff tell us that they cannot help a patient to adjust until he or she goes beyond searching for an answer to this kind of question and begins to face, realistically, the changed circumstances of his or her life.

We believe that a more satisfactory outcome can result from asking a question such as the following:


This may be termed a clearly answerable question in the sense that imagination, reflection and enquiry can suggest an answer or answers to the question of what can be done.



The following points may serve to summarise this section:

1. Recognise unanswerable questions.

2. If possible, change them to questions that may be answered by further observation and enquiry outside of oneself; or by deeper self-questioning.

3. The form of an answerable question indicates how an answer to it may be found.

4. If an unanswerable question cannot be changed to something answerable -- you might just as well forget the question.

5. Each of the following 'why' questions contains some indication of how to find the answer:

  • "Why did my car suddenly stop? Was it out of petrol? Was it an electrical fault?

  • Was it a mechanical fault? Was it my driving?" Etc.

  • "Why did not get my meaning across in today's staff meeting? Was I too vague?

  • Was I unclear about what I wanted to say?

  • Was the audience pre-occupied with something the previous speaker had just said?

  • "How did that misunderstanding (with my partner, colleague, friend, etc.) arise?

  • Did I assume one thing when he or she assumed something else?

  • Was it a case of crossed meanings?

  • Did we lack specificity? Was it some kind of communication block?"

    6. Specific questioning of this kind is longer and takes more time. But in terms of reduced stress and better understanding it is almost guaranteed to be rewarding and beneficial.

(Back to Contents Page)


Self-Management in Difficult Situations

Chapter 3



If, relying on a road map, we set out to drive from Sydney to Adelaide and find ourselves in Broken Hill, we will almost certainly conclude that either we mis-read our road map, or that it is faulty.

Certainly we often mis-read our maps.

My wife and I live in Sydney, Australia. A few years ago we were in New Orleans, at the beginning of a tour of the U.S.A. We met another Australian couple who had been touring the U.S.A. for some time. We were yet to pick up our first rental car. "You will get lost", this couple cheerfully assured us. This had happened to them - more than once.

A few days later we picked up our first car at Richmond Airport, Virginia. We rented it for two days. Early in the morning of the second day, some sixty miles out of Richmond, bound for the airport to return the car and catch an aircraft to another U.S. city, we got lost. We needed to go north but found ourselves travelling south! We were obliged to turn around and drive back the way we had come for half an hour. (Fortunately we still had time to return the car and catch the aircraft).

In Australia there are road signs frequently indicating the direction and distance to the next town. In America we saw road signs we were not used to. For instance, we saw signs telling us that we were on 'Highway 21 South'; or 'Highway 21 North'. But since these signs appeared only at intervals, it was easy for us to assume that we were travelling north, when in fact we were travelling south!

When travelling, we often mis-read our maps. Or our maps did not fit the territory. In these situations we are likely to experience anger, frustration and stress as we do when encountering difficulties in our personal lives, from day to day.


A geographic map seems a fitting analogy to the 'maps' we use, or should use, to steer ourselves through complex human situations.

Our maps for these are made up of assumptions, premises, theories. They include opinions, view-points, personal beliefs. They also concern our expectations and preferences. This may be termed 'mapping' the 'territories' of human affairs.

The specific human territories to which these maps refer may be

A financial target we set ourselves,

A project or goal set by our organisation,

Purchase of a house or car,

Planning a holiday or trip,

Any other personal or organisational venture.

We find it very helpful to be aware of the map-territory formulations as we conduct our lives on a daily basis. In problem-solving, for instance, we find it necessary to carefully 'map' our CHANGING problem situation and to change our direction accordingly.

In other words, just as we need to test our road map to see whether or not it sufficiently represents our territory, we need to amend our personal and organisational maps as our observations and enquires indicate.

Of course our own 'maps' may cover very accurately the MAIN FEATURES of the human 'territory' of either ourselves, or people we may be dealing with in some way, be that in a business, professional, or personal sense. These main features may include home background, work background and relationships in both places. However, for some purposes, we may need to develop 'maps' of these aspects in MORE DETAIL



In human affairs, we can use the "map-territory" formulation to discriminate between what we call 'facts' on the one hand, and theories, premises, assumptions on the other hand.

This is no easy matter. We very often find that what we previously perceived to be a 'fact' was actually an assumption, inference or interpretation.

This is seen as a very important starting point. There is no way we can test our theories, premises and assumptions for accuracy if we confuse them with 'fact'.

The confusion involved in mistaking an assumption, or inference, for a 'fact' amounts, in our view, to one of the main ways in which we create stress for ourselves. You will notice that we put 'fact' in quotes. As outlined later, a 'fact' is something often difficult to recognise or define (witness court cases).


We do well to ask ourselves frequently :-

'How closely does my 'MAP' fit the human 'TERRITORY' (situation) which I am

presently addressing ?

Am I creating unnecessary stress for myself by drawing a map which is incomplete,

inaccurate or unrealistic?

Or more specifically:

'How closely does my 'map' fit the particular task, problem or conflict situation

in which I am presently involved ?'


A scientist strives to draw a map which represents, as closely as he or she can make it, the 'territory' which is being examined. This applies, whether the 'territory' is something in a medical laboratory, an agricultural problem in the field, a genetic problem, or countless other matters of concern.

The scientist gathers data by observation and inquiry, then carefully sifts this data, seeking to distinguish fact from opinion or assumption. Then, on the basis of data believed to be reasonably 'factual', he forms a theory or hypothesis to be tested. However, the scientist tends to maintain a critical attitude towards this new theory or generalisation, regarding it as relatively satisfactory, but subject to review or revision, particularly if new factors arise, or new discoveries are made.

Scientists, so far as their work is concerned, are trained to hold their beliefs tentatively, subject to change, as they obtain more reliable information, discarding some ideas, substituting others for them.

This is precisely the method advocated here to reduce stress in our everyday affairs - business, professional, personal or family.



In using scientific method in daily life, the sequence is -

We examine a problem closely and define or describe it as carefully as we can.

We then make informed 'guesses' or assumptions about it.

We then turn our guesses, or assumptions, into QUESTIONS

to which we might be able to find answers


These three aspects need special emphasis:

To summarise them, we need to:

1. Observe closely;

2. Recognise and check assumptions;

3. Set questions for further investigation.

Of course we may seek expert opinion. But we do well -- particularly in crucial situations - to regard that opinion as purely an expert or informed one, rather than established 'fact'.


I rang an architect friend one work morning in his office. In the course of conversation I happened to mention "map-territory", which I had previously explained briefly to him. He said that at the very moment I rang he was involved in an example of it with an office colleague. He didn't give details, and after a while we concluded our conversation. As he told me later, he then went back to the drawing board and his colleague and said words to this effect:

"Let us take a 'map-territory' example.

Your map of the job we are doing is ....('x')... while mine happens to be ...('y')

But it is not a matter of who's 'right' and who's 'wrong'.

What we have to do now is to examine our two 'maps' and compare in detail."

His later report to me was that they had comfortably reached agreement, creating a joint 'map'.

This is a good example of what I mean by the word "negotiation".


It is obvious, of course, that our 'maps' do not always fit the 'territory.' We only have to turn on the television set or radio, read the newspapers, etc., to note opposing views in courts, organisations, parliaments, and between nations.

We should note, however, that:



This is the impression we draw so often from their words, voice tone, 'body language', etc.

Such dogmatic positions may be taken honestly and with good intent. But they are taken mistakenly, not in a 'map-territory', problem-solving way.

To avoid or reduce futile arguments, disputes, conflicts, deadlocks, etc., we recommend an approach which includes the following sequence:

1. Closely observing a problem situation,

2. Recognising, or tracking down, key assumptions made by oneself and others,


enough to test these assumptions.

We consider delaying our reactions to be a necessary step when involved in any difficult situation.


(or the degree of accuracy)

I deem it essential to emphasise that:

"We are NOT SAYING "Don't make assumptions."

Our contention is we have to make assumptions whether we like it or not. That is, we can not avoid doing so.

Later chapters will deal with this at greater length.




Thus we disagree with the very commonly heard statement:

"Don't make assumptions",

or even:

"That is only an assumption."

Our recommended response to this last statement would be something like:

"Yes, of course it's an assumption. The question is:

'How accurate is it?' "

In the process of negotiating, or trying to reach agreement, we need to recognise key assumptions being made by both ourselves and others so that we can bring them into the open and discuss them.

If we give this priority - taking charge, ourselves, of the communicating process if necessary - we are more likely to reduce the conflict, solve the problem and reach agreement.



Some years ago my wife was in pain from her hip. The surgeon first carefully observed it, then ordered an X-ray. On the basis of both his observations and the X-ray he said that a hip replacement operation was a possibility, which he was prepared to undertake, though my wife must decide. She decided on the operation which was successful.

We might say that the surgeon made two maps. First that he considered the operation necessary, on the basis of observation and X-ray; second, that he was prepared to undertake it.

An interesting aspect, in map-territory terms, was that my wife had previously consulted another surgeon whose diagnosis was that while there was deterioration in the hip, an operation was not warranted and that if, nevertheless, we wished him to do it, he would have to consider the matter.

Different experts, different maps.

Of course we all know about "getting a second medical opinion." But the map-territory formulation seems to us to go far beyond this simple statement. If we think of two medical opinions as two maps of the same territory, this might lead us to carefully compare, analyse or evaluate, the two 'maps'.


The following four-step procedure more fully indicates your approach to using "map-teritory" in a difficult situation:

1. Describe the situation as accurately as you can, to yourself or someone else. Or write

down your view of it, including your feelings. This gives you a 'starting map'-- let's

say 'map-1'.

2. Now the difficult part. Try to 'spot' the assumptions you are working on. These will

be part of your map.

3. If you succeed in spotting your assumptions -- then put them 'under the microscope'.

Are they the only possible assumptions? What others might fit the situation? How do

your present assumptions affect your view of the situation? What might be your view

if based on other assumptions?

4. Now choose your course of action.


These are the three recommended steps. They are not likely to be easy, whether done alone or with someone else. But when done effectively, they will be found to be very beneficial.


We have found - and we emphasise that if only one of the persons in a conflict or disagreement can use this MAP-TERRITORY approach, that person alone can OFTEN change the whole climate of discussion from controversy to CO-OPERATION. (Or at least in the direction of co-operation).


More often than we might think there are more than one or two choices that we might make in a situation requiring an important decision.

Under stress we might limit ourselves to seeing only one or two. We may then need to remind ourselves to look for additional choices which may be less apparent.


Sometimes, during the course of an ordinary day or night, we have a very moving experience.

This may arise from a discussion with a friend; a film or play we see; a book we are reading, a television or video program or many other things.

If we can grant ourselves time to reflect about it, we may find a new meaning or insight of permanent value to us.


As noted, the 'map-territory' formulation, as a working tool, may be applied to any human situation.

For Example :-


* when involved in conflicts between family members or close friends;

* when setting personal goals;

* when experiencing personal loss;



* when individual or group conflict erupts;

* when 'down sizing' or 're-structuring' occurs or is rumoured;

* when sweeping managerial change occurs.


Finally, we consider it a big advantage to become aware, at a deeper level than usual, of our:

likes - dislikes;

satisfactions - dissatisfactions;

enjoyments - anxieties;


We hope that principles and life-examples presented in the following chapters will illustrate some ways of

lessening dissatisfactions - anxieties;


increasing satisfactions - enjoyments.

(Back to Contents Page)


Self-Management in Difficult Situations

Chapter 4

'Fine Tuning' Our Self-Talk (Inner Communication)

This book is designed to help you develop personal skills in areas such as :

1. Assessing, or re-evaluating, situations;

2. Getting feedback on important decisions;

3. Accepting criticism comfortably;

4. Expecting misunderstandings, so as to lessen your stress when they arise.

I name just three very common examples where skills of this nature are very helpful:

* A husband-wife dispute;

* A crisis at work;

* A car accident.

I mention these three, simply because, as in so many other situations, people involved in them tend to respond solely in terms of their own viewpoints or perspectives, ignoring, or being unaware, of other factors.

That is, they tend to ignore (amongst many other things) the value of getting feedback, accepting constructive criticism, and expecting misunderstandings to occur during discussion.

As established by modern research, a large part of a person's response to a situation involves his or her personal interpretation of it..

This interpretation is expressed in that person's self talk, or inner communication.

For example, a member of one group opposing another group communicates with himself as follows:

"We can't talk to this crowd, they're impossible to deal with.

You can't reason with them. We've got nowhere talking to them.

Nothing we say gets through. It's all their fault.

We've got no alternative but to walk out of the conference."

With this 'attitudinal set', expressed in self-talk, what chances of reaching agreement in conference? Very little, as I think the reader would agree.

It is easy to pick phrases in the passage which are both antagonistic and over-generalised:

"can't talk with"

"they're impossible;"

"got nowhere with them"

"Nothing we say"

"all their fault"

"got no alternative."

Another conferee, on either side of the dispute, perhaps, might engage in another type of over-generalised self-talk which would also block agreement and problem solving:

"Everything is going wrong."

"Nothing is going right."

"No one understands."

"You can't trust any of them."

"They must be lying."

Note the over-generalisations here :


"no one"

"can't trust"

"are lying".

Given our strong tendency to indulge in over-generalisations :

How do we reach agreement with others ?

How do we reconcile differing viewpoints?

How do we lessen stress and improve the atmosphere of discussion?

One starting point is to remind ourselves that we respond according to habit.

That is, in terms of our acquired meanings, beliefs, habits of speech.

Of course, both sides of a dispute or conflict do this.

"ALLNESS" is a term used in general-semantics to pin-point this type of over-generalisation which breeds disagreement, argument and conflict.

It can be shown that "allness" is inter-woven in our self talk or inner communication.

Psychologist Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) is one who has also studied this factor very closely., though he describes it differently. It is also recognised, in a different way, by the authors of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, though they would also describe it differently.

For us, "allness" is a suitable term to indicate that instead of talking to ourselves and others in over-generalisations, we can switch to terms of DEGREE.

We suggest, in what follows that "degree" terms facilitate dialogue which assists the process of reaching agreement.

For instance, instead of saying "everything is going wrong, nothing is going right"

we suggest a "degree -type" statement, such as:

"TO A LARGE EXTENT things seem to be going wrong;

and very little going right."

or :

"TO A CONSIDERABLE DEGREE people seem not to understand."

While taking longer to express, degree-type expressions improve communication and smooth the path towards agreement. Re-directing one's inner dialogue represents, as I see it, the first step.

Note also that this degree form of expression represents what we call "to me-ness." That is, how things seem, or appear, to me. We find that this also paves the way to agreement and conflict resolution, influencing others in the conversation to take the same approach to some extent.

To give another example:

Instead of saying:

"They're impossible to deal with"

we might say:

"To me, they seem to create unnecessary difficulties."

Instead of saying :

"Nothing we say gets through to them"

we could say:

"They seem so focused on their own position that they pay little attention to ours."

Examples of other problem solving "to me" type phrases are :

"Perhaps one can say that..."

"My impression is that..."

"I wonder what the facts are here."

Since phrases such as these tend to set the stage for fruitful discussion, I refer to them as "fine tuning", first in our self-talk, then in communicating with others. They contrast strongly, to me, with over-generalised, over-definite statements which invite argument and disagreement.

Our culture and our language, unfortunately, abounds with over-generalised, over-definite 'ALLNESS' type statements.

Granted that we have, together with practically all members of our culture, acquired the habit of using over-generalised "allness" terms -- how do we 'switch' to using DEGREE terms ?

Particularly when we are involved in a dispute or stressful situation ?

Well, we can practise in less stressful situations.

One technique is to PAUSE for a few seconds to re-evaluate, or re-phrase either what we were about to say or have just said.

This is similar to the process we used when first learning to drive a car. The chances are that then, we went through a series of "check lists" in our self talk so as to guide our developing new skill in driving. This equally applies to developing our skill in managing ourselves when in difficult, or stressful, situations.

Another learning strategy we can adopt is to take note of the speech of others when they are debating a situation and hold different viewpoints. It may be instructive to watch how their over-generalisations often seem to deflect or hinder their attempts to reach agreement. A committee meeting may provide a good opportunity for this. (You may even be able to intervene so as to make the discussion more productive)..

Another approach is to carry with you some object, article of clothing, or something small that you are fond of, and which you can look at or touch, in moments of stress, to remind you to use your new developing skills. For years I have used a gem-like stone for this purpose. .

Albert Ells claims that the main cause of 'emotional' upsets is 'ir-rational' or unrealistic thinking and belief. I agree.

I close this chapter with some brief remarks of how some knowledge of our nervous system's responses can aid us in successful solving disputes and conflicts.

The next two chapters will build on this one by a more detailed strategy of self management in resolving disputes and conflicts.


What we pick up from "the outside":

It is obvious, when we stop to think about it, that what we know of what is going on around us starts with what we pick up with our senses, in particular our senses of sight and sound. It is, of course, a matter of everyday experience that our senses do not pick up what our dog or cat can pick up. Our dog will hear someone approaching the house long before we will. Our cat will see a lizard in the bushes to which we are oblivious.

This demonstrates that our human nervous system can pick up ONLY LIMITED DATA from the outside world.

But our nervous system-brain works with this strictly limited data base, and it does so in terms of what attitudes and beliefs we have already acquired on our life journey.

This storage includes not only some very accurate notions, methods of assessment, etc., but also prejudices, biases, false assumptions-beliefs, etc., with which we have grown up, and of which we may be largely unaware.

The 'outcome' of our nervous-system- brain 'working on' limited input from the outside world and applying both accurate and inaccurate notions to it, may be termed THE MEANING WE GIVE to a situation.

Evidence suggests, and we wish to emphasise, that this MEANING is also based on our past experience, our present concerns and our future expectations.

And since this is not the whole story, we may add an 'ETC' to what we have just written.

In fact we will be using the ETC a good deal in this presentation. This is because we believe it impossible to say 'ALL' about anything.

To repeat an important point:

We respond, very often, NOT to the REALITY of an ongoing situation; but rather to the PERCEPTION, INTERPRETATION OR MEANING we put on it.

We might add that this meaning is also based on our past experience, present concerns and future expectations.

(Back to Contents Page)


Self-Management in Difficult Situations

Chapter 5


In this section we examine the importance of making a brief "check back" on how we and others have interpreted, judged, and reached conclusions about a situation.

The following suggestions regarding such re-examination, together with diagrammatic summaries, represent considerable research by many well-trained, competent people.

First some remarks about expectation.

How do we react when viewing some television advertisements, or hearing some political speeches? As is well known, we may be sceptical regarding the accuracy of statements and claims made in both advertisements and speeches.

Our reaction is different, however, when we view a stage play. Here we do not need to be sceptical because we EXPECT the plot to contain inaccuracies, false information, mis-representations and wrong interpretations.

And what about real life situations ? We contend that we are wise to EXPECT inaccurate assumptions, mis-interpretations, etc., here too. By expecting them we are not so shocked, or stressed, when they inevitably occur.

"EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED" has been found to be a stress-reducing statement to remember.

We often experience, for instance:

1. Finding ourselves misunderstood or misinterpreted, after making an important or

significant statement.

2. Being blamed or criticised for something that we feel was not our fault.

3. Receiving insufficient or inaccurate information.

Situations of this kind can be multiplied. When analysed they often show false assumptions, mis-interpretations, wrong conclusions being made by people who mean well but are unaware of the inaccuracy of their statements.

Of course lying and deceiving is common. But equally common, we believe, is mis-representation, or error made in good faith, without awareness of inadequacy or inaccuracy.

In previous chapters we have dealt to some extent with such things as:


questioning ourselves and others,

discriminating between a fact and an assumption (or inference).

In this chapter we are emphasising the importance of PAUSING LONG ENOUGH to become MORE AWARE of the assumptions, interpretations, conclusions, etc., that we have made and are either acting upon or intending to act upon.

A good example of making and checking assumptions and interpretations may be seen in the television crime movie. In the first half of the movie we see the detective making false assumptions, interpretations. Then in the second half we see him (or her) correcting those, and drawing more accurate ones, thus solving the mystery.

The lesson for us is to accept that we all constantly draw false assumptions, interpretations which we need to become aware of so that we can check them. This is particularly important in matters involving significant decisions that may, in the future, deeply affect ourselves and others.

The diagrams presented below may help us to recognise our false assumptions or interpretations and check them. We will return to this in the next chapter. In the meantime, however, let us have a look at an oft-repeated statement:


This statement, like "Don't make assumptions!" is often heard but seems to have little effect when used by itself. However, when used in conjunction with the three diagrams to be presented below, it may have considerable effect.

In our culture of speed, "quick fix", argument and stress, it is very easy to come to conclusions which rest on false assumptions or interpretations. This is something we do based on habit, example, tradition.

Overcoming, or "kicking" this habit has been found very useful in terms of making better decisions, taking better actions and reducing stress.

To put this in a nutshell and to elaborate statements made in previous chapters, "jumping to conclusions" represents our strong tendency to act on false assumptions, interpretations, which in turn lead to false generalisations or conclusions. Stress, or distress, results inevitably from this. It can be checked by pausing long enough to "spot" or recognise our false assumptions, interpretations, generalisations, conclusions.

Again to elaborate statements made in previous chapters, just how long we should pause depends on the circumstances. Sometimes about two seconds, sometimes longer. A brief pause allows us to question our own judgements and statements. For instance:

"Why did I say that?"

"How do I know what I have just asserted?"

"What evidence might I discover that DENIES what I have just said?"


"When, last week (or month) we made a decision about the 'X' problem, how were

we interpreting the situation? Looking back now, how accurate were our judgements?

Were our conclusions justified?"

This pause to self-question can lead to establishing what assumptions, interpretations, conclusions were made at any time in the past.

Let's consider four case studies which, in different ways, illustrate aspects of questioning ourselves and others.


Our first of four case studies concerns Bill and Sheila.

Bill is a young executive in a medium sized company. Sheila, his slightly younger wife, is a school teacher. They have been married 3 years and as yet have no children.

They are enjoying an after-work drink in their living-room. Sheila has prepared their dinner.

Bill has just been told by his boss that he has been recommended for an important promotion, and is telling Sheila this story. In his excitement he knocks his glass of red wine off the small table it has been resting on. Red wine flows on to their new carpet.

Bill starts to apologise to Sheila but she interrupts him. She gets an old towel and with considerable distress begins to soak up the wine. As it soaks into the towel and leaves a stain on the carpet, she blames Bill:

"Why couldn't you have been more careful? You've ruined this carpet .

Why didn't you look what you were doing..." etc.

Their combined efforts to remove the stain did not work. Bill's news was forgotten. They had a silent meal and Sheila said she wanted to go to bed. Bill stayed up longer and went to bed beside her when he thought she was asleep.

Actually Sheila was not asleep. She could not forget the incident. Finally, after she was sure Bill was asleep, she got up. She made a cup of tea and sat quietly with it in a chair.

In the darkness she reflected on the scene. Why did she react so strongly, she asked herself. Why her intense and sudden anger? Was it only because of the stain on the carpet?

No. They could have the stain removed by a carpet cleaner with the necessary equipment. It was no real problem. So why did she become so angry, interrupting Bill's news?

Sheila had learned techniques of reflecting and self-questioning. One method she had learned was to look - or probe - for an assumption (generalisation etc) behind her feeling -- particularly when angry and blaming herself or someone else.

Suddenly she posed a new question: Was it the stain, or was it something else? What else could it be? The accident followed Bill's news of his promotion. Could it, perhaps, be that she was jealous of Bill? Come to think of it, her head teacher recently gave a class Sheila would dearly have liked to teach to another teacher. Did this occurrence, and now Bill's news, have something to do with her anger? She had to admit that this was quite likely.

She reflected and self questioned further. Then a deeper insight arose. Actually, she was afraid that Bill was leaving her behind. As he was excitedly telling his story she remembered that she had a fleeting premonition that his promotion might mean considerable travel. Perhaps he might fall in love with someone else ...?

She now had a strong feeling of conviction that it was these thoughts that had triggered her anger.

With this insight she actually felt relieved. She went back to bed and fell asleep. Next day she was able to tell Bill the story.

Bill was very understanding. They talked the matter over at some length, looking at her anger and anxiety. Bill was able to mention some of his own anxieties about the promotion. They both knew that the spilt wine and its sequel had actually improved their relationship.

I conclude by mentioning that this story is a combination of several incidents, including one which appears in "Focussing", a book by Professor Eugene Gendlin previously mentioned. It is to be found in full on pages 45-49.

I recommend Professor Gendlin's book and his "focussing" technique as being very relevant to self-management.


Our second of the four case studies concerns a touring holiday.

My wife and I went holidaying on the Australian coast. It was raining lightly as we drove to lunch with friends, Frank and Jean, at their house.

A red light suddenly appeared on the car's dashboard and began flickering in warning.

As it happened we were close to a car repair business which had previously served us well, so I drove there. The mechanically trained proprietor diagnosed the trouble as "just minor". However, he recommended an auto electrician whose business premises were near by.

Being already late for lunch with Frank and Jean, and in view of the mechanic's diagnosis of 'minor trouble' I decided to drive on the half hour further to Frank and Jean's place and call on the auto-electrician later that afternoon.

On arrival at Frank and Jean's place, of course, we explained the reasons for our delay. As a layman, Frank had a fair knowledge of cars. After lunch he inspected our car, and drove it around the district, with myself in the passenger's seat. Frank declared his agreement with the mechanic that the problem was "just minor". Mid afternoon we left Frank and Jean to drive to the auto electrician, expecting a short stay.

You have probably guessed it! The auto electrician disagreed with the diagnosis of "just minor". His diagnosis was that the generator had failed and needed replacing immediately. The replacement took an hour and a half with costs accordingly. As proof of his diagnosis, the car then performed perfectly.

To relate this example to 'MAP-TERRITORY', the first two 'DIAGNOSES' (MAPS) were not an accurate fit of the 'CAR PROBLEM' (TERRITORY). - - but the third, by an expert, was accurate.

No matter how expressed, or what language is sued, we need to regard a specialist diagnosis as simply an expert opinion. After all, even medical specialists make different diagnoses.

There was a sequel to this story.

A month later, near our home, the flickering red light appeared again. I immediately assumed that this was a repetition of the same electrical trouble. Fortunately I checked with a local auto-electrician before driving far.


Had I driven far without checking I could have wrecked the motor!


Our third of four case studies concerns personal planning.

It is based on a report by one of our students who was a company employee. It was rumoured, among the company staff, that top management was planning a re-structure of the company. If this was correct, staff members, at lower levels, predicted some redundancies. Upper management had not commented on this possibility.

One woman employee felt in a dilemma. Let's call her Freda. With some anxiety, Freda embarked on self-questioning about her future if made redundant. She decided to seek an interview with a senior manager. From past experience she suspected that this man would be evasive and difficult to "pin down". (After all, management above him was not commenting).

Freda, as a person, was far from being aggressive. In some respects she was even non-assertive, but she decided to question the manager very specifically and with determination.

The interview took place. As Freda had predicted, the manager at first gave vague and very general answers to her questions. However she maintained her determination and repeated that she really wanted to know how she stood personally. In the end the manager admitted that some re-structuring was planned and that "someone" in her section was likely to be offered redundancy.

Though still vague, this admission was sufficient for Freda to conclude that she was the most likely person to be placed on the redundancy list.

She could live with this degree of uncertainty. She felt that she could now seriously consider plans for her post-redundancy life.

Her questioning technique had moved Freda from a high to a low degree of stress.


Our last of four case studies is taken from several real-life examples, and couched here in present tense.

A young male executive, aged 34, married with a family, undergoes an operation in hospital to remove a growth. The operating surgeon sends the growth and surrounding tissue to pathology for microscopic examination The report comes back that the growth is cancerous and is likely to spread to other parts of the patient's body.

The surgeon must now convey this diagnosis to the patient who must then understand and handle its implications.

Questions to be faced include his chances of survival, and what this news entails for his family and his work life.

Perhaps, as his first priority, the patient must manage his own inevitable self-questioning.

In this regard, see previous case study: "Self-Questioning by a Paraplegic". In that example it was suggested that vague, unanswerable questions such as "Why me? Why did this have to happen to me?" were unhelpful.

The correctness of the cancer diagnosis could hardly be doubted, and all concerned must cope. It has happened and this husband and father must cope with it. Like so many of us, the patient had told himself "This happens to others but can't happen to me".

It was now necessary for husband and wife to closely examine their position. Clearly, long term plans would have to await the results of treatment. Questions would arise as treatment proceeded.

Comment by the author:

Unfortunately communication between patient and medical staff is often rather vague and inadequate. It is often up to the patient and family to ask specific, answerable questions. If this is done, clarifying answers tend to come in lay terms that patient and family can understand. In a crisis situation such as this, the actual forming of questions is important.

As mentioned before "The form of the question tends to determine the answer" (Professor Wendell Johnson).

To repeat previous statements, effective questioning is an aid to effective evaluating. To summarise this section of four case studies we present, partly diagrammatically, two contrasting patterns of evaluation:


Something happens in this participant-observer's environment. It may be upsetting -- such as an accusing remark or a piece of bad news. Or it may be challenging in the form of a promotion at work, though this might involve some risk taking.

Circumstances of this kind, of course, have a considerable nervous system impact.

All too often the less informed observer immediately "jumps to defence" when faced with an accusation, or, when hearing a brief statement of good news, he may "jump to conclusions" based on too-high, or unrealistic expectations.

In either case the less informed participant-observer is likely to burst into speech, making instant interpretations or value judgements, unaware of any reason to check them.

Diagrammatically, the less-informed participant-observer responds as follows:



Impact on his or her nervous system


The observer immediately




and then


Bursts into speech

Fig. 5.1



The more informed observer is aware that in his/her environment a great deal more is happening than s/he is aware of.

It is clear that, in reality, many unseen, unrecognisable processes are going on, and there is awareness that we are all limited in what our senses can pick up.

When an outside event 'impacts' on the nervous system, some 'thoughts', 'feelings' immediately arise; but in a significant impact, adequate evaluation and response need time before responding.

He or she is aware of the nervous system's selectivity of data, and of the dangers of distortion and too hasty generalisation.

Having more strategies than the less informed participant-observer, and being more skilled in assessing, questioning, and making statements more appropriate to a situation, the 'better informed' participant-observer can better assist in optimising decisions in work, family and social inter-action.

The better informed participant-observer has the advantage of knowing these things from the findings of modern science.

The next diagrams illustrate part of his/her evaluative process:

The "Broad" Picture: Less detailed



event or




on our senses or

nervous system.


Description of

impact by

self or group.



of assumptions,


generalisations etc.


Conclusions reached on basis of description and evaluation.


Fig. 5.2

The picture in more detail



event or




on our senses or

nervous system.


Description of

impact by

self or group.



of assumptions,


generalisations etc.


Conclusions reached on basis of description and evaluation.


Feedback loop

Fig. 5.3



As the diagrams indicate:

1. A significant "outside" event or happening occurs, and impacts on a participant's nervous (or sensory) system. The short curved lines attached to the Event, Nervous System and Description levels represent aspects of each level which become lost or not included in the selective process.

2. S/he describes this impact as accurately as possible, without drawing interpretations or conclusions at this stage. A reasonably accurate DESCRIPTION is an important first step in the evaluating process. Judging, interpreting, generalising, etc., come next in importance.

3. After careful evaluation in terms of describing, interpreting, generalising, etc., one can then reach a conclusion, possibly tentative.. We may do this individually, or as members of a work, family, or community group.

4 We may then decide to TEST our conclusion by a "feedback loop", as per the returning arrow in the diagram. This by making further observations and enquiries -- which may change the conclusion.

So much for this step-by-step process, about which the following remarks may be more explanatory:

First it demands willingness to practise and develop. This is not easy, but unless we can apply it we haven't learned it.

If developed over time, this approach as diagrammed can be very helpful in preventing and mending misunderstandings, disputes, conflicts, and in decision-making generally.

If used, the model can give one increased strategies to improve decision-making, individually, or as a contributor in a group.


Feedback loop ->- EVENT


"What can be done about this problem?"

Making observations and enquiries.

Evaluating data

Drawing a preliminary conclusion

Questioning the conclusion

Feedback loop

Fig. 5.4


* Questioning conclusions by making fresh observations and enquiries

(as per feedback loop),

* Redefining the problem if necessary,

* Improving awareness,

* Creating changes.

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Self-Management in Difficult Situations

Chapter 6

Conflicts, Disputes, and How We Manage Them


Our conflicts and disputes inevitably involve stress or indignation. This may become visible in our facial expression, voice tone or gestures. Behind these visible reactions lie our attitudes, beliefs and convictions.

Being firmly convinced of the 'correctness' of our beliefs and attitudes, we tend to respond accordingly. This may be diagrammed as follows:

    Our life-acquired beliefs, attitudes, convictions etc. lead to What we say and do.

Fig 6.1

Suppose that you and I are communicating, and we hold strongly differing convictions. A possible conflict between us might ensue:





What I say




What you say

Fig 6.2

What usually happens as a result?

Possibly part of the following:

Stress reactions in each of us, including increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, muscular tension, altered breathing pattern, and other things of which we may or may not be aware.

Our over-all response to any happening or situation may be usefully diagrammed as follows:

    1. HAPPENING LEVEL: Something happens outside of you. 2. NERVOUS IMPACT-1 which impacts on you beneath your level of awareness. 3. NERVOUS IMPACT-2 leading to your 'awareness' of 'thoughts', 'feelings' etc. 4. VERBAL LEVEL Leading in turn to what you say and ultimately what you do.

Fig 6.3

This brings us to the importance of:


My colleagues and I see it as of the highest importance not to confuse level 4 with level 1. That is, we see it as a fundamental mistake to treat these two levels as one and the same. In the above diagram the happening comes first, and is more important than the wording which comes last. Here, we are particularly indebted to Alfred Korzybski's formulation of "general-semantics."

We see the following as a useful statement to be constantly aware of :


The mistake of confusing these two levels may be seen constantly in conflicts and disputes in which, of course, many other factors are also involved. But when this error of confusing the wording with the reality is uncovered, the way is often cleared for the solution of the conflict.

Unfortunately it is not always easy to detect this error, and many people do confuse these two levels in the sense of assuming that the wording IS the thing.

In general, it is fairly easy for us to detect deliberate lying. The media, for instance, often exposes untruths, but despite constant exposures of this kind it is so easy for us to assume -- quite unconsciously -- that levels 1 and 4 are equivalent or the same. This is also illustrated by the deceptions of "con men" and the "tricks" of "magicians".


To give a more sinister example, the Nazis, in their absurd racial and social theories (at verbal level 4) provide a glaring and tragic example. One result of their producing a highly inaccurate verbal theory and treating it as the reality was their decision to exterminate Jews and other minorities. Their doctrines were misrepresenting the situation and misleading the German people.

"Self deception" qualifies as another way of confusing self-talk with reality. It can safely be asserted that a happening at level 1 can be "blown up" out of proportion by words at level 4.


This section refers to the "Map-Territory" formulation (see chapter 3)

While the wording and the happening can never be exactly the same or identical with each other, wording that more closely represents the reality may be chosen. This, as indicated in the section on map-territory, is what we are always striving for. That is, we strive to make our words "fit" the reality as closely as possible.

Of course, as indicated earlier, we are not dealing with the "reality" directly, but rather with our PERCEPTION of it. This is why we put the word "reality" in quotes. Being aware that our perception may be faulty enables us to get corrective feedback, thus improving our decision making and bringing us closer to solution of a problem.

While awareness of these aspects has been shown to greatly assist in resolving difficult problems. it must be emphasised that acquiring self-management of this kind requires considerable effort.

While my colleagues and I are convinced of the value of acquiring these skills, we are also aware that one can not afford to wait until a serious crisis arises in order to try them out, or practise these skills. For effective use, one must develop them in periods of relative calm, or low stress. We have found it a matter of learning by trial and error. We have found this to be stress reducing and rewarding, particularly in the long run.


"The assumptions we live by" have been addressed in different ways throughout this book.

In this section, suggestions will be made as to how we can better recognise the assumptions we live by -- particularly those beneath the level of awareness -- and how we can challenge and change them, to the benefit of our living with less stress and more satisfaction.

I will present what my colleagues and I consider a useful diagram for this purpose, but first some explanatory remarks.

Dr. Judith Wallerstein (with the assistance of Sandra Blakeslee) published a book in 1989 on the long term effects of divorce. Its title is "Second Chances," and it has been very well received in professional circles. As director of the Californian "Centre for the Study of the Family in Transition," Dr. Wallerstein is a recognised authority on the effects of divorce. Sandra Blakeslee is a free lance writer on aspects of science and medicine. (Or at least that was the role of each author at the time of publication.)

Dr. Wallerstein deals with the pain which often lasts long after the divorce. After seeing families at the time of divorce, she conducted interviews with them 5, 10 and 15 years later.

In these post-divorce interviews, she saw each parent separately, also each of their children separately. Ten to fifteen years after their parents' divorce, the children had become young men and women mostly in their 20's. One of Judy Wallerstein's research questions was to discover to what extent the divorce had adversely affected the children in their life journey as young adults.

At the time of the divorce some of these young men and women had experienced a sense of loss and abandonment, with considerable pain.

Others had denied such feelings at the time, only to experience them much later. During the actual divorce proceedings, they had managed themselves well, even being supportive of other family members. Indeed, many in this group felt a sense of relief that at last the arguments between their parents had ceased and that the tension in the house was largely reduced. But ten to fifteen years later their pain and anxiety broke through and disturbed them.

This occurred, in particular, when they were contemplating a committed relationship themselves.

One young woman, let's call her Gwen, reported, in her interview with Dr. Wallerstein fifteen years after her parents' divorce, that while she had been "light hearted" with previous boy friends, when she met a young man with whom she felt a strong bonding and affection, she became overwhelmed with doubt, and anxiety, with consequent disturbance in her general health. Gwen had calmly accepted the divorce, 15 years before, as the best solution for the family. Now, she was plagued with thoughts and inner dialogue along the following lines:

"If I marry David, will it end in divorce? What if we have children and

it doesn't work out? How can I be sure that I won't be left alone like Mother

was by Dad? What if David falls in love with someone else?"

Gwen is experiencing anxiety-ridden thoughts-feelings. She would like to feel much calmer and more at ease. To attain this, she needs to trace back from her stressful feelings to the assumptions, generalisations, theories which lie behind them.

How does she do this ?

What follows is a suggested answer to this question, largely from the perspective of general-semantics.

I suggest that she has already started by recognising her previous denial of these feelings. The denial was necessary for her at the time of the divorce crisis. But it is not appropriate now, in her new situation. Gwen could now "switch" her inner communication to a different set of questions such as the following:

"What have I learned from my parents' divorce? How did they handle their

problems during the marriage? Could David and I do better? Could we talk

over things like sex, money, child upbringing, house management, our

careers? Could we discuss any problem frankly and openly? How could I

cope if the marriage failed, despite David and I talking things over in a

way that my parents never did ?"

Of course the ability to ask such realistic questions might require a process of self education through reading, taking special courses, etc. We would consider this, ideally, to involve training along the lines set out here. The following diagram might assist in this regard:

Fig. 6.4

In this diagram:

A : stands for a set of assumptions, generalisations, theories.

C : stands for the consequences in terms of feelings, etc, which follow as a result

of our assumptions, generalisations, theories.

As previously mentioned, certain consequences follow inevitably from our assumptions, generalisations,, etc. Perhaps this is better expressed by saying that certain assumptions and generalisations lead inevitably to certain conclusions and consequences.

In Gwent's case, her behaviour during her parents' divorce was outer calm with denial of inner feelings. The consequence of this at C1, 15 years later, was anxiety and confusion when contemplating a committed relationship herself.

What she then wished for herself, but doubted that she could attain, was a reasonably successful marriage -- represented by C2 -- on the right hand side of the diagram. To attain this she needed to "work backwards" starting with C1 on the left hand side, and crossing to A2 and C2 on the right hand side of the diagram.

C1 represents her doubts and consequent fears about making a commitment.

C2 represents her more comfortable, less stressful inner state.

If Gwen can "switch" from A1 to A2, then the inevitable consequence of this at C2 will be more helpful. If she has realistically assessed David's stability, integrity and capacity to give in a loving way, then she may commit, at the same time knowing that while she cannot foresee the future, she can plan to continue her career should the marriage fail. (Her assumptions at A2 might well include the possibility of failure).

To benefit from this diagram, Gwen's procedure is to follow the direction of the thick lines (with arrows) from "start" to "finish." The dotted lines represent that she CANNOT CROSS DIRECTLY from C1 to C2, or from A1 to C2.



In brief we cannot achieve new, more desirable behaviours and consequences except by changing the assumptions-generalisations which lie behind them. As already indicated this process takes constant practice in a calm, non-stressful environment.

This diagram, like the others in this and chapter 5, represents a general method of evaluating or assessing situations. I will present a brief scenario of how, for example, this approach could be useful in a management-union dispute.

What we are doing in this chapter is showing the subtle relationship between :

* the language we use;

* the thinking-feeling we do;

* the actions we take.

To repeat: we are showing how our assumptions-theories-generalisations inevitably lead to certain consequences.

Robert P. Pula, writing in the 1990's, is one of several authors who have commented on Korzybski's earlier work to the effect that:

"As a matter of neurological necessity., our behaviour follows

the assumptions or premises we carry,

the interpretations we make and

the judgements and conclusions we come to."


Here is a hypothetical example, perhaps over-simplified, of how the assumptions-behaviours-consequences model might be used, this time in an industrial setting.

Imagine two different union representatives in negotiation with the management of a medium-sized company. Each carries a different set of assumptions-generalisations into their first discussion with a manager representing the company.

Scenario 1:

A "less-informed" union representative has a set of assumptions-generalisations which include the following:

1. "The management is the enemy"

2. "They are out to get us"

3. "We cannot let them get away with this"

4. "We will send them an ultimatum."

    Outcome-1: A deadlock results between the parties. The union rep. mentions strike action. Perhaps "calling his bluff", the management rep. tells him to "go ahead".

Scenario 2:

A "better-informed" union rep carries a different set of assumptions-generalisations, including the following:

1. "The union wants management to agree to its claims, or at least most of them."

2. "The union prefers to go on strike only as a last resort."

3. "Management will cooperate with us under certain conditions."

4. "If I negotiate in appropriate language and with a conciliatory attitude,

we may reach a satisfactory agreement."

    Outcome-2: A satisfactory agreement is reached by negotiation between the better-informed union representative and management. This has been achieved even despite a lower level of skill on the management side of the table. In terms of the diagram the "better informed" union rep had already crossed from A1 to A2.

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Self-Management in Difficult Situations

Chapter 7


The dilemma of the woman I will call June is based on the stories of several women in similar circumstances. It appears to be a common problem today.

June lives in an affluent suburb of an Australian city. Let us observe her one morning as she visits the consulting room of Dr. Young, a stress consultant in her neighbourhood.

June competently parks her car at the curb outside Dr. Young's building. As she alights, we rate her a little over 40 in age, well dressed and groomed. She stands erect and walks confidently into the building.

We know something of June's background. Her husband is a well-paid executive. They have been married 17 years and have two children: a son 14 and a daughter 11.

They live in a tastefully furnished house, have two cars, and both children go to private schools. June 'ferries' the children in her car to sport and other activities. As a parent she also performs voluntary duties at both schools.

This morning, Dr. Young is conducting a small group in stress management. The group meets weekly, and June has been attending for three months. At first she found proceedings bewildering, but now finds them helpful. The group is small, composed mostly of women in June's age group. None have deep psychological problems, but all are trying to understand more of life and its perplexities.

To the casual observer, June's life appears to be very comfortable and non-stressful.

But twenty minutes after commencement of the group session, she is sitting on the edge of her seat, clutching her bag nervously. She is fighting tears as she tries to find words to express the reasons for her unhappiness.

The story gradually emerges. It will take more than one session to complete.

June feels stifled. She feels she is living everybody else's life but her own. She feels that her husband is too concerned with his work to give her much time and attention. Her communication with most of her friends, she feels, is restricted to household matters and child concerns. Her mother, tuned to a different age, cannot understand her feelings, and June has given up trying to describe them to her. She has also been unable to convey them adequately to her husband. She feels frustrated in being unable to describe her feelings to others, and she cannot describe them to herself.

She had thought of "opting out" of the family situation and carving out a new life of her own. But she quickly dismissed this idea.

Instead, she joined the counselling group where she is showing determination and courage in an attempt to understand herself and her situation. She does not expect a sudden transformation or a miraculous cure. She is prepared to give time to working towards a solution.

Time passes.

Three weeks or so after we observed her visiting Dr. Young's counselling room, June decides to add education to her on-going counselling experience. She enrols in a non-degree course at a nearby university. The course is entitled "THINKING AND PLANNING CONSTRUCTIVELY". It meets two hours a week over a twelve-week period. In the third session, the instructor gives a homework assignment. It concerns decision-making in one's personal situation.

At home next morning, June sits down quietly, a pen and paper in front of her. She is ready to handle seriously this assignment. She will make notes just for herself. The instructor has stressed that it is not necessary to share details of one's answer in class. When finished, June will either destroy her notes or put them in a safe place. In class, she will simply describe her answer in general terms.

June begins to write, beginning with her resentments and anxieties. She follows the guidelines given to the class by the instructor:-

1. First express your feelings.

2. Then attempt a description of your total situation.

3. Then pick out some assumptions you have made. Try to separate these assumptions

from more factual statements.

4. Now formulate some questions you need to address before making any changes.

In the following course-meeting, the instructor addressed step 4: How to ask oneself and others clear, answerable questions.

That is, how to CONVERT vague, non-specific questions into clear, specific ones which indicate how answers to them might be found. This entails indicating what to observe, what enquiries to make in order to find the answers. This would include acknowledging one's own needs, preferences and values.

This exercise proved particularly beneficial for June. As well as applying the "Map-Territory" test, she related especially to the practice of asking herself specific, answerable questions and also managed to identify some unconscious assumptions which she had been making.

As the term neared its end, still continuing in Dr Young's stress-management sessions, June found that her own needs were important. She was able, calmly and without guilt, to discuss these with her husband.

They discussed the possibility of June resuming, on a part-time basis, her pre-marriage career as a Mathematics teacher. Obtaining some maths textbooks, she acquainted herself with current trends. Then, summoning her courage and confidence, she approached three schools. One accepted her, so June re-entered the work force part-time.

The primary reason for doing so was her realisation that she needed a role and involvement, separate and distinct from that of wife and mother. With this accomplished, June felt much happier.

Her mother, with values from an earlier age, had opposed the change strongly. But June had now learnt a lot about herself and the communicating process as it relates to family dynamics. She had also developed negotiating skills and was able to make the change - a very significant one for herself and her family.

This accomplishment was not, however, without considerable trouble, including some feelings based on guilt. Like many working mothers, she was destined to deal with guilt pangs from time to time. The change did not provide a "perfect" solution, but through her studies, June came to accept that to strive for the "perfect" solution is to strive for the unattainable.

June's problem is one shared by many women. Her situation, when she first visited Dr. Young's consulting rooms, and later enrolling in the course on "constructive thinking", was a product, partly at least, of the times in which we live.

Fortunately for June, she proved to be a person who could profit from both counselling and instruction. She was realistic in realising that her lifestyle was stifling her individuality and creativity. It was very fortunate for her that her husband could understand this and consequently she was able to curtail some of her activities and make the change.

In the early stages, it had been very important for her to become aware of her 'self talk' and the part it played in her thinking-feeling-acting.

As noted, we talk to ourselves and others, very often, in inaccurate terms. These inaccuracies, being embedded in our language, lead us astray. June developed insight and understanding of this.

June learned the important language technique of asking herself (and others) specific, answerable questions. She acknowledged that this often entails converting vague, nonspecific, and hence unanswerable questions into specific, answerable ones that directed her attention to what she needed to observe, and what enquiries to make, in order to answer the questions.

With the help of her course instructor she formulated the following specific questions, phrased (by the instructor) in the third person. This helped her to prepare for change. They were:

Q1. Where does your time go during any one week?

(Keep a time log for a fortnight to find out).

Q2. What satisfactions do your various activities give you?

(It is helpful to make on-going notes of this during the day's activities).

Q3. What other activities, likely to be more satisfying, are you denied because of

insufficient time to pursue them?

(Contemplate these and make notes).

Q4. What time do you have to yourself?

(Your time log will indicate this).

Q5. Do you carry the assumption that you MUST be the PERFECT wife and mother?

(Contemplate this, and if the answer is "Yes", ask yourself how you acquired this


Q6. Is it possible, that by attending to your own needs, you will be helping your family


These questions guided June as to what she should observe, enquire about, and contemplate. June learned to bring to her awareness some of her hidden assumptions. She found this illuminating and releasing.

She learnt the great advantage of converting vague, non-specific (and consequently non-answerable) questions into clear, specific questions which directed her observations, enquiries and contemplation. She found that this is basic to sound decision-making.

Though June would not have spoken of it in these terms, all of this was based on the application of scientific method to personal affairs.

Her feelings and emotions - far from being excluded by the application of scientific method - were redirected and channelled more constructively. June's assessment of her situation, and the people in it, became more realistic than they had been.

Applying scientific method also enabled her to live more comfortably with uncertainty. She realised that much of our frustration and disappointment are largely caused by unrealistic expectations and the certainty with which we hold them.

Like so many of us, June commenced her journey of self-realisation with unclear hunches, intuitive ideas and much perplexity. We can hardly commence major changes in our lives with anything else. But can we - like June - work through these states to a point where we can make an accurate map of our situation? As it was with June, the ultimate step of changing our situation depends on our first changing some of our habits, beliefs and assumptions. Many of our fears and anxieties disappear once we have done this.

June saw how the assumptions she was making led inevitably to her conclusions, and she came to appreciate the connection between them.

She also appreciated the value of questioning her assumptions and theories. She concluded that this leads to more appropriate decision making.


(Back to Contents Page)


Self-Management in Difficult Situations



We have drawn heavily on the principles of general-semantics throughout this presentation. It is time now to outline briefly that part of its approach with which we are concerned, particularly some of its principles and techniques.

Professor Irving J. Lee was a highly respected teacher of its methodology. He referred to it as " ... a system-discipline concerned with teaching ways of achieving accuracy, discrimination and proper evaluation." Lee is probably best known for his book entitled "Language Habits in Human Affairs".


General-semantics was first formulated in 1933 by Alfred Korzybski, a Polish multi-linguist, who was also a scientist and mathematician. He was an intelligence officer in the Allied forces during World War One. His job as an intelligence officer was, in part, to anticipate movements and strategies of sections of the German army, and report his conclusions to higher command.

In this role he came to ponder some very far reaching questions, such as:

* Why this catastrophe?

* Why this tragic waste of lives and resources?

and more specifically, he asked himself:

* "What patterns of EVALUATION by POLITICIANS,

MILITARY LEADERS and others ON BOTH SIDES of the conflict,

could have led to its commencement and long continuation?"

After the war, Korzybski pursued questions of this type in the USA, here he went to live, following advice from scientific friends. He felt that these questions were very important for people to consider, particularly those in positions of leadership and influence. He felt that the English language and the American culture were both suitable for his researches.

Using his training in scientific method, mathematics and linguistics, together with his war and pre-war experiences, he made penetrating researches into several fields during the 1920's and early 30's. He discovered patterns in Western cultures and languages which led him to formulate tentative answers to the above research questions which he had formulated.

Continuing his research, he published his first book in 1921 and his second in 1933. The second, covering 800 pages, was entitled 'Science and Sanity'. This was to indicate a strongly held belief that he had apparently formed during his research, which may be expressed somewhat as follows:

Better EVALUATIONS, better DECISIONS are made if:




Korzybski did not restrict this view to the decisions and behaviours of our politicians and

leaders. He believed, strongly, that we can all benefit from learning this application.

Korzybski's study of cultures and languages also included the anthropological perspective.

It led him to analyse what has been called "the tragedy of human error".

He suggested that we all benefit by applying scientific method to our on-going, everyday EVALUATIONS as reflected in our SPEAKING, WRITING and ACTING.


The date of this writing is 1999.

These days we speak and write of workplace cultures, corporate cultures, national cultures

and the like. In our language we have jargon, technical terms or 'sub-languages.' For example, legal, diplomatic, scientific sub-languages. It is accepted that these sub-languages influence and direct our thinking-acting. It is obvious, also, that some language use influences our feeling-emoting, examples of which are military and other languages of conflict.

Korzybski noted that much of our language dates from primitive times and has continued through history to the present. Thus it has retained some primitive, out-moded notions.

Korzybski was a multi-linguist. His researches indicated that the flaws in our English language are discernible also in European languages. These flaws, he contended, are contained in all Indo-European languages. He contended that the events leading to World War One were in large part influenced by the language used in the capitals of Europe.

The general-semantics approach identifies many of these linguistic flaws, and suggests ways of using different, and more appropriate, formulations in our everyday speaking and writing.

One way of summarising this is to say that we need to avoid the kind of language which leads to and maintains conflict; and to use instead the kind of language which leads to problem solving and sound decision making. In doing this, two parties have more chance of finding that instead of being in conflict, they are "on the same wave length" and can reach some agreement or at least compromise.

In the examples and scenarios provided in this study, I have tried to demonstrate the beneficial results obtainable by changing our language patterns so as to:

* avoid language which leads to conflict;,

* reduce stress in ourselves and others;

* channel contributions and promote discussion between people and groups;

* ETC.


Korzybski reminds us that we have inherited our civilisations from the labours of past generations.

Over the centuries, humans have made discoveries, inventions, methods of research. Later generations have built on these, making further inventions, discoveries, and refining previous methods. The present fast rate of change in technology is an obvious example of this. It is fair to say that without the inventions, discoveries, researches of the past, our modern civilisations could not exist.

Discovery, in many fields, has led to further discovery; invention has led to further invention. We can now communicate instantly around the world. We can now cross oceans in a few hours, instead of the days, weeks, months of the past. We now explore space, etc.

In Korzybski's words we "STAND ON THE SHOULDERS OF DEAD MEN" -- on those of the discoverers and innovators of the past.

Korzybski refers to this process as 'TIME BINDING'.

He asserts that the dominant and defining characteristic of human beings is their TIME BINDING CAPACITY. This is the capacity to use the labours of the past and pass them on to the future.

He claims that we owe a debt to past generations, and a responsibility to future ones.

A great deal has been written about the time-binding formulation, but the above brief description may provide an introduction to it.

Suffice it to say that for some of us it qualifies as an ETHICAL GUIDE to our daily DECISION MAKING and CHOICES of action.

This means that when confronted with choosing between, say, two possible courses of action, our time-binding orientation helps us to decide WHICH COURSE would have the greater TIME-BINDING EFFECT. That is, the greater effect in terms of human growth, co-operation, creativity etc.

While this approach is not always easy, it has been found to be very gratifying.

We find the time-binding approach particularly useful when we face an ETHICAL quandary.

A key factor in development of the system-discipline of general-semantics was the tragedy of World War I.



which led to


This author has long considered World War 1 to be a large scale example of human error, dysfunctional communication and folly. The enormous cost of the war in lives and resources has been well documented.

I present it here as a very significant case of faulty decision-making by world leaders with tragic consequences. My colleagues and I believe that this faulty pattern is still prevalent today, at the close of the 20th century.

A book entitled "LESSONS OF THE WORLD WAR" was written in 1918 by Professor Augustin Hamon.

One of Professor Hamon's "lessons" concerned events prior to the outbreak of war in 1914.

His research -- confirmed by analysis since -- indicated a disproportion between the extreme gravity of the situation just prior to the outbreak of war, and the capability of politicians and military advisers, on both sides, to solve it.

War commenced early in August 1914. In the preceding months, and in particular during July, politicians and generals made interpretations, assumptions, predictions concerning the motives and actions of their counterparts on the opposite side. Messages, by telegram for example, were confusing and easily misinterpreted. Predictions, for instance, that the opposing side would neither mobilise nor go to war were proved wrong.

An arms race and competition between the major powers for markets and territories had existed for years and is well documented. What appears to be less well documented, however, is that following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo at the end of June 1914, much hostility was displayed in written and spoken exchanges between leaders in the opposing capitals of Europe.

The outbreak of war in the first week of August that year was the final result of:

* the arms race;

* the competition for territories and markets;

* the inaccurate assumptions-predictions on both sides;

* the hostile language used on both sides;

* etc.

The war was to last 4 years on a scale and ferocity previously unanticipated.

After the British government declared war on Germany (on August 4th), a wave of patriotism swept England. Feeling a sense of duty, or having a taste for adventure, etc., many young men immediately offered themselves for service.

Many of these had been to exclusive (and expensive) private schools where an emphasis had been place on cadet military training and "service to King and country". These young men were commissioned as officers. Others joined the ranks. Many believed that the "adventure" would be over by Christmas (1914).

For many, the adventure ended in France, in the trenches. Trenches which were, or became:

a quagmire after rain

infested by rats and mice

littered with corpses -- burial being almost impossible.

infested with diseases.

These were trenches, from which men scrambled when ordered to attack -- only to be met by machine gun and artillery fire. They were also trenches which, as the war progressed, became enveloped by poison gas.

John Keegan wrote of the death of a well known English writer's son in these words:

"He was one of the five hundred thousand British soldiers of the Great

War whose bodies were lost in the waste land of shattered trenches and

crater fields which battle had left behind"

The reality of trench warfare was very different to what had been expected.

However, our purpose here is not to dwell on the horrors of the war. (These are well documented elsewhere). Rather, our purpose is to look -- however briefly -- at the quality of 'thinking', forecasting, communicating which, in large part, caused the war and prolonged it.

This was the kind of talking, writing, illustrating which lacked factual content and distorted truth. Professor Hamon, emphasised the "deceptions, omissions and untruths" in the propaganda and media reports on both sides. "Our" losses were minimised. "Theirs" exaggerated. Costly mistakes by our leaders were omitted or played down.

Professor Hamon claimed dramatically that "untruths", as a means of persuasion, "have been employed in all ages, in all countries" .... "Masses", he says, "have been plunged into a dense atmosphere of ignorance and illusion."

The point we are emphasising here is that the experience of soldiers at the front in World War One was in sharp contrast to reports - whether in London, Berlin or Paris.

As the war dragged on, British service men, nurses and others, set down their reactions to it in diary entries, letters and poems. They were posing questions such as:

"What are we fighting for?"

"How did it all happen?"

"Why this carnage?"


Back home in England, news of the death of someone dear was accompanied by the eternal question 'WHY?'. Families dreaded the telegram which began with the fateful words "We regret to inform you that...". Alfred Korzybski was a Polish intelligence officer attached to the Russian army. He was asking himself similar questions which set the stage for his later, post war, research.

The trend of Korzybski's questioning was along these lines:

"What patterns of 'thinking', 'judging', 'evaluating':

* precipitated the war?

* prolonged it?"

An in-depth analysis over the early post-war years culminated in Korzybski's answer. The fundamental reason, he concluded, was the confused, dysfunctional pattern of 'thinking', judging, evaluating made by political and military leaders on both sides.

Korzybski postulated an over-all pattern of evaluating -- or rather -- MIS-evaluation which was THE MAIN REASON for the tragedy of World War One.

After the armistice in 1918, conferences and discussions proceeded in Paris as a prelude to the Treaty of Versailles. The victors placed the whole blame for the war on Germany, with a desire for revenge, and a determination to make Germany pay. The result was a treaty which made unrealistic or unworkable demands on Germany, and which ultimately contributed to the rise of Nazism, Hitler and World War II.

The peace treaty was yet another example of the dysfunctional 'thinking', predicting, deciding that characterised the onset of hostilities; the killing of ten million, mainly young people in battle, and the millions more who died from war-related causes.

In concluding this presentation on World War One, we might ask what of the present and future? More specifically, we might ask:

to what extent have we, collectively and individually, improved since 1918 in our evaluating, predicting, deciding?

At the beginning of his 1998 Reith Lectures, John Keegan said:

"I hope, however, to lead my audience to conclude, as I do, that the worst of war is now behind us and that mankind, with vigilance and resolution, will henceforth be able to conduct the affairs of the world IN A WAY THAT ALLOWS war a diminishing part."

To this I will add :

"IN A WAY THAT ALSO ALLOWS negotiated, intelligent solutions to conflicts, disputes, problems of various kinds in the community.

Our objective, through self management, is to aid this process...

Korzybski published his first book, "The Manhood of Humanity" (Dutton, 1921) three years after the war's end. He dedicated it "to the quick and the dead." On page 29 he wrote:

"This war butchered millions of people and ruined the health and lives of tens of millions. Is this climax of the pre-war civilisation to be passed unnoticed, except for the poetry and the manuring of the battle fields, that the 'poppies grow' stronger and better fed? Or is the death of ten men killed on the battle field to be of as much worth in knowledge gained as is the life of one rabbit killed for experiment? ... is the great sacrifice worth analysing? There can be only one answer -- yes. But, if truth be desired, the analysis must be scientific."

(Back to Contents Page)


Self-Management in Difficult Situations



Books in List-1 are general publications which are most likely available in Australasian bookshops and libraries, together with other such books concerned with personal development.

This is not so, however, for books in List-2 under "GENERAL-SEMANTIC PUBLICATIONS", which, most likely, will have to be ordered from the United States, since this field is little known in Australasia, and consequently demand for its publications is very low here. I believe, however, that a background reading in the field of g-s will significantly enrich one's reading of other publications.

I therefore strongly suggest giving priority to List-2, the general-semantics publications. Alternatively, one might select a book from each list and read them in conjunction.

General-semantics books, with US prices may be obtained from either of the two following organisations:

(1) Institute of General Semantics,

86, 85th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11209, U.S.A.

Telephone: 718-921-7093


(2) International Society for General Semantics,

P.O. Box 728, Concord, CA94522 U.S.A.

Telephone 925-798-0311

Fax 925 798 0312 (Visa and Mastercard accepted).

To each entry in the bibliography I have added a very brief statement of what I consider to be important aspects of its contents. Readers will appreciate that such a statement is highly selective and that it is necessary to remember the "ETC."

For seminars, lectures and conferences on general-semantics in Australia, please contact the Australian General Semantics Society, through the author of this publication.

Laurie Cox,

Unit 15, The Commodore, 12-16 Walton Crescent,

Abbotsford , NSW 2046,


Phone number for callers within Australia: (02) 9713 7950

(overseas callers will require an additional prefix).


(That is, publications in fields other than general-semantics)

1. The Business of Communicating By consultants Marty Cielens and Mary Auino. McGraw Hill, (1999). Cloth cover, 437 pages, 4th edition.

Deals with negotiating, conflict resolution, team building, handling meetings, report writing, presentation skills, etc.

2. Focusing by Professsor Eugene Gendlin, psychotherapist.

University of Chicago Bantam Books (1981). Soft cover, 175 pages, 2nd edition.

An approach to aid one in focusing on a difficult situation in a way that enables a person to recognise his or her thoughts, feelings, assumptions etc. regarding it, so as to make a better choice in decision making.

3. Second Start: Challenge and Change in Mid-life by Hazel Edwards

Penguin (1987). Soft cover, 158 pages.

Concerns mid-life crisis in men and women which often occurs around 40 years of age.

4. Change by Dr. Francis Macnab.

Hill of Content, Melbourne Australia (1979). Soft cover, 147 pages.

Concerns Rational Emotive Therapy -- the link between what we tell ourselves and what we feel and behave. Suggests how our 'self talk' can be changed to improve our lives and relationships.

5. Staying Rational in an Ir-Rational World by Dr. Michael Bernard.

McCulloch, Victoria, Australia (1986). Soft cover, 282 pages.

Concerns Rational Emotive Therapy. Emphasises the use of rational thinking in school children, their parents and teachers. Methods to help people in general to overcome emotional problems through rational thinking.

6. New Guide to Rational Living by Drs. Albert Ellis and Robert Harper.

Willshire, California (1970). Soft cover, 233 pages.

Deals with how humans react in terms of their belief systems, and how this affects their feelings and actions. Looks closely at false or ir-rational ideas.

7. On Becoming a Person by Dr. Carl Rogers, psychotherapist.

Constable (1967). Hard cover, 420 pages.

Facilitation of personal growth. What it means to become a mature person. Deals with breakdowns in communication.

8. Personal Power by Dr. Carl Rogers psychotherapist.

Delta (1987). Soft cover, 299 pages.

In everyone there is a natural tendency towards growth. This constructive power can be released when people accept their own inner strength..

9. A Way of Being by Dr. Carl Rogers.

Houghton Mifflin (1980). Soft cover, 395 pages..

An approach to life based on the author's personal philosophy. Deals with social change. A way of being that fits any situation.

10. Construction of Group Realities by

Dr. Deborah Kalekin-Fishman and Beverley M. Walker (editor), psychologists.

University of Wollongong, Australia.

Krieger, Florida (1996). Hard cover, 395 pages.

Based on Personal Construct Theory. Understanding personal constructions of reality and how these affect groups. A theory for understanding personal meanings, perspectives, constructions of family and social systems, personal relations, etc.

11. Moving Up by Ruth Markel (lecturer) and Carolyn Faulder (journalist). Fontana/Collins (1988). Soft cover, 237 pages.

For women who want to "move up" the organisational ladder and at the same time enjoy their home life and personal relations. Gives tips on how to communicate effectively so as to enhance work and family life.

12. About Time: A Woman's Guide to Time Management by

Alec Mackenzie and Kay Kronkite Waldo (consultants).

McGraw Hill (1981). Soft cover, 242 pages.

Concerns managing time at home and at work. Organising oneself, managing crises, being assertive, having time for pleasure.

13. They Lived Happily Ever After by Ms. Leslie Cameron Bandler, family therapist.

Meta Publications, California (1978). Hard cover, 203 pages.

On Neuro Linguistic Programing (NLP). Methods for achieving "happy endings" in coupling. Understanding sexual response, behaviour and dysfunction.

14. The Structure of Magic Volume 1. By Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

Science and Behaviour Books, California (1975). Hard cover, 225 pages.

Concerns linguistics as a tool for personal growth. How to assist personal change.

Volume 1 focuses on verbal communication.

15. The Structure of Magic Volume 2 By Bandler and Grinder.

Science and Behaviour Books, California (1976). Hard cover, 198 pages.

Deals with non-verbal communication and with stimuli occurring both within and outside a person. Also deals with how people construct their experience in ways which lead, basically, to effective or ineffective decision making.

16. Second Chances by Dr. Judith Wallerstein, family therapist, and Sandra Blakeslee, science and medical writer.

Corgi Books (1989). Soft cover, 384 pages.

Deals comprehensively with the effect of divorce on parents and children, new ties and old ties, winners and losers.

17. Problem People at Work and How to Deal With Them by Marilyn Wheeler, consultant.

Century Business Books, Random House, U.K. (1994). Soft cover, 155 pages.

Being assertive in handling people at work who are argumentative, moody, aggressive.. Avoiding becoming angry and hostile oneself.

18. What Do Women Want? by psychiatrists Luise Eichenbaum and Susie Orbach.

Harper Collins (1984). Soft cover, 206 pages.

An enquiry into women's needs by two psychiatrists who conduct a women's therapy centers in London and New York.

19. Divorce Dilemma by Dr. Warwick Hartin, family therapist.

Hill of Content, Melbourne, Australia (1977). Soft cover, 140 pages.

Concerns pressures on marriage and reasons for marriage breakdown.

Considers alternatives.

20. Splitting Up by Judy Hogg, divorce lawyer, Australia.

Angus and Robertson, Australia (1985). Soft cover, 235 pages.

A handbook for people facing separation or divorce in Australia.

21. When it's Over by Marilyn Hauptmann, divorce lawyer, Australia.

Simon and Schuster (1995). Soft cover, 148 pages.

A practical guide to separation and divorce in Australia, including problems and difficulties in a second marriage.

22. The Ex-wife Syndrome: Cutting the Cord, and Breaking Free After the Marriage Ends By Dr. Sandra S.Kahn, psychotherapist, Australia.

Hill of Content, Melbourne, Australia. Soft cover, 238 pages.

Focuses on the difficulties experienced by many divorced women in cutting the tie with their former husbands.


1. How to Develop Your Thinking Ability by Kenneth S. Keyes, lecturer/teacher.

McGraw Hill (1979). Soft cover, 245 pages.

An introduction to general-semantics. Well illustrated. Easy to read.

2. Making Sense by Robert R. Potter, lecturer/teacher.

Globe Book Co. New York (1974). Soft cover, 245 pages.

A well written, well illustrated introduction.

3. How to Talk with People by Dr. Irving J. Lee, lecturer and seminar leader, North Western University, Chicago.

International Society for General Semantics, San Francisco. Reprinted 1980's.

Soft cover, 174 pages.

How to avoid talking in a way that ends in trouble.

4. Troubled Talk by Alfred Fleishman, public relations expert.

International Society for General Semantics, San Francisco (1973). Soft cover, 68 pages.

Very readable and explains the effect of words in our communication and on our nervous system.

5. Some Sure-Fire Ways to 'Foul Up' Communication by Alfred Fleishman.

Published in the 1970's by the International Society (as above). Soft cover, only 16 pages.

Puts together a few of the common words and phrases that so often lead to human misunderstanding and conflict.

6. A 'Mini' Course in Human Communication by Alfred Fleishman (not dated).

International Society for General Semantics, Concord San Francisco.

Soft cover, 67 pages.

A short book introducing language habits that 'foul up' communication.

7. Sense and Nonsense by Alfred Fleishman.

International Society for General Semantics, Concord San Francisco (1971).

Soft cover, 70 pages.

A short, easy to read book on the effect of words on the nervous system.

8. Language Habits in Human Affairs by Dr. Irving J. Lee, Lecture and Seminar Leader, Department of Speech, University of Chicago. Reprinted in 1994.

International Society for General Semantics, San Francisco, and

the Institute of General Semantics, New Jersey, U.S.A. Soft cover, 285 pages.

An introduction to general-semantics with an emphasis on language use. A highly recommended book, dealing with fundamental general-semantic principles.

9. Women and the Art of Negotiating

by Juliet Nierenberg and Irene S. Ross, lecturers and negotiators.

International Society for General Semantics.

Simon and Schuster (1985). Soft cover, 234 pages. Negotiating skills using the principles of general-semantics. Mainly written from a female perspective, but also very useful for males.

10. Communications, the Transfer of Meaning: by Don Fabun, publicity manager.

International Society San Francisco (1968). Soft cover, 48 pages.

Useful in business and personal life.

Very well illustrated in colour. Presents key principles of general-semantics very effectively.

Relevant to the 21st Century.

11. Understanding Each Other: Improving Communication Through Effective Dialogue by Cathrina Bauby, lecturer and seminar leader (1976).

International Society, San Francisco. Soft cover, 59 pages.

Emphasises business communication and work relationships. Presents short scenarios. Well illustrated, easily read.

12. Thinking and Living Skills Edited by Gregory Sawin, consultant.

International Society, San Francisco (1995). Soft cover, 250 pages.

Introduces general-semantics by presenting selected articles published in the International Society's quarterly Journal "ET CETERA (ETC)". Very readable.

13. Drive Yourself Sane by Drs. Susan and Bruce Kodish, lecturers and therapists.

Institute of General Semantics, New Jersey U.S.A. (1993). Soft cover, 194 pages.

Using the frequently over-looked 'common sense' of general-semantics, clearly presenting fundamental principles from a psychological and sociological perspective. Recommended as a follow-on to more introductory publications named above.

14. People in Quandaries by Professsor Wendell Johnson, psychologist, University of Iowa. International Society, San Francisco (1946). Soft cover, 532 pages.

Understanding problems and difficulties in daily life in terms of relationships and personal decisions concerning all of these. A very thorough introduction to general-semantics principles. Highly recommended for application of general-semantics to personal relations. A publication that does not date.


1. Introductory Lectures on General Semantics by Dr. Francis R. Chisholm, lecturer.

Institute of General Semantics, New Jersey, U.S.A.

(First published in 1945; 14th. printing December 1983), 125 pages.

Concerns evaluating one's personal experience and making better use of accumulated knowledge. Emphasises understanding differences in people and situations. A thorough introduction to general-semantic principles.

2. The Master Atlas of Decision Making by Edward MacNeal, lecturer and mathematician. International Society for General Semantics, Concord, San Francisco (1994).

Soft cover, 825 pages.

Illustrates decision making strategies using a uniquely useful approach.

3. Education for Adaptation and Survival by Professors T. Weiss, E. Moran and E. Cottle. International Society for General Semantics, San Francisco (1975). Soft cover, 214 pages.

Concerns how our evaluations determine our relationships. Deals with aspects of psychology, education, philosophy and communication.

4. Language, Thought and Reality by Benjamin Lee Whorf.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1956). Soft cover, 278 pages.

A classic in the field. Relevant to the 21st Century.


(For advanced reading. Both are obtainable from the International Society for General Semantics.)

1. Levels of Knowing and Existence by Dr. Harry L. Weinberg.

Deals with general-semantics at an advanced level, relating it to language, consciousness, values, psychotherapy. and personal development.

2. Science and Sanity by Alfred Korzybski,

scientist, mathematician, engineer and multi-linguist.

Institute of General Semantics, New Jersey U.S.A., 5th. edition (1993), and

International Society for General Semantics, San Francisco. Hard cover, 800 pages.

The basic source book of general-semantics. Deals with both the exact and social sciences. Emphasises the application of methods of the exact sciences to human problems.

The Australian General Semantics Society plans to conduct seminars on these two books, together with Korzybski's first book "Manhood of Humanity" (1921), for advanced students.


These are offered in Australia by:

The Australian General Semantics Society (A.G.S.).

Contact L. Cox, Unit 15, The Commodore,
12-16 Walton Cresc,

Abbotsford, NSW 2046.
Phone: (02) 9713 7950





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