So, what are Power Language Nominalisations? Well, nominalisations are one of many aspects of Power Language, more of which we’ll cover in subsequent posts.
Ever watched a political speech and got sucked into what was being said? As they build their speech to a crescendo, their voice raising in pitch and volume as they hammer out the promises of better outcomes, more resources, freedom for all, better education, more control and certainty. The thunderous applause and cheering as the crowd feels the passion coming across. The power of their speech.
What a relief – it’s all going to be better!
How about the salesperson who tells you that it’s the best software that will enable greater efficiency and effectiveness so that your team can do more with fewer resources in less time, delighting customers and being more additive to the organisation’s cause?
OMG. I need that software. Incredible!
Or the Guru who tells you that you can obtain freedom and harmony with a tranquility and peace that brings an inner calm and meaning to provide the wisdom and vitality for a healthier and blessed life full of happiness.
I’d follow them. I’d like some of that life. Wouldn’t you?
But what the hell does any of that mean? What did they actually tell you? What meaning does any of it have?
None. The words mean nothing at all. Until you attribute a meaning to them. These empty abstractions, or what we call Nominalisations, are devoid of any substance. This lack of clarity of meaning (or really, this absence of any meaning) sends your unconscious on a search to attribute your meaning to the words or phrases. And so, a politician, salesperson or guru excites a whole group of people to believe in their words and passion by forcing each and every person to attribute their own meanings to it. They all think the speaker has been speaking directly to them because they made sense of it (or their unconscious did).
But here’s the thing – every single person has attributed a different meaning to what was said. This is how powerful people can appeal to everyone and exert their power over them. Nominalisations are highly manipulative words, designed to effectively cast a spell.
How so? “Education, education, education” of the Labour Party in the 90s. As a word, education contains no sensory information. No details that tell you anything about the education. Does it mean more resources in the classroom? Better pay for teachers? More teachers to be trained? A change to the examination system? Free school lunches for the underprivileged children so they can concentrate on their lessons in the afternoon? Does it mean more schools will be built? More access to university places? Or apprenticeships? More support from businesses? Or the government?
It could literally mean any of those things because nothing has been specified. “Education, education, education” meant whatever people wanted it to mean and thus the slogan appeared to the broadest possible group of voters possible. Clearly, there are many other reasons why the Conservatives imploded in 1997, but this technique of abstracting was alive then and is alive now. Listen to the current political ruling class and analyse what they actually say. Is it just a meaningless set of abstract nominalisations, or did it have substance – the ‘how’ they’d make the changes?
Nominalisations are manipulative in the hands of the wrong people, but in the hands of a therapist, they can be very powerful change agents for good. Milton H Erickson taught that the power of nominalisations can be used to put people into a trance-like state and that using these abstract words would enable the client to attribute whatever they see as the meaning to them. Imagine saying to the client ‘…and you will be able to use all the resources at your disposal to generate the change needed to live a fulfilling and happy life of vitality and love with energy and passion for those around you and the things that most interest you in life.’
That is powerful stuff. So, listen out for how others use nominalisations and for what purpose or effect. Then choose to use them for the betterment of the lives of your clients and you and your family so they can be fulfilled and happy with a sense of meaning and harmony.