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Upleveling How We Speak to Each Other Through Solution-Focused Coaching

written byMarilyn Atkinsonon 16/08/2021

Notice that language is primarily tonal and connects us deeply to the brain’s emotional system. Every conclusion that we make is remembered in terms of emotional intensity and nuance, especially if we begin with or add the word, “I” …. as in “I think,” or “I believe.” Because the ancient emotional system in the brain - the limbic system - is a “sameness” system and a “now-ness” system, we humans keep track of all our conclusions, as if they are precious little parts of our family system…right now! 

Our language system is only 200,000 years old, perhaps less. Cro-Magnon man, eighty thousand years ago, developed a voice box with which it was possible to make the complex sounds necessary for a sophisticated language system. Chimps and other sophisticated primates cannot speak, lacking the small curve at the base of the throat—the ‘Adam’s Apple’—that we call a voice box. It is possible to vocalize with a more primitive voice box, the kind available to human types, just prior to Cro-Magnon man. However, the limited number of consonants and vowels available with such a voice box likely limited the number of words and nuances possible. Messages would have been very basic and simple. 

Archeologists show the development of our stronger, more evolved voice box as only approximately 80,000 years old. A ‘language gene’ expanded our capacity at about the same time. Consequently, our complex language is also likely to be very new. As such, new systems require clear focus. 

Learn how Solution-Focused coaching can help you develop skills to create transformational change in yourself and others. 


Any auditory system of communication requires sequential processing. An auditory system can only track our present moment, as small as this one sentence right now. Auditorily, we communicate one-sentence-at-a-time through a limited vocalization communication doorway, substantially limiting the amount of information we can share in a short period.  

The auditory system becomes even slower as we add tonal nuance to our inner and outer communications. It’s as if we must repeat it to hear it inwardly, noticing the authority of the original speaker through their very specific intonation patterns and emotional overtones. 

Because it is tonal, and links us into our ancient mammalian, emotional, communication system, the auditory system also keeps us noticing the tiny details, the current emotional updates of our ongoing relationship issues. These details may be important if we are a family on vacation, or if our trust is in question. However, if the details of relationship are, for the moment, not as relevant as the project we are doing together, we can get sidetracked by continuous checking for authoritative or dismissive tones and body language. 

Relationships, for the ‘either-or’, emotional, primate brain, are either “on” or “off”. If relationship nuance dominates our attention, any shift in tone and nuance could threaten the relationship and take our attention away from our aims.  

Even this system is beginning to change as digital communication and texting take the lead in our system-wide communication with each other. We read each other’s email communication and are less dependent upon the authority of the tone beyond the verbal flow. 

In the last 6000 years we have added the capacity to write. However, until recently, writing and reading have been a much slower procedure, because, unlike speech, it required materials. We continually depend upon speech as our fundamental communications base. 

How do we shift towards stronger integrity, congruence, and ‘know-how’ with solution focused coaching? We all know the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This phrase suggests the usefulness of being able to shift systems, ask questions, and move toward our larger verbal and emotional integrity with vision linked to individual and team focus. When we are able to communicate visually, with maps or diagrams, or quick sketches, we can organize overview coherence regarding a plan. We integrate our plan visually with a flow of pictures. Our conscious minds are able to focus attentively on the details of the plan, rather than the details of relationship, so we can relax. 

To be ‘straight forward’ in twenty-first century parlance means that we prefer longer-range thinking, planning, and connected action over engaging in ‘tonal provocation’. We are provocating when we engage in warning tones, flirting tones, snide tones, or sarcastic tones. These tones all hint at ‘negatives beyond language’. Tonal innuendo draws attention to our emotional beliefs about hierarchy and personality. 

We communicate straightforwardly when we use words to connect with each other through our agreed values and to organize actions rather than to construct emotional hierarchies and exclusive identities. With a focus on capabilities, aims, and effective action we use our whole brain system positively, learn to relax in our social networks and to relax in the knowledge of where we are in the larger framework of our projects. This simple shift is at the heart of what makes solution-focused coaching such a strong addition to corporate communication. 

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