Jan 09, 2017

The Problem with Communication – Part III

Picture: Courtesy of HuffPost

If you haven’t read the previous two posts on this topic, I encourage you to read the introductory post by clicking here and the 2nd post by clicking here.

This third post in the series will discuss the ways the human mind supports its preexisting belief system; Generalization, Deletion, and Distortion. Just a brief bit of information before delving into those areas, though.

When we are born, the human mind is in a constant state of openness, in a state of hypnosis or Trance of Infinite Possibility. It believes it can do anything. For example, watch a child learning to walk. The child never questions its ability to learn to walk. The child will incrementally make the necessary adjustments in the way it moves, balances, and positions itself until it gets the first step, then the next, then the next, until it learns to walk without ever having to give it another thought. At that point, the child has reached unconscious-competence. The child never questioned its ability to walk, no matter how many times it fell down, no matter how many tears were shed, they believed they would master the art of walking. Around the age of eight, an area of the brain begins to form called the Right Temporal-Parietal Junction (RTPJ). In research conducted at MIT by Dr. Rebecca Saxe, it has been discovered that this area of the brain has very specific functions related to Theory of Mind (ToM) and one of those is that of validating and judging information and beliefs coming into the mind. Once the RTPJ forms, the child is no longer in an open-minded, “I can do anything”, “Anything is possible”, trance-like state. This is when parents will observe their child beginning ask a lot of “Why?” questions, challenging what they are told, and even challenging the parents’ right to tell them what to do without any explanation. When this happens, many parents believe something has gone wrong with their child or that they have become obstinate or rebellious. That’s not at what has happened. The natural maturation process of their mind is taking place and this requires the parents to spend time helping their child understand the how’s, the what’s, and the why’s of life. No longer are the parents able to make a blanket statement and expect their child to respond without question. They have grown out of their hypnotic state. The older the child becomes, the more they solidify their beliefs and the more powerful arguments must be made to get through the validation and judging process of Theory of Mind. And, now the mind has a process to keep its belief system in-tact, a support system, if you will, to ensure their beliefs are maintained. This is where Generalization, Deletion, and Distortion come into play.


When you are going to enter a room, how do you turn the door handle? Which way does the door open? You probably had to think about those question because almost all doorknobs turn the same way and almost all doors open the same direction. When they don’t, you get stopped in your tracks and wonder what’s wrong. This is an example of Generalization. The opening of a door has become so familiar that you’ve generalized that all doors open the same way. We do this with life. When something we believe to be true is challenged or someone says something different that what we believe, our mental defenses automatically are put up and are ready to reject this different thought. For instance, you know for sure that all people who are right belong to (political party, religion). To give you a very specific example of Generalization, let’s say a salesperson made a phone call early on in their career and the person was very unkind, even abusive. After that experience, the salesperson may be afraid to make sales calls by phone because they have generalized that, “When I made a phone call I got treated abusively, so now all phone calls lead to me being treated abusively”. The salesperson will either quit as a salesperson and find a different career, or never reach their full potential due to this limiting belief. In the presentation I’ll be sharing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area soon, I’ll detail some other important aspects of Generalization, such as, When we generalize everything as positive, it is possible to accept poison with the potion. When we generalize everything as negative, we miss out on great opportunities. And, there are several ways the language we use generalizes information that complicates communication, such as Universal Qualifiers and Model Operators of Necessity.


Deletion occurs when we omit or conveniently forget information, especially when it conflicts with an existing belief. It’s the process of leaving bits of information out of communication. We sometimes consciously choose to leave information out because we want our belief to be supported and we sometimes choose to leave information out for the sake of expediency or ease. Take the following example. You can say:

Laura, the 7-year-old girl, fell over the cushion in the living room and bruised her right arm on a wooden chair.”

OR, you can delete most of the information and say:

“The child had an accident”

Here are some additional areas where we use Deletion when communicating and I would like to think about times when this has happened to you and the problems Deletion caused:

Simple Deletion – A simple deletion is one with missing or insufficient information. Have you ever had to “fill-in the blanks” when communicating with someone else? Have you ever filled-in the blanks with information other than what the person who was communicating with you meant?

Lack of Referential Index – “She is not liked” Who isn’t liked? Who doesn’t like her?

Unspecified Verbs – “It is causing problems at work” What is causing problems at work? What are the problems it’s causing?

I ask you, again, to think about the times when Deletion caused problems for you when communicating and how different those situations would have been had there been clarity in the communication.


We distort the world to fit our belief system. For instance, we will “—Mind Read” other people’s actions and intentions, such as, we may say, “I know he hates me”, without any more than making judgments based on a look the person gave us or an action we believe they intentionally made which seemed to spite us.

Another example of Distortion is “Cause and Effect”. This is the use of such words as: because, if, then, makes, drives, compels, and causes. These words attach one thing to another, which may, or may not, belong together. An example is, “I’m unable to give performance reviews because giving feedback makes me nervous.”

There are many more ways we use Distortion in our communication and I’ll address those at the upcoming event.

In the next post, I’ll share with you a few thoughts on General Semantics. One of those will be how language and thought shape, and are shaped by, our experiences.

Change you thoughts. Change your life…quickly!

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+++++++++++++++About Dr. Edward Lewellen++++++++++++++++++++

Dr. Edward Lewellen an expert in creating methodologies for people to learn to use their mind; their beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors, and put them back in control of their lives and become top-producers. He is a Master Executive Coach, leadership and sales expert, and keynote speaker for some of the largest global organizations.

Author of The 90-Second Mind Manager