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Presuppositions, Frames and Choices

“Language forces us to perceive the world as man presents it to us,” - Julia Penelope.

In the previous article I described an unusual way to become more aware of who you really are and to understand others. Today I continue with a heavy weight in effective communication - presuppositions - the power to give and to take away choice.

A man says to his wife after a fight: "Let's figure out how we can salvage this relationship." A president tells his employees: "Our new vision is to stick to brutal facts and to weather the truth." A parent instructs his son: "If you are as good as your brother, I will love you just as much." Are you hearing the hidden messages inside these lines?

The hidden messages are presuppositions that from the boundaries of our maps of the world. Becoming aware of them is the first step to gaining more personal freedom and direction over your life. Presuppositions are the single most important and effective communication technique in existence. Presuppositions are insidious in their control of our lives, because they are hidden just beneath the surface of words, and most of us are not trained to recognize them and to recognize their vast influence over our thinking. To the observant listener, presuppositions often tell more about people than they themselves know, let alone are willing to admit.

Presuppositions are the facts that must be true in order for the sentence to make sense. (Notice, I didn't say "in order for the sentence to be true", but "in order for the sentence to make sense".) They are insidious because for you to even understand the sentence, you must agree to them, even if momentarily. Presuppositions are used to frame the meaning and to direct thinking by limiting choices. For example, novice salesman who doesn't know how to finally ask the customer to pay can do so easily with the question: "Would you like to pay for this with a credit card or cash?" This question presupposes that the buyer will pay, and only the matter of deciding how to do that is in question. The question you need to ask when looking for hidden presuppositions is: "What must be true for this sentence to make sense?" Some more examples (I suggest you read each sentence and try to come up with your own list of presuppositions first, before reading our answers):

"Let's figure out how we can salvage this relationship." Presupposed: we have a relationship; it needs to be salvaged; we don't yet know how to do that; our relationship is junk (salvage implies junk).

"Our new vision is to stick to brutal facts and to weather the truth." Presupposed: facts are brutal; sticking to the truth is hard; previously we were not sticking to facts and we were lying.

"If you are as good as your brother, I will love you just as much." Presupposed: you are not as good as your brother right now; you might not be loved by your parent; love from your parents is something that you earn.

A whole profession has been invented that tries to write and speak without presuppositions - lawyers. (And what's presupposed in that sentence? :-) Trying to avoid presuppositions is the main reason for legalese. Paragraph upon paragraph of tangled word jungle is necessary to give sentences a single meaning. In the process so obfuscating the meaning that a specialized education is necessary to write and decipher these sentences.

Presuppositions exist in every sentence, some innocuous, some hideous. People who are very good at controlling others are very good at presupposing what they want. People who are very good at being stuck in their problems are very good at presupposing their problems. Extraordinary healers are masters of presupposition magic. Hypnotists rely on presuppositions to guide people into trance. Many techniques in NLP and in effective communication are build around skillful use of presuppositions. Taken to its pinnacle, the power of presuppositions is the power to create and to destroy mental worlds.

In the next article I will describe a simple, almost trivial, yet immensely powerful technique to empower every relationship you have.

You’ve just read TIP #76 FOR CREATING AN EXTRAORDINARY AND MEANINGFUL LIFE brought to you by Holographic University. To get the next Tip visit us at:

May You Be Happy!
- Arman Darini, Ph.D.

About the Author: Arman Darini, Ph.D. is the director of Holographic University, the author of weekly Tips for Creating an Extraordinary and Meaningful Life, and a certified international NLP Trainer. As the leader of a dynamic team of Life Trainers and Coaches, Arman's motto is "I don't believe in your limitations". To learn more about Arman, visit

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