Presuppositions in Language (3): Cause and Effect

First, a reminder that if you’re not familiar with the idea of ‘presuppositions’ in language (the implicit statements embedded in what people say or write that you have to take as true (‘presuppose’) in order to make sense of what they’re saying), you might want to read this article first.

A presuppositions of cause and effect makes a linkage between two internal representations, labels one a cause and the other an effect, and says “this one causes that one”, or “if you do this one, that will happen”.

These presuppositions shine a light on part of the speaker’s belief system – it’s how they believe the world works, or (if they’re using cause and effect presuppositions to manipulate) how they want you to think the world works.

How to Spot Presuppositions of Cause and Effect

The tip-off for this is the verb ‘to make’ or ‘to cause’, or implied causatives of the form ‘if-then’, or just the word ‘because’.

Examples:

‘The tightening market made him up his game.’

‘One of the reasons people select our service is because it gives them total control.’

‘I don’t know which aspect of the course will give you the biggest benefits…’

Again, notice how this still works even when you start with a negative:

‘Don’t sign up for this programme unless you are ready, because it will give you a lot more business.’

Here’s an example with an ‘if-then’ structure:

If you throw in the aircon, then I would consider buying it’

Other tip-off words that have essentially the same structure as if-then:

While the market is in this state, I’m being very careful about where I put my money.’

As long as you keep us as your exclusive supplier, we’ll keep prices stable.’

‘We won’t take on any more people unless we get that big order.’

There are many other constructions that presuppose a cause-effect relationship:

When the market collapses, there’ll be a chain reaction.’

The more you practice, the easier it will be to play the piece.’

‘I can’t make a move while they’re watching me.’

As long as I stick to my principles, I can’t fail.’

‘Proper preparation leads to greater success.’

How could you respond if someone is using a cause and effect presupposition in a way that you think doesn’t reflect how things actually work, or they’re trying to shape what you believe for their own purposes?

You could use a Meta Model question and ask some variation of ‘How does this cause that?’

Assignments (Should You Choose to Accept Them)

  1. If you’re aware of your internal dialogue (some people are, some aren’t), check in on it from time to time and notice what cause and effect presuppositions come up. Are these the ones you want (empowering), or do they keep you from achieving everything you want to do and be?
  2. Listen out for cause and effect presuppositions in what you read and hear. You’ll find it easier to listen out for them on the radio or TV than in live conversation, although with practice you’ll find that some cause and effect presuppositions leap out at you when someone is talking to you face to face.
NLP language patterns book

Want to know all about NLP language patterns? This is the book you need: Practical NLP 2: Language (available in paperback or Kindle ebook format)

© 2023, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

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