Presuppositions in Language (5): Awareness

(Not sure what presuppositions are? Read this article first.)

The way that presuppositions of awareness work is this: if you are aware of something, that suggests that the thing really exists. So if I say “I wonder when you’ll notice your built-in resilience,” I’m putting forward the idea that you have a built-in resilience, without explicitly saying “You have built-in resilience.”

Because I’m not making it into a direct statement of fact (which you might want to challenge if you don’t think you do have built-in resilience), you are more likely to accept the suggestion. In fact, you have to at least entertain the idea that you have resilience in order to make sense of the sentence, as you can’t notice something that is not there.

The tip-off for presuppositions of awareness is any sensory verb – see, hear, feel, touch, smell, taste – or any neutral, non-sensory verb implying awareness, like ‘notice’, ‘realise’, or ‘become aware of’.

“John could see the possibilities” – that’s telling you that there are possibilities. Again, even if the sentence contains a negative (“John couldn’t see the possibilities”) you still have to accept the idea of possibilities in order to make sense of the sentence.

If you want to use this presupposition in a question, you could say, “Have you noticed what’s happened?” which presupposes that something has happened. Or “Which benefits have stood out most for you?” implies that there are benefits, and even that there may be some that you haven’t noticed yet because they’ve been overshadowed by the more prominent ones.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed yet how this presupposition is actually a subset of presuppositions of Existence – but using awareness verbs to imply the existence of something is so common, and so useful, that it’s worth giving Awareness a category of its own.

What Presuppositions of Awareness Tell You When You Hear Them

When you hear presuppositions of awareness in what people say or write, they are giving you clues about how they see the world: the categories that they sort their experiences into and the judgements that they make.

Presuppositions of awareness also tell you about the ‘social facts’ or social constructs that form part of their subjective and social reality. These social facts don’t have a physical reality – in the classic NLP phrase, “you can’t put them in a wheelbarrow” – but they do have an effect in the real world, because they influence and constrain the decisions that people make about what they should do, what’s possible, and what they need to bear in mind.

Knowing a person’s ‘mental landscape’ will help you to understand them, to be understood, and to influence them.

Try These Presupposition of Awareness Exercises

To gain more conscious awareness of your own presuppositions, try completing these sentences a few times with whatever feels true to you.

“What most people aren’t aware of is…” – this will highlight something you think exists or is happening.

“What I would like more people to see is…” – this could reveal a social construct that features in your ‘map of the world’, but not in those of some or all of the people around you.

“What people haven’t noticed yet is…” – this indicates that you think there is something present, or a process going on, that the majority of people, or perhaps everyone else, isn’t aware of. The ‘yet’ suggests that it might get more noticeable over time.

For each answer you get, ask yourself “Is this a physical thing, or a social construct?”

To expand and enrich your mental maps, and to recognise that your map of the world is not identical to reality, ask yourself this question:

“What have other people noticed that I haven’t up to now?” (this could be especially useful if you apply it to people you admire or want to emulate)

You may also get some interesting insights with these questions:

“What am I not aware of?”

“What I would like myself to see is…”

“What I haven’t noticed yet is…”

And this interesting and motivating question that I found in (I think) one of time management gurus Mark Forster’s books (I forget which one, as I read them about 20 years ago): “What am I most resisting now?”

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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