What is 'Attaching Meaning'?

‘Attaching meaning’ or in strict NLP circles ‘complex equivalence’ is a common thinking pattern a lot of us fall into. In essence it is ‘this means that’ for example ‘he crossed his arms -that means he doesn’t like me’ or ‘she texted back immediately - that means she’s super keen” etc.

OK…and what’s wrong with doing that?!

Well…if you fall into a pattern of it, it can lead to confusion and disappointment. You’re not always going to be right – folding arms can be because someone is cold, and texting back might just spell efficiency…or a hundred other things. Imagine how many conversations have gone on in order to attach meaning to the frequency or speed of return texts?!

For performers this attached meaning is a common trap. They are regularly put up against a panel from whom they get no verbal feedback – only the twitch of a pencil or the raising of an eyebrow. What does this mean?! Have I got the job?

This week we ran a competition for our audition workshop and the entrants were requested to send us their worst audition ever story. The results were astonishing – we had casting directors asking their dogs what they thought, co-performers who brought their own whips(!) and a lot of performers who had all but been given the job by casting directors only to hear nothing. Imagine attaching a meaning to all of that – ‘the dog didn’t seem to like me, I’ll probably never work again’, ‘I really thought the whipping worked in my favour, the casting director was scribbling away’ etc.! This searching for meaning can either end in disappointment, a knock to the confidence or at best a wasted week of worrying. 

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Oh dear…I attach meaning all the time….what should I do?
  • The first step is to notice it – and having read this, you probably will.
  • Then question it – does this really mean that? Or am I guessing? What else could be? And how valuable is guessing?
  • Then forget it. Find something else to do that isn’t deciding what things mean. 
  • There is one alternative…and this might be dangerous (but can definitely highlight how wrong you might have got your attached meaning)…ask them! Can I have some feedback (because I really thought it was in the bag because you smiled at me when I came in and when I left?). 
  • There can be a hundred reasons for not getting a job, and many of them are completely out of your control. What’s great is when you know you’ve done a good job, and that’s all that matters.

If you'd like to find out more, I am running a one day workshop for performers called 'SMASH IT" with another Canary Coach and Director, Tim O'Hara.

For more details see:

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