“It ain’t what you don’t know. It’s what you know that ain’t so.” -Yogi Berra
A foundational principle in NLP is the importance of information gathering. Frequently simply getting accurate information is enough to cause a behavior change.
In NLP one precise approach is called a “Double description”. Double description means exactly what it sounds like. It means getting a thorough and detailed description from 2 different points of view, ideally from two different perspectives embodied in two different people.
The value of this is easily overlooked when ‘Oh my friend who knows all about that said…” or “Oh I’m an expert at meta-model, so I can do my research.” I don’t need to think of getting a different perspective or double description from someone else or going through the entire detailed metamodel process to arrive at sensory-specific descriptions of every aspect of the issue or situation.
How important is this? Recently I engaged in that most American of pastimes, buying a house. Yes, probably at the very peak of the market, yours truly went out and bought an old fixer-upper just because I loved the location. So being experienced at buying houses in this area, and being well rehearsed in information gathering, I proceeded to go into escrow, obtain a mortgage, and the multitude of tasks and projects involved in purchasing a house and arranging for a fairly substantial amount of remodeling.
In the process of assessing insurance needs, I inquired what exactly in this condominium property I was responsible for. The association office I called handed the phone to “someone who serves on one of the committees, he knows about that.”
This nice gentleman, Bill or George or some common name like that, said “The way I like to explain it is if you were to take your place and turn it upside down and shake it, the only things you’re responsible for are whatever would fall from the floor to the ceiling, in other words, your personal property.” Based on that expert advice I chose my insurance coverages and proceeded to the next of the myriad tasks.
When the home inspector was giving me the summary results, I asked what about termites. He replied that wasn’t a part of the “home inspection.” I looked at my realtor and said it’s not included? “No, that is a separate inspection,” she said. “Well, since they said I’m not responsible for anything outside of the paint on the walls I guess I don’t need one” I replied.
Some weeks later after having completed the rest of the due diligence I was talking to the insurance agent for the homeowners’ association about earthquake insurance. When he said the association policy did not cover my unit, I related what I had been told previously. “Oh no, you are responsible for the interior walls and the structure itself. I have to find out who told you otherwise and straighten him out.”
Would that second description have come just a few weeks earlier?
Escrow closes, much construction takes place, and finally, I’m moving in, when in the kitchen I notice all this dust in the cabinets. I presumed it was just construction debris, so I just vacuumed it up and put down some new shelf paper.
Moved into my kitchen stuff, and finally, I’m making a meal one morning and I notice more sawdust. Dust was even in the sink, and I thought that was funny. Then I took a closer look.
Termite pellets. I start looking again at the cabinets and the shelving and I see evidence of termite pellets even under the new shelf paper. Oh boy. So quick, get a termite inspection, yeah I have termites in the kitchen, a few rafters, and even a garage door jamb is rotted through completely.
Recourse? No. Due to my being misinformed about what was my responsibility, I didn’t request an inspection when I could have. Go after the person who misinformed me? Well, I had no recording or documentation, lawsuits are expensive to pursue, and likely not the best way to get to know your neighbors. Holding that idea back, I went ahead to get estimates for repairs.
As we also say, timing is everything. Had I been told earlier about the conflicting description of my responsibilities, I would have had a very different response when the matter of a termite inspection came up. What would a double description have been in that case? As simple as asking someone else what my exact responsibilities were, or getting an expert reading of the deed conditions, covenants, and restrictions.
The upshot? The repair costs are pretty minor, especially since I planned to replace the cabinets anyway, and fortunately, I can afford them. Sure, I would have preferred to have dealt with termite treatment before I moved in, and had the chance to ask the seller to bear that expense.
As it is I’ll be very happy when I can walk out into my kitchen in the morning and not find the counter graced with a light covering of what looks like sawdust, but isn’t.