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Asking the question ‘why?’ can be a very powerful way of understanding both oneself and others. It is possible to go from something very simple, such as asking a person their favourite colour, to something very core for them about being in their world, in a few simple steps. The following dialogue, which is based on the PCP technique of laddering illustrates this:

Jane asks John: 'What is your favourite colour?' He answers 'blue' and Jane then asks him for a contrasting colour with the question 'Blue as opposed to?' John answers 'red' and Jane goes on to ask him: 'why do you prefer blue?' 'Blue' says John is 'cool' not 'warm or hot.' Jane goes on to ask why he prefers 'cool' to 'warm or hot' and for John this is easy, as for him 'being cool is a sign of being intelligent, calm, and reasonable.' Jane interjects 'as opposed to .......?' and John answers 'being angry and out of control.' When Jane then asks: 'why do you prefer being 'intelligent, calm and reasonable? John answers: 'because I don't want to be like my father who used to beat us when I was a child.'

I used the above example on a PCP course I was running this weekend and when I asked people to ladder each other from the question ‘what is your favourite colour?’, sure enough in three or four steps people, were telling each other what was very core to them, in their worlds. It allowed them to get to know each other and realise that in their core meanings they were very different, yet they could stand in each other's shoes, as it were and that this was more than empathy. This as I pointed out was one of the things that makes PCP different and still very radical, in its insistence on knowing others, in order to play a role with regard to them, in order, in fact to have a relationship. Laddering is a powerful technique, which you can learn to use for yourself on yourself to help you understand yourself. You can also use it with others, with their permission, in appropriate settings, when you want to get to know them better, and to develop a role with them, that is helpful and understanding of them.

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