I’ve written a lot in these pages about hierarchies of perspective, how, for example you can analyze a partnership in terms of how it’s working for you, for the partnership overall, or for the larger society within which the partnership operates. Communication often breaks down when people are “talking past each other,” taking divergent perspectives, but in particular analyzing from different levels.   I can’t stress enough how effective it is to be able to track of jumps from level to level in thought and conversation. Rung running I call it–the ability to move between levels of analysis productively and efficiently, especially in the dance of conversation or negotiation.

Having taught over 150,000 student hours on this stuff in the past five years, I can say that rung running doesn’t come naturally. It takes practice.

One way to distinguish two adjacent levels is by distinguishing thoughts within one level from thoughts up level, about that one level. Here are some examples of using that kind of analysis:

Mom: You kids stop fighting. (about the fight)
Billy: But she started it. (within the fight)
Mom: I don’t care-just stop. (about the fight)

Mind Readers Dictionary : Play in Popup

Mind Readers Dictionary: The Podfast : Play in Popup

James: Hillary would make a great president. (within the election)
Julie: Forget it, she’s not electable. (about the election)
John: It would better for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq. (within his patriotism)
Tim: Oh, so you don’t care what happens to the U.S.? (about his patriotism)
Sam: I think you need a new job. (about Bill’s job)
Bill: No really, my boss just had a bad day. (within his job)
Sam: No really a new job, because he has a bad day every day. (about Bill’s job again as if to say look at the big picture)
Bill: Hey no it’s alright. You’re too much of a perfectionist. It’s important to be accepting. (leap-frogging Sam’s big picture to a bigger one Bill comments on Sam’s standards)
Kate: I’m not feeling it. (about their band)
Frank: I think I need a better guitar. (within their band)
Kate: I think we need a better guitarist. (about his skills)
Frank: Yeah, we’ll that’s your opinion. (within his standards)
Kate: You can’t even tell how bad it sounds. (about his standards)
Julie: Do you think this dress makes me look fat? (within her looks)
Craig: I think you’re beautiful. (about her looks)
Student: I tried to get my homework in on time but my printer died. (within his effort)
Teacher: Why should I believe you? You show up for class an hour late every day. (about his effort)
Student: Well I don’t think you grade fairly. (about the teacher’s grading)
Teacher: If you got your homework in on time I’d give you a better grade. (within his grading)
Cop: You were speeding. (within the law)
Driver: This road shouldn’t be marked 25 miles an hour. (about the law)
Dan: My stomach is killing me. Got any Tums?1 (within his diet)
Brittany: You have got to stop eating stale Cheetos all day. (about his diet)
Tom: I’m sorry I’m late again, honey. (within the relationship)
Carol: Well, that’s what I want to talk to you about. This relationship isn’t really working. (about the relationship)
Tom: What do you mean? We’re doing fine. (disagreement about the relationship)
Carol: You’re late every day. (getting nowhere about the relationship, she returns to trouble within the relationship)
Tom: Not every day. (within the relationship)
Carol: This is futile. (about the disagreements both within and about the relationship)
Tom: I’m not late every day (persisting from within the relationship)
Carol: Talking with you gets nowhere. (from within her attitude about his attitude)
Tom: Why do you keep stirring up trouble between us? (from within his attitude about her attitude)


1. This example was sponsored by Tums, the handy stomach remedy, and Cheetos, the ever-tasty snack.2
2. Dan’s footnoted comment was within the dialog. Footnote 1 was about the dialogue.3
3. Footnote 2 was about footnote 1.

For complete illumination regarding within and about listen to this classic Monty Python skit.