Gerard I. Nierenberg, president of the Negotiating Institute, and Henry H. Calero, a business executive and consultant in the field of negotiating techniques, have put together this edifying book on the many ways in which meta-talk – the hidden meanings beyond our ordinary talk – creates barriers between people who are trying to communicate.

They take their cues for what to do about this from philosophers, psychologists, linguists, and experts in semantics. First, they discuss three levels of meaning: (1) what the speaker is saying, (2) what the speaker thinks he is saying, and (3) what the listener thinks the speaker is saying.

Or illustrated more simply: A sign in the office of a California lawyer states: "I know you believe you understand what you think I said. But I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

Beneath the ordinary patterns and rhythms of our conversation with others are many meanings and motivations. Nierenberg and Calero do a fine job assessing the damage caused by sloppy phrases such as :

* That's just the way things are.
* Needless to say.
* Don’t make me laugh.
* I was only trying to help.

They advise us to be sure to pay special attention to meta-talk of politicians, married couples, and parents.