What is NLP & Ericksonian Hypnosis?

What is NLP & Ericksonian Hypnosis, and what makes them so effective?

Good question. Quick background: NLP was developed beginning in the early 1970s by Richard Bandler, a mathematician and Gestalt therapist, and John Grinder, an accomplished linguist with an impressive history. Together, they discovered certain testable, repeatable patterns in the behavior of people considered to be highly effective in their fields. Among these was Milton H. Erickson, perhaps the greatest board certified physician and hypnotherapist to date, and Virginia Satir, whose legend in family therapy continues to this day. While this is an impressive list, history can be less interesting than the nuts and bolts...

The nuts and bolts.

Which brings us back to the original question. NLP and Hypnosis are different from the traditional preachings of management gurus and theoretical psychologists, because NLP & Ericksonian Hypnosis are based on studies of What actually happens in highly effective interchanges between individuals or groups. Equally fueling the power of these tools is the fact that they are structured to work exactly the way the human other-than-conscious mind works- they take advantage of the naturally occuring patterns found in natural language, both verbal and non verbal. They are the same patterns you've been using all your life, without knowing it consciously.

Say what?

Exactly. We've all heard phrases like these:

  • Can you shut the door?
  • Is the phone ringing?
  • Do you have the remote?
  • Did you know you needed this?

These innocent sounding questions all have one thing in common- they are commands disguised as simple yes/no questions. They are called Conversational Postulates and typically, people will respond by acting as if you had asked them to shut the door, answer the phone, hand you the remote (if you're lucky... or good), etc., without ever questioning it. This is just one of hundreds of patterns that occur naturally in language. We use them all the time, but until now, we haven't used them consciously. Other patterns that have particular power that occur naturally in language are:

  • Presuppositions
  • Embedded Commands
  • Analog Marking
  • Embedded Questions
  • Negative commands
  • Conversational Postulates
  • Ambiguities (phonological, syntactic, scope, punctuation)
  • Metaphor

So let's examine some of these a little more in depth. And by example, much more fun...


Presuppositions are the most powerful of language patterns, so I'll give you some good examples. They are used in a way to presuppose (read: must be true) what we don't want questioned. Do you need to see more examples before you sign up? No, I'm not ready let you buy a contract yet, It's just an example. The apparent question is whether or not you want more examples. The fact that you will want to sign up is taken to be an accepted fact. Since you have chosen to sign up, would you like training at your location or ours? Or do you just need more time to make that assessment? :) There are many forms of presupposition, these examples are just a small sampling. Have you noticed yet that there's more to language than we were taught in school? Are you curious to learn more? Well, you can continue to do just that- are you aware that you are learning new ones with every question I ask? Fortunately, its easy to just keep reading on...

Embedded commands and questions, Analog Marking, Negative commands...

...are all ways of giving suggestions to a person or group without their conscious awareness that they have received an instruction. Typically, they will act on the instruction as if they had received it directly, but without conscious resistance, lazyness, etc. The proper use of these patterns requires that you have good control of your voice tone, tempo and non-verbal behavior. Say, for example, you wanted to have someone scratch their nose (not very useful, but its become the example of choice over the years, who am I to argue :) ). Now obviously, if you were to walk up to someone and say "Scratch your nose!", they'd probably at least give you a funny look. But with NLP, the process works a little differently. You might choose to engage in a conversation, in the course of which you might say, "When learning to cook from scratch, it's best if you're willing to ask someone who knows". Now, in there, you have to say three words with a special, and identical, emphasis. This is called Analog Marking, and can be accomplished by any of several ways. Most easily by speaking the words louder, or in a different pitch: "When learning to cook from scratch, it's best if you're willing to ask someone who knows". See how the marked out words read? And remember, if you're saying it, there is a phenomenon called Phonological Ambiguityat work. The word Scratch stays the same, but the next word sounds identical to the word "Your", and likewise, "knows" becomes Nose. This principle works even better if your analog marking is redundant in another sensory channel, such as visual. For example, when you emphasize the words with your voice, you might also make a particular gesture with one of your hands, or make eye-contact on each of those words. Try this out for yourself, it really works, and can be used to deliver a suggestion to people without their ever knowing that it was. Who would think that a statement about cooking from scratch was really about having them scratch their nose? Quick question: while you were reading this, did you touch your nose? ;)

A Last quick pattern is called negative commands. An example: Don't think of Blue! No, really, don't think of anything that's any shade of blue. What did you HAVE TO do to even make sense of what was said? If you answered, "Think of the color blue, or something that is blue", you got it. This is a great one to remember when you're working with your kids- tell them what you DO want, and you're more likely to get it. Your unconscious mind can't make sense of a negation. It has to create a representation of the very action you don't want them to do, which makes it much more likely that they will do just that. I once watched a father tell his son, who was obviously not going ANYWHERE, "Don't go over there!", and I chuckled as the child looked right at where he wasn't supposed to go, watched his father turn away for a second, and wandered right over to where he was told not to go. He was only about 4- he wasn't being spiteful, it's just that he followed his father's instructions as best as he could. Now remember I don't want you to imagine ways this could be used to have fun. I wouldn't want you to think to go up to someone you like and say, "I don't want you to imagine me making mad, passionate love to you now...".

Now all I've talked about so far is some of the most basic of Language patterns... there's a whole ton more stuff here.


Now all this may be bringing up the question, isn't this manipulative?

Isn't this manipulative?

Maybe we should take a good look at our definition of manipulation. When we enter a negotiation with another company, or even our spouse or children (or parents!), we have a specific outcome in mind that we want to come to pass. As the negotiation progresses, we use our logic (sometimes) and other thoughts to attempt to move the negotiation closer to our desired state. When we accomplish this is a way that also satisfies the "other side", we say the negotiations were successful.

Manipulation is defined as attempting to consciously guide events to a specific resolution. So, in our negotiation example above, we would have been considered to be engaging in manipulative behavior. The biggest difference is that with NLP and these hypnotic language patterns, you have a sizable advantage in using your verbal and non-verbal behavior to guide you to the class of experiences you want. If you use these techniques to railroad people into doing things that are not in their best interest as well, you may get short term success, but people WILL eventually know, not consciously, but at that "gut" level, that they should stay away. Using this requires that you have the best interests of all involved at heart, or there will be consequences. And remember the old addage- Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it! With NLP, that holds much greater truth.

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