Intro to Language Patterns

A lot of NLP books start you off with the simple language patterns, embeded commands, etc., but I think there's no better place to start than with what are the most powerful of all the language patterns, Presuppositions.

Presuppositions are found almost everywhere, and they form the foundation of our normal communication. Presuppositions are used to presuppose what you want to be done, or thought, while talking overtly about something else. Take the introductory sentence above. There is a presupposition right in there- simply by saying that presuppositions are the most powerful of all the language patterns, it presupposes the existence of other language patterns. Your mind makes a representation of a bunch of other language patterns, though you may not know anything about them (consciously!), in order to make sense of the statement. That's how presuppositions work. You probably didn't read the sentence and stop, saying, "Now wait a minute, there's no other language patterns!"...

There are many syntactic environments in which presuppositions can naturally occur. Before I get into the list, we'll go over some common and useful examples.

Presuppositions of Time

One of the most common, and easiest to notice to the trained ear, are presuppositions of time. These are usually found around words like since, while, before, after, when, during...

After you take the trash out, why don't you decide which flavor of ice cream you want and bring us in some for a treat!

By phrasing the desire for the trash to be taken out this way, the conscious attention is put on the decision about the ice cream, and if this part is sufficiently consciousness-occupying and compelling, the trash-taking part falls out of consciousness, and is accepted as a behavior that will happen without being consciously questioned.

More examples might sound like: "When you get milk at the store afterwards, can you pick up that brownie mix you were asking about yesterday", "While you're raking the leaves tomorrow, think about what you'd like for us to do on vacation next month, and let me know". The basic format tends to be "&lr;Before/since/while/during/after> you do "X", can you <do/think about/get/try...> "Y"?", where "X" is the behavior you want done without it being brought up for conscious thought, and "Y" is the thing you want consciously focused on instead.

It's important that "Y" be of a more compelling magnitude than "X". For example, if you were to say "After you give me $1000.00, can you look up the telephone number of a good shrink?", would most likely NOT result in your getting any amount of cash.

There is also something called "The Rule of Three" in presuppositions. If you presuppose the same behaviour three times in a conversation, in three different ways, and it's accepted all three times without comment (or better yet- if later in conversation they themselves presuppose the behavior), then it's a done deal.

Using presuppositions in sales

Presuppose the outcome you want.

That's the one thing you need to know if you want to have more successful business interactions. What it means is that you will use your language to presuppose the business will go your way. I have a business, and when people come to me saying that they are just checking prices, I begin by meeting them linguistically at this, and quickly move my language to presuppose the outcome I want. Instead of saying things like "If you contract for this with someone, they should do ...this and that... and it should cost $xxx...", begin to presuppose they have already contracted with you! Talk to them as if they have already agreed to do business with you: "The first thing we'll do is ...whatever... and then we'll sit down and go over the basics, and you can make any changes you want. Then, after the site has been up and running for a while, you'll have a better idea of just what it can do, and you might begin to get some new ideas of what you want me to do on it for you. All you need to do then is give me a quick call and I'll make it happen". Simply stated, take their having bought your product or service out of the realm of the hypothetical, and put it squarely in the language of the done decision.

Ethical Concerns

The one caveat you need to pay attention to here is this: You MUST be able to deliver on your promises. There is such a thing a "buyer's remorse". That can kill your business faster than almost anything. You can use presuppositions to railroad almost any business deal, but unless you are able to truly deliver on your promises, don't make 'em. Presuppositions, like almost any part of NLP, can be used manipulatively, but it will ALWAYS bite you in the ass if you use it unwisely.

Syntactic Environments for Identifying and Using Presuppositions

In Appendix B of "Patterns 1", there is a FULL listing of these. I'm going to condense that list here. What I will suggest, if you're serious about incorporating the use of presuppositions into your behavior, is that you get Patterns 1 and read that appendix, and then write out 100 examples for each of the different types of presuppositions. When you've done that, you'll be a presupposition pro.

  1. Simple presuppositions:
    These simply presuppose the existence of something. Very obvious. Example: Joe has a car. Presupposes that there exists someone named Joe, and that there exists something called a car.

  2. Complex presuppositions:
    The presuppose more than just that something exists. Here is where we have the Presuppositions of Time mentioned previously, among many others. This is a very rich category.
    • Subordinate Clauses of Time:
      Example: Prior to going to the mall, I realized I had no gas. Presupposes that I went to the mall (and consequently, that I must have gotten gas, or obtained alternate transportation...)

    • Relative Clauses:
      Example: A bunch of the seagulls you fed left their mark on our parked cars! Presupposes you fed seagulls.

    • Complex Adjectives:
      Example: If John drives his newer truck, I'll eat my hat. Presupposes that John has an older truck.

    • Comparitive As:
      Example: If Sheila eats as much as her Mom, we'll need to buy a lot more food! Presupposes that Sheila's mom eats a lot!

    There are many, many more types of presuppositions, those I have listed above are just my personal favorites. If you really want to learn this stuff, then buy the Patterns 1 book! There is just no substitute for that book for the self-motivated learner.

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