Ericksonian Hypnosis and NLP

Persuasion, Communication, Influencing and Healing

Lugosi, Going Postal

NLP is about making a single intervention to enable rapid change to behaviour

I was pitching for some NLP training and had a meeting with the MD. I’m a bit like a street magician. If someone says “Show me a trick” I am only too happy to do one. So, when he told me that he was skeptical that NLP could change behaviour almost instantly I took up the challenge:-

“So, tell me about something that makes you uncomfortable when you think back to it”, I said.

I then look for subtle cues and as soon as I see his face slightly flush, and even before he’s said anything I say:-

“That one will do”, I said.

“How did you know?”, he asked.

The face flush was all I needed to know. NLP practitioners are trained to look at things like a face flush, rapid eye movements, breathing and subtle body, hand. finger movements.

The situation was that he spoke every year at a trade show and last year he had spent ages preparing a subject and speech but the previous speaker had covered the same subject and now he was next on the podium and had to deliver the same. He was embarrased, stumbled to find different words. Uncomfortable and it sometimes came back in a flashback. So, I asked him:-

“Who do you find to be a really funny comedian?”

With no hesitation “Michael McIntyre”.

I asked him to close his eyes and think about Michael McIntrye, think of some jokes. When I see the smiles I say:-

“OK, press your first finger and thumb together tightly and hold it while you think about Michael McIntyre. More jokes. The funnier they are the harder you will press”

 Then I tell him to release the tension and open his eyes.

“How long has this company been in business?”  I ask.

I show interest and ask a few more questions. I know I’m leaving him puzzled as to what we just did. I did that on purpose. I wanted to instill some curiosity and anticipation.

“OK, close your eyes, let’s get back to that podium and I want you to be in the audience watching the speaker before you. Nod when you can see and hear her.”  He nods.

“OK, as you press your finger and thumb together I want you to see Michael McIntrye standing right behind her, telling jokes, NOW!  Keep pressing, keep pressing until she is drowned out and the audience is laughing their heads off. When you can’t hear her anymore you can open your eyes and come back to your desk.”

“OK, now try and get back that time at the conference.”

 “I can’t. I keep seeing McIntyre. How did you do that?”

I can almost guarantee that many of you were in a trance while you read the story and some will have done a similar fix for yourselves. It also demonstrates a synergy between the use of Erickson-type, conversational trance induction and an NLP technique labelled under “Swish” and “Anchoring”.

It also illustrates the difference between understanding how to use a toolbox of techniques and being judged by official NLP training that will tell you my “Swish” and “Anchoring” sucks. Well its true. I don’t follow pages 27 and 32 of the training manual. I absorbed the key elements and use them my way.

That was always my problem with NLP. They are too purist. Sometimes like a cult with rules.

Lugosi, Going Postal

My Background

About 40 years ago my girlfriend at the time took me to a free NLP evening designed to sell NLP courses. I bought a book by Bandler & Grinder (founders of NLP amongst others) called “Frogs Into Princes”. I wanted to cure myself of blushing in front of women for no apparent reason so I did a crazy thing suggested by the book. Under a mild self hypnosis trance I went iniside and in my mind I said:-

“I don’t want to blush in front of women so please tell me why I do it”.

I was immediately taken to an incident 20 years earlier at age seven, something I had never thought about until this moment. I walked into the loo and my aunt was sitting there. That was it. I was cured by simply articulating in my mind:-

“But I am no longer embarrassed by it. Stop!”.

I had proven to myself that hypnosis and NLP techniques were powerful and in those days relatively unknown. NLP, Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Neurology, Language, Programming. Brain Programming. I was a pretty hot programmer myself having started when the computer industry started. 15 instruction machine code on paper tape. I could do this NLP stuff and I’d probably be good at it. Richard Bandler was also a programme,  so had an approach to NLP that I had an affinity with.

I devoured all the NLP books I could get my hands on and became self-taught. I took a course on Erickssonian Hypnosis and NLP and I got a certificate. I took a few refresher courses over the years but always clashed with the NLP trainers because I saw through a lot of the techniques as being a variation on the basics. I always remember clashing over a technique called “Six-Step Reframe”.

“But I did it in three steps” I’d say.

“No, you failed”, they would say!

I am highly skeptical of how modern NLP has become like a secret religion or cult. NLP practitioners in groups tend to be like wizards out-doing each other at Hogwarts.

I used my NLP background to start a company that gave NLP training in Communication & Persuasion. I was one of the first in the UK to do that and I gave several courses and seminars to major corporates. I also started a Hypnotherapy business from my home. I had to label it “Hypnotherapy” because its what people wanted. NLP was so new it would have seemed like snake-oil. I added that it would aid sports performance and worked with a famous premier division footballer and England netball athlete on my books.

In truth I rarely hypnotised anyone in the normally understood meaning. I gave it all up because of my love of IT. IT was reasonably paid and often. NLP and Hypnotherapy infrequent but high value. I found I could do two things very well and had to choose. But you never lose your abilities. It becomes an embedded behaviour.

NLP and Ericksonian hypnosis are a powerful combination of tools that can help you change your life, change others, communicate, persuade and manipulate.

Lugosi, Going Postal

What is Ericksonian Hypnosis

Created by Milton Erickson and introduced in the excellent article by MarkW at GP. If I may quote:-

“A more modern hypnotist many have heard of is Milton Erickson, who contracted polio, and whilst bedridden, careful observed how his sisters and mother talked to each other especially as they tried to persuade each other.  From these observations, Erickson devised a whole raft of theories on language and suggestions that are the subject of whole books, and heavily influenced modern day hypnosis practice.”

Bandler & Grinder wanted to know how Erickson did his hypnosis so they studied him. They modelled his techniques and then reproduced them for themselves.

It’s a passive type of trance induction carried out by conversation and specific words designed to encourage someone into a trance. “Imagine” being a very powerful word, for example, that makes someone go inside their mind to construct something, like a directed dream. Inside such a trance you can implant traditional post-trance suggestions. Bandler & Grinder took this further with NLP to actually re-program experiences to bring about change in the now and future. And that change might be done by fixing the past.

One of the most powerful way to communicate is through metaphor and anecdote. Erickson would make up a story to tell to a subject in trance. It was constructed to convey an allegorical message. The idea is that the story appeals to the sub-conscious that takes it as a model for a new behavioural choice. The song “Ugly Duckling” is an example how someone who lacks confidence due to body shape or awkwardness can yet emerges as a swan.

Ericksonian language is full of language patters that don’t make conscious sense:-

“And only you know how soon this change will begin. Will it be NOW or will it NOW be soon”.

The confusion in the language bypasses the conscious mind and has meaning to the sub-conscious, acknoeledging that only the subject’s sub-conscious knows how to respond. The emphasis on “NOW” should be obvious.

The most brilliant confusion script I owe to my original teacher, Stephen Brookes. It involves the use of the words:- “Left and Right”. Apologies that I don’t remember the exact words he used when I saw it demonstrated but this is exactly the way he would use it:-

“As your left hand is left right there, how will you know if its the right hand to help you MAKE THIS CHANGE. And if it is the right hand then will the left hand be left there. Right? Sleep, deeper, deeper until you are right there and there is nothing left for you to do”

Its all based on confusion brought about by the double meaning and use of the words “Left” and “Right” along with the embedded suggestion to “MAKE THIS CHANGE”

Lugosi, Going Postal

What is NLP?

NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is the collective name given to techniques which enable better communication and rapid behavioural change. NLP was developed in 1972 by John Grinder and Richard Bandler at the University of California and originally applied in counselling and therapy.

Since the mid-Eighties the business community has become increasingly aware of the business applications of NLP techniques for helping employees to communicate more effectively and improve their performance.

Some typical business applications have been:-

  • Help sales staff to achieve greater rapport with their customers.
  • Teaching managers and staff how to communicate more effectively with each other.
  • Counselling staff to understand and transform negative behaviours affecting their career, colleagues and customers.
  • Performance improvement & coaching and modelling of excellence.
  • Achieving better outcomes in meetings, planning sessions and negotiations.
  • Helping employees cope with organisational change, new working practises and empowerment.

NLP techniques arise from research into brain function, gestalt therapy, hypnosis, the use of metaphor, learning, linguistics, computer science and cybernetics. Its roots are illustrated by the three letters that make up its title (NLP).

Neuro: representing the way that experience and stimulus/response programs are neurologically coded and actioned through the nervous system, cortex and brain.

Linguistic: relating to how we represent our beliefs and experience in the language we use to communicate.

Programming: indicating that changes can be made to behaviour. This is achieved by adding, deleting or modifying steps in a behaviour, or by changing the qualities of experience and belief.

It is Programming, in the NLP context, that can cause the most powerful changes. A behaviour is learnt and coded into the neurons of the brain in a similar way that a computer is loaded with software. These programs (behaviours) can be altered (re-programmed) if you understand the sequences in that program and the change required.

For example, someone’s behaviour may be described as:-

“When someone doesn’t see my point of view I tend to get angry. I’ll tend to argue and raise my voice until feel they have a clear picture of what I mean”.

It may be discovered that this behavioural program was learnt as a baby who cried  and got angry to gain attention. NLP techniques could re-program this behaviour so that the responses of:-

“get angry” and “argue and raise my voice”

do not happen.

All behaviour has a sequence of steps from the original stimulus to the outcome. Often, these steps remain sub-conscious until the person with the behaviour is coached to examine it more closely. In the example the stimulus is:-

“When someone doesn’t see my point of view….”.

One could take this person to the point where they are just about to “get angry” and then have them immediately rehearse an alternative and more beneficial behaviour.

For example, this behaviour might be given a new outcome (programme)  of:-

” …..I stay calm, look at things from their perspective and see if I can explain myself more clearly”.

Using NLP techniques this new outcome could be inserted into the current behaviour so that it becomes the new compulsory behaviour activated without conscious thought.

NLP can make new behaviours operate sub-consciously and compulsively.

The behaviour described in the example has clues for an NLP practitioner to understand how this person may represent their experience in their mind. For example, this person “sees” their ideas as expressed in the statement:-

“When someone doesn’t see my point of view….”.

Understanding such clues enable an NLP practitioner to suggest alternative strategies for communicating and behaving which may be more compelling for the subject to adopt.

NLP provides a model for achieving verbal rapport by listening to words that suggest how we code our experience in terms of our sensory representational channels. They are:-

Seeing – Visual

Hearing – Auditory

Feeling – Kinesthetic

Taste – Gustatory

Smell – Olefactory

It is common to to express ourselves in language which references what we see, feel, hear, smell and taste.

“Do you see what I mean?”

“I hear what you say”

“I don’t feel this is the right way to go”

“I can smell victory”

“It left a bitter taste in my mouth when I sacked him”

The sensory predicates from each representational channel are; “see”, “hear”, “feel”, “smell”, “bitter”. Other common predicates are:-

view, hard, soft, loud, vision, highlight, seem, tough, passion, look, grasp, tight, bright  ….. etc.

NLP concepts suggest that these words indicate how someone is internally experiencing what they are talking about. Someone who doesn’t see your point of view” may, literally, not have a mental picture of your idea. You may be surprised to learn that there are people who don’t have well-developed visual abilities or who don’t know how to feel like you do.

It is suggested  people can be primarily “Visual”, “Feeling” or “Hearing” (or Visual, Kinesthetic and Auditory using NLP nomenclature). That is, they have a preference for processing information and thinking based on what they see, how they feel or what they hear. This may also be represented by the language they are using at the time. Smell and Taste are not common representational channel biases unless you are a chef or master of wine.

Lugosi, Going Postal

People may change their lead representational channel depending on the context. For example, an engineer who may be primarily visual at work may attend more to their feelings in personal life. So, depending on whether you are discussing work or children you may find that the predicates will change.

By paying attention to the predicate words someone uses you can try matching them to achieve rapport.

For example:- Suppose someone says:-

“I don’t see how we can solve this problem” (A Visually based observation).

You might not achieve good rapport if you say:-

“It’s a tough one!” (A Kinesthetic response).

However, you might convey more empathy if you were to say:-

“Are there any other ways of looking at it?” (A Visual reply).

People may use a variety of sensory predicate words by common usage. That does not necessarily mean they are continually switching sensory channels. Often  when you have decided someone is Auditory, they break the rules and start using visual words. Sometimes you need to observe people over several conversations and social contexts before determining what sensory representational channels they favour and when.

There is one exception to the use of sensory representational channel words – and that is language which avoids using them. It tends to be found in Government reports, policies and procedures manuals and brochures. It is know as Digital representation. You may find such language by people who are logical, technical and without emotion. You may need to let such a person become intensely absorbed in something before they may begin to hint at some representational bias.

Have you ever wondered why some people seem “shifty eyed” or look away  when you are talking to them? (Diane Abbott is a classical and frequently observable example). Neurological research into Lateral Eye Movements (LEM’s) has shown that eye movements can be associated with internal thought processes.  NLP has a model  for what these eye movements may indicate. This can be used with representational channel biases in language to understand people’s decision-making strategies and  how they code experience and beliefs.

The following descriptions about eye-accessing clues have been found consistently true for normal right-handed people. For left-handed people the left and right descriptions are reversed.

Lugosi, Going Postal

When referring to Left and Right in the following descriptions it is the Left and Right of the observer facing the subject.

Eyes in top Left hand corner = visually constructed image. ie. “What would I look like if I had a sun-tan?”

Eyes in top Right hand corner = visually remembered image. ie. “What colour is your car?”

Eyes straight ahead and de-focused = visualising, either remembered or constructed.

Eyes horizontal to Left = constructed sound. ie. “Imagine Beethoven in jazz style”

Eyes horizontal Right – remembered sound. ie. “What did she say to you?”

Eyes to lower Left – accessing feelings. ie. “What does it feel like to be excited?”

Eyes to lower Right – having internal dialogue. ie. “Should I move the pawn or the knight?”

It can be useful to observe if an experience is remembered or constructed. If you ask someone “What did the customer say to you?” and their eye accessing cues suggest they are ‘constructing’ the conversation then perhaps they don’t have an accurate memory of the conversation, or it may not have taken place.

The benefits of using of eye-accessing cues with representational language skills are enormous. They could help you  understand the buying and decision- making strategies of your customers, managers and staff.

Some generalisations that may be useful are:-

  • If someone looks up or straight ahead then they are seeing or making pictures in their mind. Communicate with them using visual words, draw pictures, describe things with hand movements
  • If the person is looking from side to side then they are most likely accessing sounds. They may be influenced by the sound of confidence in your voice. They may have a good memory for what was said to them.
  • If they look down to your left, or bend their head slightly forward they are most likely accessing their feelings. People who are depressed often have a bowed head. It may be a good idea to ask “How do you feel about that?” after they have looked down.
  • If they look down to your right or look away from you then they may be engaged in internal dialogue, deep thinking. Don’t interrupt or speak slowly until they look at you or request you to carry on speaking.

One my party tricks is to ask someone a question and I will tell them whether their answer is True or False simply by watching their eye movements. “True” will generally be if you detect they are remembering something and “False” if you think they are constructing an answer. But, you must first calibrate them. You ask:-

“What would your front door look like if it had pink spots

and then look to see where they visually construct. Then ask:-

“Who was the first person you saw today”

 you expect that they would be remembering.

Now ask:-

“Where were you last night?”

and observe if they are constructing = possible lie or remembering=possible truth.


There is so much more that is built on these concepts. Another area I would like to explore another time is language, communication and persuasion.

© lugosi for Going Postal 2018

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