Sleight of Mouth
There are a number of ways we can take sleight of mouth. You’re probably wondering if this article is about French-kissing, or that Mantak Chia exercise involving a piece of string, an orange, and your tongue. Go look it up, that’s what Google is for. Unfortunately, that’s not what this article is about – although it may help you get to the stage where those skills are put into practice.
This article is about sleight of mouth as a means of working with peoples beliefs. Now belief is a funny thing; it’s the core of who we are, or think we are. It is an unconscious framework too, we don’t have to think “do I believe in the dualism of good versus evil” before deciding on a Mocha or a Latte. We don’t have to go to our highest ethical stance in the world before buying a new flatscreen. We just do these things. In fact, a great book on the subject is How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. He shows how our brains actually do this stuff, whilst using examples such as airline pilots and baseball.
Anyhow, we live by our beliefs. In fact, we are our beliefs. They inform our actions from moment to moment, and they come out in everything we say – as do “values” in which beliefs live. Spend today considering that when someone says something, they are talking in a “field of values” and from a belief. This gives you a new set of ears…
“I didn’t go to the shop because it was busy.”
“I value time by myself and this is a higher value than the object which I would have purchased, which in turn belongs to a value field because it gives me something – but not as much as my sense of having time to myself.”
Or how about:
“If you were really concerned about the project, you’d be at your desk.”
Which translates as:
“I have a value in which this project requires your attention, which I believe is only demonstrated by you being physically at your desk.”
It takes a little time to get your ear tuned to listening to people’s values and beliefs, and their order of priority, however, with time you can do it almost automatically. It becomes a little pop-up window by their heads as they speak, or a scrolling ribbon giving you subtitles as they talk.
A value, then, is the context in which a belief sits. It’s a bit tricky, but we don’t have to go into too much detail to make this work for us. Let’s just use beliefs. Here’s the science bit.
Beliefs are complex or simple equivalencies. They always have the form of X = Y or X = A + B + C.
So, “you don’t care about me” is probably the X to a whole load of A’s, B’s and C’s. These are perceptions of events, internal dialogue, and a whole stack of other things that now mean that X is true. It is stated as a truth, but it is only a belief. And beliefs, with sleight of mouth, can be reframed.
Firstly, we’re after a well-formed sentence from the other person. Never let them get away with a half-sentence. We need the information. The simple “You don’t care…” is only half of “You don’t care because you were late today.” So always genuinely enquire, “what makes you say that?” or “in what way do I show you that I don’t care?” Always get the whole sentence.
Then we can work with it, understand it. Don’t forget, this is not manipulation, it is simply communicating to the nth degree – we really do want to understand and get it right. So we have to help the other person and ourselves understand what the belief actually is, and how to work with it.
So let’s remind ourselves of that earlier statement, “If you were really concerned about the project, you’d be at your desk”. That’s a simple X = Y:
You are not at your desk = you are not concerned
And now, with Sleight of Mouth, we actually have 12 – 14 different ways of dealing with this. Imagine that, when someone gives you this sort of thing, imagine what it’s like just lazily wondering which of up to 14 methods you are going to use today. It’s like they call up a drill-down menu, and you think, which one of these haven’t I used for a while…?
These are all from the book of the same name, Sleight of Mouth by Robert Dilts. It’s a bit heavy-going in places, but really shows how language reflects belief, and the patterns we can use to understand and work with other peoples beliefs.
So here’s just one, and we’ll cover some more next column. Just for now, get used to hearing beliefs and values when people speak, and perhaps try this one for practice.
The pattern of Consequence: present a consequence that challenges the belief.
In the case above, we would simply apply another consequence to us not being at the desk, which challenges the simple belief:
“It is precisely because I am concerned about the project that I am not just sitting at my desk, doing nothing…”
“One of the problems with me sitting at my desk is that I cannot work through all my concerns about the project, that’s why I’m out here.”
And so forth. When you know that a sentence like that is only a belief, a representation, and is of the form X = Y, you can do an awful lot with it. Without oranges, string or your tongue. Well, maybe a little tongue. Go listen to people’s beliefs and values, get new ears, and meet back here next time for further mission instructions.
ManTalk Team, I salute you – go out there and re-frame your life.
Marcus Katz has been practising and teaching NLP for over twenty-five years, and presently sees students and private clients for therapeutic work in the Lake District of England. His first book on the subject, full of stories from his work and case examples, is published in 2012 as NLP MAGICK.