It may sound strange, but hypnotic language can work wonders professionally and personally. Richard Churches and Roger Terry share their secrets.
Imagine for a moment that someone you met in a bar, restaurant or in the street later today were to say to you: "Just by saying a few words in the right way you can send people into wonderful places, influence the way they think or help them to find their own solutions to any problem they face." That would be good, wouldn't it?
In our article in last week's The TES Magazine about neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a form of self-development that helps you to become an effective communicator, we talked about rapport, or the art of building good relationships with others through mirroring and matching their body language and tone.
This week we'll be discussing influential language, also a foundation of NLP. Hypnotic language, or soft language, is a powerful tool in the classroom and in life generally. By the way, should your ethical button have been pushed, listen more carefully the next time a salesperson talks to you. These things are standard practice in sales and are well worth knowing about.
You can use hypnotic language in the classroom with difficult pupils to ensure that they are likely to follow directions or to keep children on track and motivated. It is also great to use when setting up a lesson so that it goes the way you want. In your wider work it can help when dealing with awkward parents or when gently influencing other members of staff without conflict. With practice you can easily learn to elegantly say no without even having to use the word.
A key concept to grasp, before you begin, is the notion of presupposition. Presuppositions are the hidden meanings in sentences, phrases or individual words and work covertly or indirectly. For example, if we were to say: "Either now or in the next few seconds, you can think of a time when using the right words, at the right time, would have been useful to you", you are likely to do just that.
This is because the first part of the sentence presupposes that you are going to do it. This particular pattern is called a double bind and is useful when you want to limit the possibilities the person you are talking to will have. For example, in the classroom you might say: "John, would you like to start by doing the questions or the diagram first?" The presupposition is that John will start work now, whichever way he chooses to do it.
Rory Wilson, a deputy headteacher at East Barnet School in north London, says: "Effective communication is the cornerstone of good leadership. My enhanced understanding of influential language and how it works has extended my ability to communicate more effectively and elegantly."
So, how ready are you to read on? Ever had the experience of not being included in something? How did you feel? Covering all bases is a language pattern that can help to avoid this. It works by making sure that all people are included. For example, you might say: "I know that some of you have already done some work on this with your last teacher, others are coming to this new and some of you have already developed your interest in this area."
Another tactic is the yes set, commonly used by public speakers. After receiving three undeniable facts one after another we are more likely to take the next statement as true also. For example: "It's 10am, we've finished the first task, we have 30 minutes left so now would be a good time to think of some good questions that we can discuss, wouldn't it?"
Note the "wouldn't it?" at the end of the sentence. This is a separate but linked move, called a yes tag, and it's difficult to say no to when placed at the end of a correct sentence, isn't it? If you nod while you say a yes tag this increases its effectiveness. Yes tags are particularly effective after explaining rules, to reinforce the point and gain agreement. For example: "John, I've explained what my expectations are to you now, haven't I? Now it should be easy for you to get this right in the future, shouldn't it?"
Sue Gwinnell-Smith, an assistant headteacher at Littlehampton Community School in West Sussex, says: "When I get called out to a disruptive classroom to get a challenging pupil out so that the rest can get on with their work, I don't bawl the pupil out as the member of staff might expect. The desired outcome is always achieved by a bit of quiet rapport building and influencing. I pride myself on the fact I have never had to move a whole class because I cannot get the disruptive pupil to move."
The process of gradually increasing compliance using small steps is often referred to as pacing and leading. The core concept is the idea that if you want to influence someone then you need to pace, or acknowledge, their current experience before you seek to lead them.
In the classroom you might say: "As you read the sections in the book, noticing the diagrams and the instructions, you could begin to become aware of all the ways in which this learning could be useful to you."
Some words have presuppositions built into them and should be used carefully. "If" always implies the possibility of choice, so avoid it - unless you want to allow choice. "Try" has the presupposition built into it that you might possibly fail. So, if success is what you want from someone else, use another word. In sales someone might say "try and find a better deal."
"But" negates what has just been said. So if you don't want your last thing to be forgotten, or discounted, use another word. Note, in particular, that beginning a sentence with "but" - when you follow on from what someone else says - invariably puts the other person on the defensive. It is much more influential to begin your sentence with something else, even if you are contradicting them. "And" works well (for example, "and another way of looking at it would be ...")
"Don't" is another interesting command. The truth is we cannot not think of something. So when we use "not" we may be accidentally getting people to think of what we actually wish them to avoid thinking about. For example: "Don't think about chocolate cake." You're thinking about it, right?
Now you've read this article about influential language and know the names of some key patterns, either now or in the next few days would be a good time to either practise some of these or to find some opportunities to learn more, wouldn't it?
Richard Churches is principal consultant for national programmes at CfBT Education Trust, a not-for-profit organisation, and a former Advanced Skills Teacher. Roger Terry is an international NLP trainer, presenter and public speaker and runs Evolution Training with Emily, his wife. NLP for Teachers: How to be a highly effective teacher is published by Crown House Publishing.
Know what you're saying
Double bind - Sentences that assume the person you're addressing will behave as you are asking them to.
Covering all bases - Making sure different groups of people in the room are engaged by addressing them separately.
Yes tags - Phrases that provoke agreement. For example, "wouldn't it?"
Pacing and leading - Acknowledging the other person's experience before leading them on to what you'd like them to do.