The magician snaps his fingers and the ball disappears right in front of your eyes. How is this possible, you ask? You know a little about physics and science and you know too well that it is impossible for a solid object to simply vanish. But it did, right in front of you.
Or, did it?
Magic and magicians allow you to experience the impossible. Derren Brown and the Dynamo are two illusionists that leave audiences gasping for breath. For centuries, other magicians have been doing it too. So, how does it work?
It is all about psychology
Human brains are complex, but they are simple at the same time. Our brains have limitations and it is these limitations that illusionists exploit. For example, let’s take one of our senses, vision. Most people will have come across the following image. To most people, one line looks longer than the other, but when we get the ruler out we see both lines are exactly the same length.
We are amazed and surprised when we see the ‘real’ length of the line. So why do we get it so incredibly wrong? When we look at the diagram, complex neuronal processes within our conscious and unconscious minds get to work. The subconscious mind processes information coming in through our visual cortex, but it then does something incredibly strange. The subconscious mind starts to dredge up past experiences, it starts to rationalise, and it provides an ‘estimate’ of what it is seeing.
The subconscious mind uses past experiences and rationale to make estimations about what it is seeing. It then passes this information back to the conscious mind and it is this part of the brain that then thinks that one line is longer than the other. It is these errors that are exploited by illusionists.
Another important misconception about our visual experience relates to the amount of detail that we think we are aware of. Intuitively, we think that we are aware of most of our surroundings, but this turns out to be incorrect. Processing large amounts of information comes at a cost, brain size. Instead of evolving massive brains, which would mean massive heads to accommodate these big brains, humans have evolved with a compromise. Our brains have an interesting strategy that allows us to prioritize aspects of the environment around us, but at the same time, keeping the information we have to process to a minimum. This is another crucial thing that can be exploited by magicians.
Watch your wallet
Of course, it is not just magicians who use these deficiencies of the human mind. Pick-pockets have been distracting us for centuries. Imagine this scene. A stranger approaches you in the street. They are holding a map, looking a little lost. They ask you if they are near to Covent Garden tube station. Their right index finger makes swishing moves across the map, while they overload your brain with a deluge of verbal trash. Your conscious mind is taken up with the visual images of the map and the fast-moving fingers swishing all over the place, and with the auditory information that is coming in through your ears. Your conscious mind has forgotten all about the other hand. Too late, your wallet, your tube ticket and your hotel keys have all gone!
The human mind is clearly capable of getting things very wrong. But, it can be re-programmed so that it can get things incredibly right.
A professor of psychology once told me that when we decide whether or not we like someone, only 7% of that decision is made from their verbal communication. About 38% is made from their tonality and a whopping 55% is made from their physiology. Non-verbal communication carries much more weight than verbal.
The subconscious brain at work
Here is another scenario to think about. Imagine we meet someone new. We talk to them for a few minutes, exchanging general chit-chat before saying our goodbyes. Next day, we are walking down the high street and we notice the same person again. We recognise them and stop to speak. We spend a few minutes chatting away to them. Sometimes we will remember their names, and sometimes we will remember lots more about the person. However, sometimes we won’t remember very much from the previous encounter. Sometimes, we go out of our way to avoid speaking to the person again, perhaps crossing the street as soon as we see them coming. Isn’t all of this amazing, simply based on that first few minutes we spent with the person on the previous meeting. Once again, it is all to do with our subconscious mind.
When we meet a person for the first time, our subconscious mind uses information from the eyes and ears. We don’t consciously think about how the person moves, nor do we consciously think about their body gestures, their hands and arms or the tonality of their voice. We don’t consciously note the style of their clothing and we certainly don’t consciously analyse the type of words they are using or the inflection in their voice. However, our subconscious mind is very busy and it is doing all of those things. It is analysing, rationalizing, and estimating. Our subconscious mind is ‘linking’. It is taking in all the information around us and it is working out whether we should like this person or not. The subconscious mind is processing, estimating and deciding.
In the above example, when we meet the person a second time our subconscious mind has made a decision and it is this decision that is communicated to the conscious mind so that we can decide to cross the street to avoid the person or whether we should chat some more.
Using the subconscious mind for success
Have you ever wondered why some people have ‘charisma’ or ‘instant appeal’? Some people are naturally gifted in the way they can build rapport with others, but for many people building relationships is often hit or miss.
Imagine if you are a sales person, earning a living from selling products or services. The last thing you want is for potential customers to dislike you as soon as you meet them. What you need to do is to send out non-verbal signals that are picked up positively from your customer, signals that will show them you are a friendly soul and you are someone they can trust. Just like the magician or pick-pocket, you can use techniques to help you to ‘control’ the situation. These techniques are called Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP.
Imagine how amazing it would be if we could ‘make’ people like us.
Building rapport to build success
Can you think of all the situations in life where knowledge of ‘connecting with people’ would be immensely beneficial? Interviews, presentations, negotiating with colleagues, counselling are just a few.
Here is a little experiment for you to try. When you are talking to someone today, consciously think about the words they are using. Are they using words that describe a visual, for example, are they saying things such as “I see what you mean” or “yes, I can picture what you are saying”. Or, are they using different adjectives, such as “I can hear what you are saying” or “now, that rings a bell”. Perhaps the person is using expressions such as “I could really get a hold of that idea”.
What does all of this tell us? Well, people habitually use language that aligns with their preferred representational system. I won’t go into detail here, but representational systems are fascinating. Most people fall into one of three categories or representation: visual, auditory or kinaesthetic.
People who prefer visual representation will often use words such as look, see, picture, vision; words associated with visual things.
Those who prefer auditory representation will frequently use words associated with sound: hear, resonate, harmonious and pitch are some examples.
Kinaesthetic people will use adjectives associated with touch, such as grasp, hold, tacky and sticky.
The power of mirroring
Is there a point to all of this? Well, yes there is indeed an important point. A great way to build rapport with someone is to mirror their language. It is amazing how you can encourage a person to chat away to us if you reflect back the words they use. If we use the same language as the person we are talking with, their subconscious mind recognises this as a form of ‘association’ and ‘similarity’ and therefore instructs the conscious mind to approve of the person.
Building rapport is only one step in the NLP journey, but it is an important one. Whether they knew it or not, the great illusionists, and indeed the great pick-pocket people, have all taken advantage of the way the conscious and subconscious mind works. Successful people too have learned the benefits of NLP.
I hope you enjoyed this post on NLP.