Magicians, pick-pockets and successful people: the power of NLP

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.

optical-illusion

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does the carrot and stick still work?

I deliver many Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) courses every year, mainly for my global corporate clients. These companies have a strong desire to train their leadership in how to get the best from their teams and employees.

One of the sessions I find most interesting is what I refer to as the ‘carrot and stick session’. I thought it might be nice to reflect on this concept in this week’s post.

To improve performance and productivity and to encourage people to perform at their best, we tend to reward good behaviour and punish bad. If this approach works for donkeys, surely it must work for humans too?

Give them a bonus

It is quite interesting to hear business leaders talking about ‘retention bonuses’ and ‘performance payouts’. Without fail, whenever I start talking about the carrot and stick approach to management, most people on the course prick up their ears and nod encouragingly at the idea of rewarding good workplace behaviour with money.

If a good employee threatens to leave the company, why not give him a bit of extra cash to remain? If a great employee is a team-player and consistency hits her performance targets, why not reward her with a cash payout? Happy days all round? Actually, no. It has been proven that the ‘financial reward for extra work’ approach doesn’t always work in todays modern workplace.

Frederick Winslow Taylor, an American engineer and efficiency guru, once said: “Work consists of simple, not particularly interesting, tasks. The only way to get people to do them is to incentivize them properly and monitor them carefully.” Taylor’s view of the world back in the early 20th century was possibly correct. But those days have long gone.

Money is still, of course, a big factor. We all want to earn enough to see us through, with a little extra for holidays and other luxury items. But does throwing money at employees really produce better output? There have been many social experiments and studies that show money alone is not enough to keep us motivated at work. We need much more than money.

What replaces the carrot?

The carrot, and stick, can be hidden away, providing we have three key elements in our jobs: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Far more powerful than money is autonomy. Human beings need, and strive, for control in all aspects of their lives. The need to control elements of our job is a major factor with most people. If a manager takes away our control, they take away our motivation.

I often ask managers a simple question: “When do you allow your employees to leave at the end of the day?” The response is mostly the same, such as “after they have done their eight hours” or “not before 5pm is the company policy”. Sure, the donkey will move when you beat it, but it will move grudgingly!

Another factor with the modern human psyche is ‘mastery’. It is a human condition that we want to be better and better at something. Our psychological programming is such that we are happier when we feel our skills are advancing. Take sport as an example. Dedicated sports people strive to be better and better. Their whole existence revolves around taking a second off their time, or consistently hitting a backhand to the baseline.

Of course, not every employee will be driven to success in the same way as top sports people. However, allowing a person to achieve mastery in something will go a long way to keeping them motivated and high-performing.

‘Purpose’ is the final ingredient. Doing something that makes a difference can be incredibly rewarding. Doing something that is perceived as having no value whatsoever can be incredibly de-motivating.

Kids teach us all we need to know

I am a firm believer in the idea that we instinctively know what we want. We are born with a sense of personal motivation, but it is sucked out of us by work and by working relationships.

A classic study in behavioural science was carried out by two psychologists, Greene and Lepper. They watched a classroom of children for several days and identified some of the kids who liked to draw during their free time. The researchers divided the kids into three groups. They told the kids in the first group that they would be rewarded with a nice certificate if they drew nice pictures. The second group was not told about the reward but the best pictures received a surprise gift. The third group didn’t receive any reward and were not told about the certificates. The reward structure continued for two weeks.

Two weeks later, the researchers returned to the classroom and observed the children. An amazing discovery was made. The kids who had been rewarded for their drawings now showed less enthusiasm for drawing. However, the kids from groups two and three continued to draw with the same excitement as before.

The conclusion from the above experiment was: “Knowing that you will get a reward can turn enjoyment into work.” Rewarding a person requires them to give up some of their autonomy, with the result that motivation reduces. It becomes a chore.

A nice working environment

A motivated team is one where: people are allowed to do things their own way, with some degree of flexibility and some self-discovery (autonomy); where people are given the opportunity to become the expert at something (mastery); and where team members can clearly see how their efforts will make a difference (purpose). Get these things right, and you will have a motivated and high-performing team.

Of course, a few extra pounds in the bank each month does help too!

I would love to hear your thoughts on what motivates you at work, or how you motivate your team. Perhaps you still use a big stick?

NLP is a wonderful course.