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SLEIGHT OF MOUTH

Using Language to Make Changes



Nearly everybody is familiar with the concept of Sleight of Hand. In performing a magic trick, the magician's challenge is to redirect the audience's attention, in order to create an alternative visual experience. This redirection of attention is Sleight of Hand.

The language masters, on the other hand, are skilled at using their choice of words or syntax in a way that can redirect a listener's attention to, as well as perception of, their own (often times limiting) beliefs, values or attitudes. The ability to use language to redirect this kind of attention and perception and create an alternate internal experience is called Sleight of Mouth.

Our experience is made up of many elements; visual, auditory as well as kinesthetic components make up our internal representations of our experience. There is a lot of discussion about the role that words play. The Inuit (what we used to call the Eskimos) have a myriad of words that describe all the different types and conditions of snow that exist, (which only the greatest ski fanatics in our own country can come close to matching). A primitive tribe of southern hemisphere Indians have three words that describe the entire spectrum of imaginable color yet we believe that Crayola's 64 box doesn't even come close to matching all the colors that exist. So our words are only a way that we have of coding our past experience for reference, that may or may not be complete.

Nearly everyone experiences communicating with someone who, at time, verbally demonstrates a limiting belief, value or attitude. We want to relax the restrictions that those limitations impose, and a simple, effective way to do that is with Sleight of Mouth.

There are two basic patterns that facilitate the use of Sleight of Mouth. They are Complex Equivalence and Cause/Effect .

Complex Equivalence is:

X means Y.

Cause/Effect is:

X makes/causes Y.

Part of these language constructions may be implied, and not openly stated. A customer may tell a sales person "your product costs too much," or a potential client may tell a therapist (massage-, psycho-, etc.) "your fees are too high."

There is an implied "and that means..."
"I don't think your product is worth it.." or,
"I can't afford your services/product."


Most objections and many complaints can be defined as statements regarding limiting attitudes, beliefs or values about a product, service or issue. The person stating the objection or complaint has generalized their experience, usually by deleting or distorting information.

The intention behind using Sleight of Mouth patterns is to gently shift some of these beliefs by demonstrating exceptions to the generalizations, recovering some deleted information or tactfully allowing an awareness of the distortion.

The classic Sleight of Mouth examples are credited to Robert Dilts and Todd Epstein,

X = Y

"Saying mean things means you're a bad person."

Patterns:



Chunking up to a higher logical level:



"Saying mean things means you're a bad person."

Sleight of Mouth takes the meaning of the original statement to apply to a more general category of information:

"So how I communicate is important to you."
"So how someone says something to you is important."
"How do you know that saying mean things means someone is bad?"
"How do you know something is mean?"

Chunking down to a lower logical level:



"Saying mean things means you're a bad person."

This Sleight of Mouth pattern looks for more specific to create distinctions and differences with the original statement. Exaggerate, or find out what's important to the about this.

"What makes something a mean thing to say? As it the tone of voice, the choice of words or the volume?"
"Bad how /mean how/ which things/ to whom specifically?"


Chunking laterally:



"Saying mean things means you're a bad person."

This is a broad generalization of the category of redefining meaning, or reframing the meaning of the original statement.

"It's not that I said a mean thing, it's that I'm: direct."
urgent."
emphatic."
honest."
provocative."

Redefine behavior (of X):



"Saying mean things(X) means you're a bad person(Y)."

This Sleight of Mouth pattern enlarges the interpretations and meaning of the behavioral part of the equivalence. Reframing the statement even more specifically. What other meanings could X have? When you give a new definition to X does the relationship hold up? It follows the format "It's not X it's.....", or "A/=B, A=C and that's D."

"It's not that I say mean things, it's that I use a loud voice. Are you saying that anyone who uses a loud voice is a mean person?"
It's not that I said a mean thing, it's that I told the truth."


Redefine Equivalence (of Y):



"Saying mean things(X) means you're a bad person(Y)."

What other meanings are possible for Y? If you change the meaning of the equivalence (Y) you take a generalization to a higher logical level and all the meaning changes. It follows the format "It's not Y, it's ....." or "A/=B, A=C and that's D."

"It's not that I'm a bad person, it's that I'm a caring person because I care enough to give you feedback.. If I were really bad, I wouldn't say anything."
"It's not that I'm a bad person, it's that I'm a person who has the ability to communicate honestly."


Intent:



"Saying mean things(X) means you're a bad person(Y)."

Chunking up to a higher level of meta outcome for either X or Y. What is the positive intention of X or Y? What are they trying to get through this belief? Why are they saying this?

Intention of X:

"I'm wondering how you're trying to help by having that belief."
"Are you trying to protect yourself by saying that?"


Intention of Y:

"My intention was not to be mean, but to be honest in my communication."
"I didn't to be mean, my intention was to help you learn something."

Change the frame size:



"Saying mean things(X) means you're a bad person(Y)."

Is there a different frame the person can out around the behavior that makes them notice something different? Is there something that they never noticed?

"It may seem mean now, but if you look at the larger picture you'll see it was necessary/"
Or use a Universal Quantifier:
"If every body had that belief, no one would ever tell the honest truth to each other."
"So anybody would says the kind of thing I said is a bad person?"


Hierarchy of criteria:



"Saying mean things(X) means you're a bad person(Y)."

Redirect the person's attention to higher criteria. What are higher criteria for the person? Apply the higher criteria to the equivalence.

"What is really more important, how someone's voice sounds or what they do?"
"Isn't it more important that a person communicates honest feelings?"
"Isn't it more important to be honest than patronizing or ambivalent?"


Another outcome:



"Saying mean things(X) means you're a bad person(Y)."

Shift the person's attention to another outcome, using the format

"Whether or not I said mean things/am a bad person is not the issue, but whether those things needed to be said."
You can also use the forms "whether or not..." and 'the problem here is not that...."

Apply to speaker, (X):



"Saying mean things(X) means you're a bad person(Y)."

Apply X to the speaker:
"That's a mean thing to say."
"I wish you could have said that nicer."


Apply to speaker, (Y):



"Saying mean things(X) means you're a bad person(Y)."

Apply Y to the speaker:
"It's too bad you said that now."
That's not a very good thing to say to friends."


Other causes:



"Saying mean things(X) means you're a bad person(Y)."

What things could cause Y?
Use the format:
"It's not X that makes somebody Y, it's _____."


Consequences of the belief:



"Saying mean things(X) means you're a bad person(Y)."

What could happen to them if they continue to think this way? What are the extreme consequences of the belief?

"Believing that could make it hard to keep friends."
"Beliefs like that can become self-fulfilling prophecies."


Apply a Meta- Frame to the whole equivalence:



"Saying mean things(X) means you're a bad person(Y)."

How is it possible that they could believe that? "You're only saying that because...."

"You're only saying that to empower yourself, and it's useful for people to be able to do that in a variety of ways."
"This is all really about learning/giving feedback/improving communication."


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Copyright ©1992, 1993, 1998, 2000, 2003 Eileen Bertie

Last modified March 13, 2003