Franz Mesmer is the pen name of an attorney who has written about Neuro Linquistic Programing (NLP) concepts in trial and in sales. I’ve written about this before and his book with the provocative title “Unfair Secrets of Winning in the Law with NLP: a Trial Lawyer’s Manual.” ” I’d like to share with you the NLP concept of embedded commands discussed in his writings.
Much of these principles are based upon the work of a psychiatrist, Milton Erickson, (1930-1980) who, among other things, developed a way of giving people suggestions in ordinary conversation that did not cause conscious resistance and represented a form of hypnosis. The idea of a “embedded command” is that it is an instruction or command which is embedded in the sentence which registers with your unconscious mind without awareness of your conscious mind.
The first principle of this technique is that the unconscious mind only registers positive and never negative ideas. That’s why saying to someone “don’t think of a black cat” results in an immediate thought of a black cat. The unconscious does not register the negative “don’t” part of the sentence, only the positive command. The conscious mind cannot control the unconscious response and you think of a black cat, like it or not. By the way, given this proven fact, how effective do you think it is when the judge says to the jury: “You are instructed you must not consider that testimony and you are not consider it your decision?”
An embedded command is based upon the idea that the sentence is actually directed to the unconscious mind and that while the conscious mind hears the negative words, the unconscious pays no attention to them, only the positive words. Take the example of a salesman saying to a prospective buyer: “I don’t want you to be hasty in deciding to buy this house. Don’t decide to buy this house until you thought about whether this is really the right house for you. Don’t make a decision to buy it yet.” In this example, the conscious mind hears words that reflect a salesperson who is not trying to pressure a sale. However, the unconscious mind hears only the positive words in italics which direct the person to decide to buy now. The italicized words are an embedded command in the statement which is directed only to the unconscious mind.
Related to this idea is the technique of Dr. Erickson who found one can induce someone to go into a temporary, quick trance for five or six seconds and during that time give a suggestion to the unconscious. The indirect pattern of suggestion involves three steps. First using rapport and pacing with the listener to relax them. Second distracting the conscious mind and third introducing the suggestion.
The first. rapport, we all understand. We gain rapport by pacing the other’s talk and indicating common interests. But, it can be as simple as identifying with the listener as a common experience you are sharing. “As we are all here in this court room, sitting comfortably in these chairs, we can all understand the importance of what we are doing.” The second phase of distracting the conscious mind involves ambiguity in order to cause the conscious mind to search for a meaning. The third step of making the suggestion takes place during that short interval of the conscious mind searching.
There are a numerous ways to employ the ambiguity. Dr. Erickson would use a handshake that was unusual and during the few seconds of confusion offer an embedded command. A variety of phrases induce the conscious mind to search imagination: “How do you feel about…; I’m wondering if you ever… ; You may or may not know…; How would it look if…; How would it sound if you…; Can you see yourself…” are phrases with ambiguous definition that invite the conscious to search their memory or imagination for a few seconds.
Additional help in this process is by putting what you want as a quotation so that the listener perceives it not as coming from you but from someone else. The normal resistance to the statement is reduced because the statement is not coming from you, but somebody else. For example “safety experts have recommended that we should very carefully consider the importance of this issue because it has consequences beyond this case. ” The statement doesn’t come from you because you are quoting somebody else. The quotation can be from anyone, your father, a friend or even “I read in the newspaper.” Note that there are three distractions. First the quote. Second the “because” and third the presupposition “very important.” Note the importance of “because.” Research indicates that adding a “because” raises the effectiveness of the request from a low compliance to a much higher compliance.
Part of the technique involves timing. The embedded commands are emphasized by positing a little before and after the phrase, speaking in a deeper range of voice or using a gesture or facial expression. While the conscious mind doesn’t recognize them the unconscious mind does.
One other point in this connection. Anything that your mind can imagine, the unconscious takes as real and the mind makes it its own. Various research studies have established this. The unconscious does not distinguish between reality and imagination. One of the more simple illustrations of this fact are experiments involving basketball players. One group actually practiced taking foul shots while another only saw in their minds a picture of them making every foul shot. The two groups were tested before and after the experiment. The group that only imagined taking the foul shots improved their success as high or higher than the group that had actually done the practice.
Using what is called as “time distortion” one can contact the unconscious though future images of a positive nature. For example: “In the future, perhaps a year from now, you’ll be able to look back on today, feeling the pride of success and the gratitude of having done the right thing and made the right decision in your verdict for the plaintiff. You will see this as the best decision you ever made.” The unconscious mind hears the positive commands included in this statement and registers it.
These are only a few examples of the concept. As advocates, we need to be aware of them proven psychology which is connected to our professional work of persuasion if for no other reason than self protection. I leave to you issues of ethical propriety, but I suggest you at least become aware of the principles.