Sleight of Mouth: from Dilts to the present

Sleight of mouth

Sleight of Mouth: from Dilts to the present


Robert Dilts has created the Sleight of Mouth, by modeling the power of persuasion of Socrates, Jesus of Nazareth, Karl Marx, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and others.


Robert Dilts writes about the Sleight of Mouth as follows:

I became convinced that these individuals were using some common, fundamental set of patterns in order to influence the beliefs of those around them. Furthermore, the patterns encoded in their words were still influencing and shaping history, even though these individuals had been dead for many years. Sleight of Mouth patterns are my attempt to encode some of the key linguistic mechanisms that these individuals used to effectively persuade others and to influence social beliefs and belief systems.

In our opinion, this point is the reason for the relentless focus on the issue. The power of influence and persuasion has always been valued and is valued now.


This reason explains the interest in learning and using the Sleight of Mouth. However, it accompanies with the interest in the change, elaboration, and structuring of SoM. This issue is the point to enlarge upon, having depicted the history of the Sleight of Mouth evolution to nowadays.

To do this, we will refer to the book by R. Dilts himself and show those places that were not systematized sufficiently by him but were elaborated afterwards.

1. The Application of Sleight of Mouth


Looking at the names of those who were modeled by Dilts, one may see the Sleight of Mouth as the patterns allowing to change the world and life of a person and people for the better only. However, Dilts himself writes:

In order to make a teaching point during a seminar, Bandler, who is renowned for his command of language, established a humorous but «paranoid» belief system, and challenged the group to persuade him to change it. Despite their best efforts, the group members were unable to make the slightest progress.


It was in listening to the various verbal «reframings» that Bandler created spontaneously that I was able to recognize some of the structures he was using. Even though Bandler was applying these patterns «negatively» to make his point. I realized that these were the same structures used by people like Lincoln, Gandhi, Jesus, and others, to promote positive and powerful social change.

as well as:

No doubt, a great deal of Hitler’s influence as a leader came from his awareness, understanding and application of the principles underlying Sleight of Mouth – and, unfortunately, he stands as an archetypic example of the misuse of these principles.


Thus, Dilts, while modeling the Sleight of Mouth, had access not only to their positive application but also to what later will be called  in the Russian Institute of NLP «combat application of SoM.»


In the description of the scene in the bar, Robert gives its own example:

At this point, the second fellow (who was the «brains” of the two) said, «No. It’s a fair fight; we’re drunk.» Turning to look the man squarely in the eyes, I said, «Don’t you think that would be just like a father coming home and beating up his fourteen year old son, and saying that it was “fair” because the father was drunk?

Dilts also gave us hints for the «Guru» application:


Mentoring can also include the process of sponsoring and supporting another person by helping the person to establish empowering beliefs, and reframe limiting beliefs.

Mentors, on the other hand, guide us to discover our own unconscious competences


This closes the first gap in the book by Robert Dilts, because he mentioned about other applications, but did not show them. Nowadays, they are systematized and described.


2. Body Language in the Sleight of Mouth


The next gap in the structural description of SoM follows from the basic presupposition of NLP in the formulation of Dilts himself: «Mind and body are the elements of one system», described by his own words in the book:

According to Gregory Bateson, only about 8% of the information communicated in an interaction is carried in the words, or “digital” part of the interaction. The other 92% is communicated non‐verbally, through the “analog” system. The “analog” aspects of communication include body language as well as the information carried in the auditory tonal part of the interaction, such as voice tone, tempo and volume.

When working with Sleight of Mouth, it is essential to pay attention to the non verbal meta messages which accompany our words. The right words, said in the wrong tone of voice, or with the wrong facial expression, can produce the opposite of what we intend.


In fact, Dilts again gave us, his followers, a hint about some of the «meta messages» clearly, but without details, having described in the book only the importance of voice and emotions congruence accompanying the words of the verbal Sleight of Mouth.


This hint was developed in the Institute of NLP as well, where the appropriate gestures and nonverbal expression of thinking strategies were found and compared with verbal Sleight of Mouth.


3. The Learning of Sleight of Mouth


The next element left to us by Robert Dilts is the open question of learning of the Sleight of Mouth.

That is how it was described in his book:

There are challenges in teaching these patterns effectively, however, because they are about words, and words are fundamentally abstract. As NLP acknowledges, words are surface structures which attempt to represent or express deeper structures. In order to truly understand and creatively apply a particular language pattern, we must internalize its “deeper structure”.

Until now, the Sleight of Mouth patterns have typically been taught by presenting learners with definitions and a number of verbal examples illustrating the various linguistic structures. Learners are left to intuitively figure out the deeper structure necessary to generate the patterns on their own.


Actually, even now the learning of Sleight of Mouth is complicated with the lack of structure of their description and the following remnants of the method «from words to the depth.»


4. The Next Step


What is the situation with the Sleight of Mouth now and what other questions remain? What are the problems typical for the followers?


A lack of clear calibration of Beliefs as limiting or supportive, which leads to incorrect calibration of the Sleight of Mouth application in combative, humanistic, provocative, and guru communication. It is a consequence of the fact that very few Beliefs may be unambiguously attributed to limiting or supportive ones. Most Beliefs prohibit something, but, at the same time, allow something.


The verbal part of the Sleight of Mouth has no structure, their number exceeds Miller’s number. It creates difficulties in their learning and regular attempts to structure them.

That is what we will do.


5. The Sleight of Mouth Structure


It is paradoxical that the general structure, missing in the book, exists nevertheless. All its elements are fully presented and, apparently, the limiting belief that the structure is absent and the study is difficult and requires only independent comprehension prevented to see these elements. We quoted Dilts about this in paragraph 3.


So, here are the four strategies behind all the Sleight of Mouth:

To develop competence with Sleight of Mouth, it is important to have flexibility in being able to move one’s attention freely between little chunks and big chunks.

According to Bateson, deductive and inductive thinking focuses more on objects and categories rather than structure and relationship. Bateson argued that thinking exclusively through inductive and deductive reasoning can cause a rigidity in one’s thinking. Abductive or metaphorical thinking leads to more creativity and may actually lead us to discover deeper truths about reality.

In meta position, one disassociates from and then reflects back upon one’s own thoughts, actions and interactions in order to gain new insights and understandings that will help one to act more effectively.

Let us list them clearly:

  • Deductive thinking,
  • Inductive thinking,
  • Abductive thinking,
  • Meta position.

However, in our opinion, it is better to use Traduction instead of Abductive thinking.

It is easy to see that such Sleight of Mouth as Chunk Down and Change Frame Size (we mean its narrowing) use the same mechanism – Deduction. Chunk Up and Change Frame Size (widening) use Induction, while Redefining and Analogy use Traduction.


To what elements of the subjective world should these four basic strategies be applied?

This question is also answered by Robert Dilts:


Our sensory experience is what provides the raw materials from which we construct our maps of the world.

Beliefs are generalizations drawn from the data of our experience, and are typically updated and corrected by experience.

Values are what give our beliefs and experience meaning. They are the higher level “positive intentions” which the belief has been established to support or reflect.

Expectations provide the motivation for maintaining a particular generalization or belief.


Let us list them clearly as well:

  • Values and Identities,
  • Beliefs themselves,
  • Expectations and strategies forecasts. (Capabilities),
  • The Sensory Experience. (Environment and Behavior)

So, we have a pyramid of Neurological Levels divided into three parts: Strong generalizations, Weak generalizations, Sensory, and the very structure and formulation of beliefs.

But the four strategies of thinking applied to the four elements of the perceived world should produce 16 Sleight of Mouth. It may seem that here is the Holy Grail of Russian NLP specialists, the missing Sleight of Mouth. But it is wrong. Everything is much easier.


But let us quote Dilts again:

The Sleight of Mouth pattern of Change Frame Size applies this principle directly to our perceptions of some situation or experience. The pattern involves re‐evaluating (or reinforcing) the implication of a particular action, generalization or judgment in the context of a longer (or shorter) time frame, a larger number of people (or from an individual point of view) or a bigger or smaller perspective.


Thus, Change Frame Size splits into two Sleight of Mouth: Frame narrowing and Frame widening, according to the different strategies behind them. It is perfectly explaining the fact that students learning the Sleight of Mouth often have the misunderstanding of the SoM Separation, and tend to constantly wide the frame when applying SoM Change Frame Size.

We still have the last sixteenth cell. What does it hide?

Here are two examples on the Sleight of Mouth Hierarchy of Criteria:

I have always found that figuring out what resources I need in order to successfully complete the path I have chosen and committed to is more important than worrying about the temporarily harmful effects of other peoples intentions.

 Perhaps it is more important to focus on our life’s purpose and mission, than on how long it will last.


What is the difference between these two examples from the book by Dilts?

In the first, one criterion is singled out from all that is relevant to the goals of the subject, in the second, we may go beyond the originally stated values and goals.

Thus, the Sleight of Mouth Hierarchy of Criteria is also divided into two. Depending on the difference in approaches to shifting the focus of a person’s attention, one of them is still called the Hierarchy of Criteria, while the second is more logically called Mission.


In this case, we get quite a coherent system of construction and learning (which is important!) of the Sleight of Mouth. It is enough to choose the desired «layer» of the world model and apply the necessary «style» of thinking to its content.

Sleight of mouth

For example:

  • we apply Deduction to the words and objects of the belief itself and get the Sleight of Mouth Chunk Up
  • we apply Induction to the context of belief and get Frame narrowing
  • we apply Traduction to the context and get Analogy


6. The Structure of Beliefs


We have already mentioned above that only those Beliefs where universals are used can be attributed to the uniquely limiting. Dilts writes about it as well:

As was mentioned earlier, beliefs and criticisms become limiting when they are stated as “universals”; characterized by Language such as «all,» «every,» «always,» «never,» «none,» «no one,» etc. It is different to say, «I am not succeeding because I lack the necessary experience.» than to say, «I’ll never succeed because I lack the necessary experience.»


Other Beliefs may have both positive and negative parts. Let us examine the following belief by its objects and show both its positive and negative functions.


I am not succeeding because I lack the necessary experience.


The elements

… am not

… succeeding

… lack

… experience

The positive function should include the desire for success and the importance of experience, and the negative function includes «I am not» and fixation on the lack of experience.


And now, by using the scheme of the types of communication with the Sleight of Mouth, we apply widening and narrowing Sleight of Mouth to different elements of the original belief.




Constraint Widening (Humanistic approach)

It will be harder to succeed if you don’t have a lot of experience.

Narrowing of Support (Combat approach)

Yes, all efforts will be unsuccessful without experience.

Constraint Narrowing (Provocative approach)

Success is not for you because you have very little experience.

Support Widening (Guru approach)

Is it possible to live a happy life without experience?


7. By Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Results


The proposed model has several important advantages:

- the structure of Beliefs is specified

- the continuity with the original Sleight of Mouth is maintained

- connectivity with nonverbal Sleight of Mouth is maintained as well

- the structure of models for the use of SoM is specified, due to more accurate calibration of constraints and support in beliefs

- the internal structure of the Sleight of Mouth, which helps to learn them faster than almost two times, is found

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