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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