What that person does with the rapport they’ve built varies. Trust but verify.
The sordid details of the founder of Neurolinguistic Programming, Richard Bandler’s, life aside, the 10 ways to avoid being hypnotized by NLP, even to a novice like myself, are an excellent start in protecting yourself from predatory narcissists. I can’t really believe that I am writing about this. But I think it is one piece of your self-defense arsenal. True, people can hurt you with all kinds of ballistics, knives, or any object, and certainly you should learn how to thwart any attacks by these methods. But sneakier people will use mind games. NLP or Neurolinguistic Programming is one of these methods. You should at least have some basic understanding what it is and how it works, for most ethical people use the techniques for good, to enhance personal interaction as opposed to destroying the personalities of others. NLP techniques are frequently used in sales and leadership programs to enhance productivity. Learn how here. But to strengthen your defense against predatory uses of NLP, check out this article, “10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Mind Control.” I’ve listed those 10 Ways here:
1. Be Extremely wary of people copying your body language.
2. Move your eyes in random and unpredictable patterns.
3. Do not let anybody touch you.
4. Be wary of vague language.
5. Be wary of permissive language.
6. Be wary of gibberish.
7. Read between the lines.
8. Watch your attention.
9. Don’t agree to anything.
10. Trust your intuition.
The primary goal of any Neurolinguistic Program is to build rapport. Once rapport is established, then the NLPer can more easily execute his goals over that foundation of rapport. But rapport is key, for without it no layering or manipulating can occur that will stick. And you want to make instructions stick if you want your subject or interlocutor to do your bidding.
By mirroring body language and linguistic patterns, the NLPer is attempting to achieve one very specific response: rapport. Rapport is the mental and physiological state that a human enters when they let their social guard down, and it is generally achieved when a person comes to the conclusion that the person they’re talking to is just like them. See how that works, broadly? An NLP person essentially carefully fakes the social cues that cause a person to drop their guard and enter a state of openness and suggestibility.
Once rapport is achieved, the NLPer will then begin subtly leading the interaction. Having mirrored the other person, they can now make subtle changes to actually influence the other person’s behavior. Combined with subtle language patterns, leading questions and a whole slew of other techniques, a skilled NLPer can at this point steer the other person wherever they like, as long as the other person isn’t aware of what’s happening and thinks everything is arising organically, or has given consent. That means it’s actually fairly hard to use NLP to get people to act out-of-character, but it can be used for engineering responses within a person’s normal range of behavior—like donating to a cause, making a decision they were putting off, or [other things; so you want this knowledge to protect yourself].
1. BE EXTREMELY WARY OF PEOPLE COPYING YOUR BODY LANGUAGE.
If you’re talking to somebody who may be into NLP, and you notice that they’re sitting in exactly the same way as you, or mirroring the way you have your hands, test them by making a few movements and seeing if they do the same thing. Skilled NLPers will be better at masking this than newer ones, but newer ones will always immediately copy the same movement. This is a good time to call people on their [nefarious deeds].
Yeah, it’s called mirroring. Mirroring is a better label. If a stranger or a newcomer to your life is making a deliberate effort to mirror you, alert immediately to their intentions. If it is an old friend, a dear friend, a cute friend, or a family member, someone you’ve known for years, then mirroring can be a cute and playful exchange, for they are mirroring for its own sake and not for the long-range, more sinister goal of trying to undermine your emotional and intellectual autonomy while trying to control or your behavior. So if you notice strangers mirroring you, be wary.
I was out on a date with a gal at the Blue Oyster Bar in Denver. Prior to meeting, she made a big deal to me about not changing my work shirt. She wanted me to match her as close to perfect as possible. Sounded weird and childish to me, but her request seemed to match her 9-year old personality. Turns out that her intention was much more sinister than that. She wanted her apparel to mirror mine, and in that mirroring she would send messages and instructions that compelled me to do her bidding. But I think I must have frustrated her, since she complained about me to her coworkers in Dispatch. She showed up in her work shirt, and two other shirts over that, totaling three shirts. But the first and or second button was opened on each shirt, effectively creating a standard of three downward arrows, pointing downward from her chest. To what were the arrows symbolically pointing? The nether regions. You tell me what her message was.
2. MOVE YOUR EYES IN RANDOM AND UNPREDICTABLE PATTERNS.
This is freaking hilarious to do to troll NLPers. Especially in the initial stages of rapport induction, an NLP user will be paying incredibly close attention to your eyes. You may think it’s because they’re intensely interested in what you’re saying. They are, but not because they actually care about your thoughts: They’re watching your eye movements to see how you store and access information. In a few minutes, they’ll not only be able to tell when you’re lying or making something up, they’ll also be able to figure out what parts of your brain you’re using when you’re speaking, which can then lead them to be so clued in to what you’re thinking that they almost come across as having some kind of psychic insight into your innermost thoughts. A clever hack for this is just to randomly dart your eyes around—look up to the right, to the left, side to side, down… make it seem natural, but do it randomly and with no pattern. This will drive an NLP person utterly nuts because you’ll be throwing off their calibration.
3. DO NOT LET ANYBODY TOUCH YOU.
This is pretty obvious and kind of goes without saying in general. But let’s say you’re having a conversation with somebody you know is into NLP, and you find yourself in a heightened emotional state–maybe you start laughing really hard, or get really angry, or something similar–and the person you’re talking to touches you while you’re in that state. They might, for instance, tap you on the shoulder. What just happened? They anchored you so that later, if they want to put you back into the state you were just in, they can (or so the wayward logic of NLP dictates) touch you in the same place. Just be like, “Oh, hell no, you did not!”
When I was out on that date with that gal [I wouldn’t even call it date; in fact, she didn’t call it a date either. She called it “hanging out.” She called it that because she was trying to get me to reveal personal details against my will]. But using the middle finger of my right hand, I tapped the back of her left hand. It stopped her in her tracks. She recognized the subtlety, its persuasiveness, and didn’t like how the power in that one gesture shifted for a moment. She double-downed. It startled her a bit, perhaps because my tiny action was exponentially more powerful of a rapport builder than her hours and weeks of texts and phone conversation. Funny. It stopped her in her tracks.
4. BE WARY OF VAGUE LANGUAGE.
One of the primary techniques that NLP took from Milton Erickson is the use of vague language to induce hypnotic trance. Erickson found that the more vague language is, the more it leads people into trance, because there is less that a person is liable to disagree with or react to. Alternately, more specific language will take a person out of trance. (Note Obama’s use of this specific technique in the “Change” campaign, a word so vague that anybody could read anything into it.)
5. BE WARY OF PERMISSIVE LANGUAGE.
“Feel free to relax.” “You’re welcome to test drive this car if you like.” “You can enjoy this as much as you like.” Watch the f*k out for this. This was a major insight of pre-NLP hypnotists like Erickson: the best way to get somebody to do something, including going into a trance, is by allowing them to give you permission to do so. Because of this, skilled hypnotists will NEVER command you outright to do something—i.e. “Go into a trance.” They WILL say things like “Feel free to become as relaxed as you like.”
6. BE WARY OF GIBBERISH.
Nonsense phrases like “As you release this feeling more and more you will find yourself moving into present alignment with the sound of your success more and more.” This kind of gibberish is the bread and butter of the pacing-and-leading phase of NLP; the hypnotist isn’t actually saying anything, they’re just trying to program your internal emotional states and move you towards where they want you to go. ALWAYS say “Can you be more specific about that” or “Can you explain exactly what you mean?” This does two things: it interrupts this whole technique, and it also forces the conversation into specific language, breaking the trance-inducing use of vague language we discussed in #4.
7. READ BETWEEN THE LINES.
NLP people will consistently use language with hidden or layered meanings. For instance “Diet, nutrition and sleep with me are the most important things, don’t you think?” On the surface, if you heard this sentence quickly, it would seem like an obvious statement that you would probably agree with without much thought. Yes, of course diet, nutrition and sleep are important things, sure, and this person’s really into being healthy, that’s great. But what’s the layered-in message? “Diet, nutrition and sleep with me are the most important things, don’t you think?” Yep, and you just unconsciously agreed to it. Skilled NLPers can be incredibly subtle with this.
8. WATCH YOUR ATTENTION.
Be very careful about zoning out around NLP people—it’s an invitation to leap in with an unconscious cue. Here’s an example: An NLP user who was attempting to get me to write for his blog for free noticed I appeared not to be paying attention and was looking into the distance, and then started using the technique listed in #7 by talking about how he never has to pay for anything because media outlets send him review copies of books and albums for free. “Everything for free,” he began hissing at me. “I get everything. For. Free.” Obvious, no?
9. DON’T AGREE TO ANYTHING.
If you find yourself being led to make a quick decision on something, and feel you’re being steered, leave the situation. Wait 24 hours before making any decisions, especially financial ones. Do NOT let yourself get swept up into making an emotional decision in the spur of the moment. Sales people are armed with NLP techniques specifically for engineering impulse buys. Don’t do it. Leave, and use your rational mind.
10. TRUST YOUR INTUITION.
And the foremost and primary rule: If your gut tells you somebody is fucking with you, or you feel uneasy around them, trust it. NLP people almost always seem “off,” dodgy, or like used car salesmen. Flee, or request they show you the respect of not applying NLP techniques when interacting with you.
Hopefully this short guide will be of assistance to you in resisting this annoying and pernicious modern form of black magic. Take it with you on your phone or a printout next time you’re at a used car sales lot, getting signed up for a gym membership, or watching a politician speak on TV. You’ll easily find yourself surprised how you allow yourself to notice more and more NLP techniques… more and more… don’t you think?
(For more on NLP, check out the book Introducing NLP by Joseph O’Connor or the immensely useful Neuro-Linguistic Programming for Dummies. As a bonus, here’s a great video breaking down the use of NLP techniques by media outlets on both sides of the political spectrum, from FOX News to Stephen Colbert. It gets a bit into Christian conspiracy thinking, but is VERY good information.)