What's the name for this linguistic phenomenon (maybe in NLP)?

9 replies
Hi everyone,

I recently said to someone, "You can't succeed if you..." and what he heard was me saying "You can't succeed." What I meant was "If you..., then you can succeed," but he got so angry at what he heard that he wouldn't speak to me again.

I think there's a concept for this in Neurolinguistic Programming, something about embedded commands or embedded statements, maybe?

There are ways you can take advantage of this phenomenon in copywriting, but there are also ways you can create misunderstandings, as in my example.

If anyone can direct me to some resources on this, I'd appreciate it!

Thanks,
Marcia Yudkin
#commands #embedded #linguistic #nlp #phenomenon
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  • Profile picture of the author Kay King
    Marcia -

    Interesting question - the onli thing that comes to mind for me is 'negation' where someone listening to a sentence with a double negative hears an incorrect positive statement.

    i.e., a 'won't and a don't' are heard as 'will'

    Probably not much help...


    One possibility in NLP: functional significance where the brain does not process 'negatives'
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  • Profile picture of the author SARubin
    Perhaps he was experiencing a bit of cognitive bias, or confirmation bias. Whereas he already had a negative perception of himself (however deeply seated?) and so he only heard the words that had meaning to him.

    In this case he heard "You can't succeed" because maybe he was already predisposed to believe it, at some level? And when you used those words in your sentence (no matter what the syntax or intent) it struck a nerve, and made you an easy scapegoat to blame for his bad feelings.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jared Heldt
    The person who replied above seems like it's in the right ballpark. Used to be really into NLP, but nothing comes to mind at least in reference to what you mentioned.
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  • In her esteemed Harvard treatise on self-defeatin' cognitive biases It's Never Your Fault Until It Is, Dr Casey I. S. Mae-Earp identifies what she calls 'masochistic goobers' as the Number One culprits for inferrin' ill will an' general negativity in otherwise neutral statements or observations -- especially when such inferences are made in advance of all the information bein' available.

    Meantime, here is a handy cheat sheet for this kinda thing.

    It is mebbe more psychological than linguistic, but I consult this list regularly whenevah I been so trooly stoopid I dunno quite how stoopid I been.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jonathan 2.0
    I think sometimes it depends on the emphasis you put on the words/sentence. (Intentionally or otherwise.)

    For example there's a guy here in The UK (Derren Brown) who played Russian Roulette where another guy was to lie about which chamber the bullet was in. And so Derren said.

    "It's really important that you don't tell me where the bullet is." And similar to your example, that's what he heard.

    Hope that makes sense.
    : )
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  • You will most likely find what you need by contacting Jonathan Altfeld. He really knows NLP.

    Our NLP Trainer, Jonathan Altfeld, at the Mastery InSight Institute | Mastery InSight Institute
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  • Profile picture of the author Alex Cohen
    Originally Posted by marciayudkin View Post

    Hi everyone,

    I recently said to someone, "You can't succeed if you..." and what he heard was me saying "You can't succeed." What I meant was "If you..., then you can succeed," but he got so angry at what he heard that he wouldn't speak to me again.

    I think there's a concept for this in Neurolinguistic Programming, something about embedded commands or embedded statements, maybe?

    There are ways you can take advantage of this phenomenon in copywriting, but there are also ways you can create misunderstandings, as in my example.

    If anyone can direct me to some resources on this, I'd appreciate it!

    Thanks,
    Marcia Yudkin
    The guy is obviously angry about something and took it out on you. Or maybe he's one of those guys who hates women. Who knows.

    But yes, it's an embedded command.

    BTW, as you research, if you run into any proof that embedded commands make a difference in response, please let us know. I've never seen any.

    Alex
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  • Profile picture of the author Daniel Evans
    People who stand a chance of attaining solutions to problems, need to give the due attention to solutions that present themselves.

    The fact that they deduced only the problem is case in point.
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  • Profile picture of the author palmtreelife
    I find NLP quite interesting, but I'm certainly not an expert in its application. Sales 101 techniques include getting the customer to say "yes" a lot. Focusing on the positive side of your pitch instead of the negative, increases your chances of making a sale.

    So when you said "can't succeed", the potential customer gets their back up. It sounds much better to say things like "you can succeed if you do this, this and this" but negative thoughts creep into a customer's mind when they hear "you can't succeed if you do this, this and this".

    Also, if the customer is defensive and sensitive (who isn't these days?!), when they hear "you can't succeed...." it's like that's all they heard and they stop listening to the rest of the sentence or story as you said. Psychologically, those are the first words they hear and process, which puts them on the defensive side for the rest of the sentence/conversation.

    It's the whole "don't tell me what I can't do, and just focus on what I CAN do". It's much more powerful (and profitable) to create a positive environment and one of possibilities instead of limitations.

    Resources? Tony Robbins is one of the most well known people in the world who made NLP main stream. I would look up his work on that.
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