Embedded suggestions are a concept borrowed from the hypnotic techniques of the ‘father of indirect hypnosis’, Milton Erickson. If you subtly emphasise some parts of a sentence (by tone, or pausing, or gesture, or a significant look), the listener’s unconscious mind will take them as a suggestion, while the conscious mind will only hear the whole sentence.
If you’ve heard of embedded suggestions via the internet, the chances are that you associate them with sales and copywriting techniques, or even attempts to manipulate people.
But I came to embedded suggestions, and the Ericksonian language patterns known as the ‘Milton Model’ that they are part of, from a therapy and coaching background, so I know that they can equally be used to encourage people to feel better, to believe in their own capabilities, and to access their inner resources to make positive changes.
When they first encounter embedded suggestions (and Ericksonian techniques generally) on an NLP or hypnosis course, many students don’t find it easy at first to come up with their own examples, especially if the teaching is rushed or the trainer him/herself is not that familiar with using Ericksonian language patterns conversationally.
So here are three easy ways to generate embedded suggestions, which I hope you will find useful. Remember, what you are doing is putting an idea or an image into the person’s mind, so always use words that create a positive internal representation of what you want them to do/feel/think of.
Three easy ways to generate embedded suggestions:
- Create a sentence that on paper would be a question, but when spoken with a ‘command tonality’ becomes a suggestion:
“When will you have the information you need to go ahead with the order?”
(italics in this case indicate a subtle ‘command tonality’ emphasis)
“Can you imagine all the situations where owning this product would help you?”
“Anything else you need to book your place on the course?”
“How good would you be if you were to practice every day?”
“What really happens when you just decide to move on?”
The key is to be subtle with the emphasis, as the listener will probably react against the suggestion if they notice it consciously.
- Embed your suggestions in sentences that are statements – perhaps expressing uncertainty, or talking about possibilities, or that invite the listener to direct their attention away from themselves:
“I don’t know how soon you’ll begin to feel better.”
“When you’re ready to go ahead, perhaps you can give me a call.
“Notice what factors tell you when it’s time to buy.“
- Use negation. The idea of ‘not’ something is a logical concept that can be understood by the conscious mind but is difficult or impossible for the unconscious mind to represent without representing the thing that is being negated.
For this one, you don’t even need to emphasise or mark out the suggestion component, because the unconscious mind has to process the positive representation of what’s being said, while the conscious mind adds the negation, as in “Don’t think of a blue rhinoceros” – see? I bet an image of a blue rhinoceros came into your mind. It would have to, otherwise how could you process that sentence?
“I’m not saying that these stocks will go on appreciating forever.”
“You don’t have to understand it straight away.”
“It’s not that everyone can fulfil their dreams, more that you can decide how much you want it.”
Exercise (should you choose to accept it):
Write out three or four embedded suggestions of each type, with the aim of getting a listener to feel better or believe in themselves. This will be much easier if you have a positive internal representation of your partner having all the inner resources they need to achieve the aim.
Record yourself saying them, and practice until your emphasis marking out the embedded suggestion is so subtle that a casual listener would not notice it.
If you have another person to work with, so much the better.
- Ask the other person what quality or mood they want more of right now (self-belief, relaxation, motivation etc) and design some embedded suggestions to give them that.
- Get the other person to assess how much of that quality or mood they have at that moment, on a scale from zero to 10.
- Deliver your embedded suggestions.
- Ask your partner where they are now on the scale.
Once you’re finding that it’s easy to generate embedded suggestions, you can try this – come up with embedded suggestions in the moment, conversationally, as you talk about something else. Have your partner raise a finger or make a quick note each time they notice one (or, if you’re on your own, record what you’re saying).
You will know when you have really mastered this when your partner starts to notice positive embedded suggestions that you didn’t realise you were making.
Please feed back on this post! I am interested to hear how you got on with this exercise. If you are already familiar with embedded suggestions, I would love to hear stories of how you have been able to use them to get results for yourself or other people. Leave your comments and stories below.