The Milton-Model: The Language of Influence and Being Artfully Vague
Milton Erickson used language very systematically in his work, often in unusual ways. These patterns were first described by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in their book, Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson. M.D. Vol. I.
Understanding and using the Milton- Model with integrity is a prerequisite to effective communication and influence. The following examples and will help you to chunk this task down by practicing the distinct patterns to bring them into your unconscious competence.
Often the Milton-Model has been called the inverse of the Meta-Model Patterns. Think of a continuum moving from the language of specificity and information gathering, the Meta-Model, and moving to the opposite end of the continuum with the ability to influence and be artfully vague with the Milton-Model.
Being artfully vague allows a communicator to make statements that sound specific and yet are general enough to be an adequate pace for the listener’s experience. Using the Meta-Model recovers specific information that is deleted in any sentence; the Milton-Model provides ways of constructing sentences in which specific information is deleted. This requires the listener to fill in the deletions from their own unique internal experience.
The Meta-Model can be divided into three categories:
- Gathering Information
- Semantic Ill-formedness
- Limits of the Speaker’s Model
The Milton-Model flash cards are for your use in learning the patterns. Print them out and carry with you as you become more familiar with the structure. Notice that even though the concepts are taught individually, in language there will be many patterns used sequentially for effect. We encourage you to become more aware of these patterns in conversation and presentations and to task yourself to practice each of the patterns so that they will be available for you when you will find them useful.
Gathering Information (Meta- Model)
In the Milton-Model, this is Deleting Information, and is the most useful of the three categories for influencing purposes. The four sub-categories of deletions follow:
1) Nominalizations: Nominalizations are words that take the place of a noun in a sentence, but they are not tangible—they cannot be touched, felt, or heard. The test for a nominalization is “Can you put it in a wheelbarrow?” If a word is a noun and it cannot be put in a wheelbarrow, it is a nominalization. Words like curiosity, hypnosis, learnings, love, etc. are nominalizations. They are used as nouns, but they are actually process words.
Whenever a nominalization is used, much information is deleted. If I say, “Emily has a lot of knowledge,” I’ve deleted what exactly she knows and how she knows it. Nominalizations are very effective in the language of influence because they allow the speaker to be vague and require the listener to search through their experience for the most appropriate meaning.
In the following example, the nominalizations are in italics:
“I know that you have a certain difficulty in your life that you would like to bring to a satisfactory resolution… and I’m not sure exactly what personal resources you would find most useful in resolving this difficulty, but I do know that your unconscious mind is better able than you to search through your experience for exactly that resource…”
In this paragraph, nothing specific is mentioned, and if this kind of statement is made to a client who has come in to resolve a problem, each individual will create specific personal meanings for the nominalizations used. By using nominalizations, the coach can provide useful instructions without running the risk of saying something that runs counter to the listener’s internal experience.
2) Unspecified Verbs: No verb is completely specified, but verbs can be more or less specified. If a coach uses relatively unspecified verbs, the listener is again forced to supply the meaning in order to understand the sentence. Words like do, fix, solve, move, change, wonder, think, sense, know, experience, understand, remember, become aware of, etc., are relatively unspecified.
The sentence “I think this is true” is less specified than “I feel this is true.” In the latter sentence, we are informed as to how the person is processing. If I say, “I want you to learn,” I am using a very unspecified verb, since I’m not explaining how I want you to learn, or what specifically I want you to learn about.
3) Unspecified Referential Index: This means that the noun being talked about is not specified. The speaker or author of the statement is unknown in the sentence.
“People can relax.” “Somone once said trust can be easily learned.” “You can notice a certain sensation.”
Unspecified statements like these give the listener the opportunity to easily think in their preferred style in order to understand and to identify with the statement.
4) Deletion: This category refers to sentences in which a major noun phrase is completely missing. For example “You must be curious about….”
The object of that sentence is missing completely. The listener does not know what he is supposedly curious about. Again, the listener can fill in the blanks with whatever is relevant in her experience.
These are the distortions of Meta-Model that are used on purpose in Milton language to create an imagined connection or understanding to influence in a particular way.
1) Causal Modeling, or Linkage: Using words that imply a cause-effect relationship between something that is occurring and something the communicator wants to occur invites the listener to respond as if one thing did indeed “cause” the other. There are three kinds of linkage, with varying degrees of strength.
Conjunctions: The most casual kind of linkage makes use of conjunctions to connect otherwise unrelated phenomena.
“You are listening to the sound of my voice, and you can begin to relax.”
“You are breathing comfortably and you are curious about what you might learn.”
Pacing and Leading: Truth, truth, truth and suggestion.
Make three statements that can be verified in the environment and that the listener will most likely agree with, this creates a “yes” frame of mind. Then link to your suggestion or other proposal of influence to this state of mind.
“You are sitting in your chairs, noticing the room around you, hearing my voice, and you can allow your attention to wander back to that memory….”
“As you notice the weight of your body in your chair, you can allow your attention to go to your breathing, and as you breathe comfortably and perhaps feeling your body relax, you can allow those sensations to take you to a very pleasant experience, a time where you learned easily and comfortably.”
“You’re sitting here in this room, and you can notice the words that I am saying, and you can experience the thoughts that are going through your own mind, and you can drift back to another time and place.”
For a good future pace pattern, link something happening “here and now” to something you want to happen “there and then.”
“As you look up here on the flip chart, you may begin to wonder what’s next, and after you have written down whatever it is that you need then you can again return your attention to what’s happening here and now.
“And, while you are attending to what’s happening here and now, you might especially focus on your breathing so that you can have the most resources at your finger tips.”
Incorporating events in the room:
“…the sound of the air can remind you of sounds on the beach”.
Incorporate the person’s behavior – “and sometimes even that little bit of tension can allow you to relax even more deeply.”
Time words: The second kind of linkage makes use of words like as, when, during, and while to connect statements by establishing a connection in time, even though there is no relationship.
“As you look up here on the flip chart, you may begin to wonder what’s next, and after you have written down whatever it is that you need, then you can again return your attention to what’s happening here and now.”
“And, while you are attending to what’s happening here and now, you might especially focus on your breathing.”
“As you sit there smiling, you can begin to pay closer attention.”
“While you drive to work, you can relax more completely.”
Cause and Effect: The third and strongest kind of linkage uses words actually stating ‘cause and effect.’ Words such as makes, causes, forces, and requires can be used here. Form: X causes Y.
“Listening to the ocean, causes you to relax more completely.”
“Attending to your breathing may* cause you to experience a greater sense of relaxation, and relaxing in a certain way requires us to let go of certain tensions and that can allow us to enjoy ourselves even more.”
*Often soften the suggestions using “may” or “can.”
The more the more...another form of cause-effect.
“The more you listen to the sound of my voice, the more you can begin to enjoy yourself and the more you can begin to notice all the sensations within your body that have to do with enjoyment.”
Something happening now linked to something happening in the future. “the more this = the more that.”
“The more we all practice these language patterns the easier they become, then the more fully we can use them without even thinking about them.”
A personal example: “As you are sitting here in this chair, and noticing sensations in your body and attending to the sounds around you, you can go from that to a wonderful experience in the hot-tub (insert favorite relaxation activity) and while you are enjoying the feeling of the water and noticing the sounds that are there, you can allow yourself to relax more and more…. and the warmth of the water can make you even more comfortable because the more you allow that warmth into your own body the more your muscles know just what to do in response and even the sounds around you can allow you to go deeper into that sense of relaxation, and you can allow that experience to create even more resourcefulness as you come back to here now and as you open your eyes and look around the room, keeping that relaxation with you.”
A business example: “As all of you know the economy is not at its best and consequently our profits are not where we want to be and there are some interesting ideas about management techniques that may be useful here for you.”
Notice that when using each kind of linkage, the communicator begins with something that is already occurring and connects to it something she wants to occur. The communicator will be most effective if she begins with the weakest form of linkage and gradually moves to a stronger form. These forms of linkage work by implying or stating that what is occurring will cause something else to occur, and by making a gradual transition for the listener between what is occurring and some other experience.
Begin to practice these language patterns and distinctions whenever you want to influence more unconsciously. This requires a fair amount of thinking at first and can be distracting. Remember rapport and take a moment to match breathing. Most all of you have used these words before, now you can be more intentional.
2) Mind-Reading: Acting as if you know the internal experience of another person can be an effective tool to build credibility as long as the mind-reading makes use of generalized language patterns. If the mind-reading is too specific, the communicator runs the risk of saying something counter to the listener’s experience, and thereby losing rapport.
“You’re wondering what he will say next.”
“You’re curious about this report I am presenting.”
3) Lost Performative: Evaluative statements in which the person making the evaluation is missing (lost) from the sentence are called Lost Performatives. Statements using lost performatives can be an effective way of delivering presuppositions.
“It’s good that you can relax so easily.”
“It’s not important that you sink all the way down
in your chair.”
“People can relax at the wink of an eye.”
Limits of the Speaker’s Model
This category of the Meta-Model is the least significant category as a part of the Milton-Model. Its two categories can be used to limit the listener’s model in ways that produce influence.
1) Universal Quantifiers: Words such as all. every, always, never. nobody, etc., are universal quantifiers. These words usually indicate overgeneralizations.
“And now you can go all the way into a trance.” “Every thought that you have can assist you in going deeper into a relaxed state.”
2) Modal Operators: Words such as should, must, have to, can’t, won’t, etc., that indicate lack of choice.
Have you noticed that you can’t open your eyes?”
Additional Milton-Model Patterns
In addition to the inverse Meta-Model patterns, the Milton-Model includes a number of other important language patterns. The most important of these is the use of presuppositions.
The way to determine what is presupposed and not open to question in a sentence is to negate the sentence and find out what is still true. The simplest kind of presupposition is existence. In the sentence “Jane lived in the house.” it is presupposed that “Jane” and “house” exist. If you negate the sentence and say, “No, Jane didn’t live in the house.” the fact that Jane and the house exist is still not questioned.
Presuppositions are the most powerful of the language patterns, when used by a communicator who presupposes what she doesn’t want to have questioned. A general principle is to give the person lots of choices, and yet have all of the choices presuppose the response you want.
The following are categories of specific kinds of presuppositions that are particularly useful in influencing.
Subordinate Clauses of Time: Such clauses begin with words such as before, after, during, since, prior, when, while, etc.
“Do you want to sit down while you go gather your thoughts?”
This directs the listener’s attention to the question of sitting down or not, and presupposes that she will gather her thoughts.
“I’d like to discuss something with you before you complete this project.” This presupposes that you will complete this project.
Ordinal Numerals: Words such as another, first, second, third, etc., indicate order.
“You may wonder which project will bring the most amount of money to the organization first.” This presupposes that both projects will bring in money; the only question is which will be first.
Use of “Or”: The word “or” can be used to presuppose that at least one of several alternatives will take place.
“I don’t know if want to go to the movies before dinner or after we eat.” This presupposes that you will go the movies and that you will eat dinner, just in what order.
“Would you rather brush your teeth before or after you put your pajamas on?” This presupposes that you will put on pajamas and brush your teeth; the only question is in what order.
Awareness Predicates: Words like know, aware, realize, notice, etc., can be used to presuppose the rest of the sentence. The only question is if the listener is aware of whatever point you are making.
“Do you realize that you’re already becoming more and more competent in this task?”
“Did you know that you have already been the top ten of your class?”
“Have you noticed the attractive effect this painting has on your living room?”
Adverbs and Adjectives: Such words can be used to presuppose a major clause in a sentence.
“Are you curious about the new results you will by your developing this skill?” This presupposes that you are developing a skill; the only question is if you are curious about it or not.
“Are you deeply in a love?” This presupposes that you are in love; the only question is if you are in deeply or not.
“How easily can you begin to relax?” This presupposes that you can relax; the only question is how easy it will be.
Change of Time Verbs and Adverbs: Begin, end, stop, start, continue, proceed, already, yet, still, anymore, etc.
“You can continue to relax.” This presupposes that you are already relaxing.
“Are you still interested in learning about business?” This presupposes that you were interested in learning about business in the past.
Commentary Adjectives and Adverbs: Fortunately, luckily, innocently, happily, necessarily, etc.
“Fortunately, there’s no need for me to know the details of what you want in order for me to help you get it.” This presupposes everything after the first word.
Stacking many kinds of presuppositions in the same sentence makes them particularly powerful. The more that is presupposed, the more difficult it is for the listener to unravel the sentence and question any one presupposition. Some of the presupposition sentences listed above contain several kinds of presuppositions, and those sentences will be the more powerful. The following sentence is an example of the use of many presuppositions stacked together.
“And I don’t know how soon you’ll realize the new awareness you’ve already made, because it’s not important that you know before you’ve comfortably continued the process of relaxation and allowed the other you to be aware of something else of use and delight to you.”
2) Indirect Elicitation Patterns
The next groups of Milton-Model patterns are particularly useful in getting specific responses indirectly, without overtly asking for them.
Embedded Commands (Marked Messages): Rather than giving instructions directly by using language of influence one can embed directives within a larger sentence structure. Think of your outcome and reduce it to the simplest command. Example: “I want her to feel relaxed,” becomes “Feel relaxed.” Next embed this simple command into a longer sentence. “I think it is really important to feel relaxed when we are learning something new.”
When you embed directives within a larger sentence, you can deliver them more smoothly and gracefully, and the listener will not consciously realize that directives have been given. The above messages are likely to have a much more graceful impact than if you were to give the directive alone.
Tag questions: Tag questions are negations or reversals at the end of the sentence. A tag question creates a fascinating ambiguity. If the listener answers yes (or no) is she responding to the substantive question, or to the negation in the tag question? Tag questions can be useful for disabling polarity responses, such as “Ya, buts,” because they allow the person to negate and affirm at the same time. “You do understand tag questions, don’t you?” “You can feel comfortable, can’t you?” “You’re feeling alert, aren’t you?” It also calls for some sort of response from the listener.
For even more effectiveness with embedded commands, you can add a tag question. The value of tag questions is that is paces a polarity, invites involvement and re- accesses what you just said. It can also move the problem into the past. “So, you had a problem, didn’t you?”
Analogue Marking: Embedded commands are particularly powerful when used with analogue marking. Analogue marking means that you set the directive apart from the rest of the sentence with some nonverbal analog behavior. You could do this by raising the volume of your voice when delivering the directive, by giving a slight pause before and after the directive, by changing your voice tone, by gesturing with one of your hands, or by raising your eyebrows. You can use any behavior that is perceptible to the other person to mark out a directive for special attention. The other person does not need to notice your marking consciously; in fact she will often respond more fully when your marking is perceived but not consciously recognized.
Embedded Questions: Questions, like commands, can be embedded within a larger sentence structure. “I’m curious to know what you would like to gain from that meeting.” “Tm wondering what you would prefer to drink.” Typically people will respond to the embedded question without realizing that the question was not asked directly. The listener doesn’t refuse to answer the question, because it is embedded within a statement about the speaker’s curiosity. This provides a very gentle and graceful way to gather information.
This pattern is good to indirectly gain information. Decide what question you want to know. Add awareness words at beginning, “I’m curious to know what you want to gain from this training.” This focuses attention on the questioner’s mental processes while presupposing the question. Typically people will answer the question.
Negative Commands: When a command is given in its negative form, the positive instruction is generally what is responded to. For example, if someone says, “Don’t think of pink polka dots” you have to think of pink polka dots to understand the sentence. Negation does not exist in primary experience of sights, sounds, and feelings. Negation exists only in secondary experiences: symbolic representations such as language and mathematics.
Negative commands can be used effectively by stating what you do want to occur and preceding this statement with the word “don’t.” “I don’t want you to feel too comfortable.” “Don’t have too much fun practicing these language patterns.” It is a positive way to diffuse any resistance: “I don’t want you to go ahead and easily learn these patterns.” Generally the listener will respond by experiencing what it’s like to feel comfortable, have fun practicing, and easily learning these patterns, as a way of understanding the sentence.
I statements like, “Don’t sit that way any longer.” (Person moves) “Well, don’t sit that way either.” there is no way for that person to be successful, or for you to get the results you ware wanting.
Conversational Postulates: Conversational postu- lates are yes/no questions that typically elicit a response rather than a literal answer. These are questions that presuppose the listener will take the action implied in the question. For example, if you approach someone on the street and ask, “Do you have the time?” the person generally won’t say “yes” or “no.” She will tell you what time it is. If you ask someone “Do you know what’s on TV tonight?” it’s likely that he will tell you the evening’s programming rather than say “yes” or “no.”
To create conversational postulates, first think of the response you want. As an example, let’s say you want someone to close the door. The second step is to identify at least one thing that must be true if that person is to close the door. In other words you are identifying what your outcome presupposes. In this case it presupposes (a) the person is able to shut the door, and (b) the door is now open. The third step is to take one of these presuppositions and turn it into a yes/no question. “Can you shut the door?” “Is the door open?” You now have a question that will typically get you a response without directly asking for it.
“Does anybody have a pen?” Intending to get someone to give you a pen. “Do you have the time?” Intending for the person to tell you the time. “Could you open the door?” Intending for the person to open the door for you.
Behavioral Presupposition: Non-verbal behavior to elicit a particular response. Look up. Motion to a chair. Look at your empty wrist. We are doing these a lot of the time. Imagery and gestures are often more profound than instructions or words.
Ambiguity: Ambiguity occurs when one sentence, phrase, or word has more than one possible meaning. Ambiguity is an important tool that can result in a mild confusion and disorientation. Ambiguity makes it possible for the listener to internally process a message in more than one way. This requires that the person actively participate in creating the meaning of the message, which increases the probability that the meaning will be appropriate for him. In addition, it is likely that one or more of the meanings will remain at the unconscious level. The patterns of Nominalizations, Unspecified Verbs, Unspecified Referential Index, and Deletion all function to increase the ambiguity of the message.
a) Phonological ambiguity: Words that sound alike but have different meanings create phonological ambiguity. Such words include: right, write, rite; I, eye, aye; insecurity, in security; red/read; there/ their/they’re; weight/wait; knows/nose; here/hear.
b) Punctuation ambiguity: The following words similarly have two meanings, although the same word will be used to link two thoughts together in a sentence.
“Your coat looks like it is made of goose down deeply into a relaxed state.”
“That’s right now you’ve already begun to relax.” That’s right now. AND… Right now you have already begun to relax.”
“I’m speaking clearly to make sure that you can hear you are, in the process of getting better and better.” I’m speaking clearly to make sure that you can hear. AND… Here you are in the process of getting better and better.
“Buy (By) now we should be onto something else.” “I don’t care if you buy now or not.”
“How are you able to learn so quickly?” How are you? AND…You are able to learn so quickly. One sentence flows into another and creates confusion which overwhelms the conscious mind.
3. Patterns in Metaphor
The next set of patterns is particularly useful when using metaphorical communication, as well as when using other kinds of influence. There are many other patterns that are useful in effective storytelling. However, the following two are generally thought of as part of the Milton-Model.
Selectional Restriction Violations: This refers to the attribution of qualities to something or someone which by definition could not possess those qualities. For example, if you talk about a car that was very sad, or a man who is pregnant, there is a selectional restriction violation since cars do not experience feelings and men do not get pregnant. The listener needs to find some way of making sense out of statements like this.
If we talk about the experiences the sad car had, and the changes it made, the listener is likely to make sense out of the statements by applying them to himself. “The car can’t be sad, so it must be me.” This process is not a conscious one, it is an automatic way of understanding what is said through personal filters.
Quotes: This pattern involves making a statement you want to make to another person as if you are reporting what someone else said at another time and place. Quotes can be used to deliver a message without having to take responsibility for the message. Since you are apparently talking about what someone else said at another time, your listener will often respond to the message, and not consciously identify who is responsible for the message.
You can talk about another client who wanted to really be better about limiting his intake of junk-food. Then deliver what you want to say of importance to your friend by quoting what a leading dietician says about nutrition to that client. Example: “…And then that dietician said to the client, “You have to take control over what you decide to put into your mouth right now!”
Example of using Quotes: “My friend’s uncle in New York once told her that to be really effective at something you need to practice.”
“Richard Bandler told me to find out how much more effective you can be now in the future by taking one pattern at a time and experimenting with it until you get good at it. On the other hand, John Grinder’s recommendation is to get these patterns into your behavior easily and quickly by doing them whenever the opportunity arises. And Leslie Cameron-Bandler says that if you are in a congruent and resourceful state your language cannot not be effective.”
Quotes can also be used to step away from a negative message: “The boss says we have to get these reports out by noon.” “You know, whenever my brother gets frustrated with his girlfriend he says, “I’m really angry with you and I want you to back off and get a grip.”
Another use of quote is to borrow authority or credibility from an expert to get your point across. “The statistics say, “……….” “What I heard from the president of the school board is, “…………” “In this situation, Milton Erickson would say, “………..”
Additional Useful Patterns
Utilization and Incorporation: Use any event, or behavior of the client, to deepen your influence, by linking those events or behaviors to the desired outcome. “And the noises in the room can remind you to focus in on the topic today.” “The fact that you’re cautious about changing means that the change you make will really fit you and your life.”
Organ language: This refers to using words that refer to body parts/activities. “Get a handle on-,” “Pain in the neck,” “I’m sick and tired of…” “Get off my back!” “I just need a break!” Often statements like the above will be accompanied by corresponding physical symptoms, since unconsciously we process language literally as well as metaphorically.
You can utilize any movements your client makes by incorporating some reference to it with your own organ language. If you see hand movements, for example, you can say, “It will be so handy to put your finger on precisely the most useful aspect of that experience….”
Apply these patterns in business, and in your personal life, wherever you want to create a deep rapport and respect with another and to have the most likelihood of your proposal, request or boundary being respected.
This article was written by Al Sargent and Marilyn Sargent of Success Design International. They are the authors of the Spencer Institute’s Life Strategies Coach Certification and the Results Coach Certification.
If you found this article helpful, you will want to click over it and get more information on how to use this in a coaching setting. For more information on Al and Marilyn, visit www.repoweryourlife.com