Learning to mind your language

Sick of being a loser? Don’t despair, NLP can give you that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ for the bargain price of 9.95 plus P&P

First this column stumbled upon neuro linguistic programming (NLP), now it seeks to find a place for it in the great scheme of things.

The technique (craft? science? art? religion?) found its way into the news columns recently when Bass Taverns announced that its bar staff were being coached in NLP in the interests of increasing trade. Not much was revealed at the time other than that practitioners (devotees? adherents? apostles? grand masters?) of NLP include among their methods “mirroring”, a device that involves mimicking your subject (target? prospect? proselyte? victim?) and thereby winning his (her?) unwitting trust.

Further investigations revealed that NLP was concocted at the University of California by Richard Bandler and John Grindler who, to help pass the time that hangs heavy in the sunshine state, studied the working methods of therapists. They concluded that successful shrinks had one thing in common: they won the trust of their clients. From that came the idea of reproducing methods of gaining the confidence of others. Systemised, categorised and blown out of a clay pipe in bubbles, those methods became NLP.

Their impact lies in the claims made for them, and it is these that enable us to slot NLP into its rightful place. In his collection of short stories, The Book of Guys, US satirist Garrison Keillor tells the tale of Buddy the Leper, a young South Dakota man whose condition repelled his fellow men and, unfortunately, since he had what Dame Edna Everidge calls drives and juices, his fellow women too. Then one day in the doctor’s office, he saw a magazine ad.

“Attract women to you even if they don’t want to be – easy! In less than 60 secs! Learn the ancient secrets of hypnotic conversation and send subliminal erotic messages that hot babes are powerless to resist. Talk about sports, weather, hobbies etc, and in one minute you can focus her unconscious sexual desires on you! Hot babes have no idea what’s happening, only that they lust for your body and feel revulsion for all other men! After an hour, they’re taking off their clothes and yelling, ‘Do it! Do it!’ Or your money cheerfully refunded.”

So much for fiction. The latest brochure advertising new books for business 1997 to 1998 includes two NLP texts. The first is called “NLP The New Technology of Achievement” and this is the blurb: “Neuro linguistic programming is a revolutionary approach to human communication and development, based on the astonishing discovery that by changing how you think you can transform what you think. It helps you modify your thought and behavioural patterns to suit your projected goals. NLP literally reprogrammes your mind and your life – for faster learning, better relationships and greater success. In the most effective guide book ever you can learn how to master powerful techniques of persuasion and negotiation; eliminate fears, phobias and low self-esteem in minutes; learn the success secrets of top achievers and much more!”

The second book is called NLP at Work The Difference that Makes a Difference in Business. Blurb as follows: “NLP is the study of what behaviour works. It is a way of coding and reproducing excellence so that you can consistently achieve the results that you want for yourself and your business…These techniques will enable you to accelerate your ability to learn, improve the quality of the way you relate to people with whom you live and work, develop your flexibility so that you have more choice and therefore more influence, improve your ability to gain the cooperation of those around you, manage your thoughts and feelings so that you become the master of your emotions and develop your ability to trust and use your unconscious mind.”

Nothing about steaming nymphets peeling off and pleading for it. But, that apart, Keillor’s work of imagination and the publisher’s promotional prose are of the same genre. Both promise success hitherto undreamt of in return for learning a few simple techniques. One holds out the prospect of foolproof seduction achieved in less than a minute regardless of the humdrum nature of your conversation, the other bestows faster learning, greater success, the banishment of phobias, the mastery of emotions.

To be human, let’s face it, is tough. When we are not gnawed by self-doubt and fear of failure, plagued by nameless anxiety and beset by woe, we are hungry for success, desirous of power, eager for gratification, and desperate for peace. Small wonder that the pitiful bundle of uncertainty, neuroses, and desires that comes wrapped in human flesh will grasp at straws borne not by the wind but by any passing mountebank. From snake oil salesmen to necromancers, from Karl Marx to Dale Carnegie, from The Joy of Sex to NLP – there are manuals, guides, philosophies, recipes, secrets revealed and ancient wisdoms vouchsafed for 9.95 plus P&P.

Buddy the Leper, by the way, sent off for the booklet and cassette. They were written and narrated by a guy named Sandy. “Guys get excited by a babe’s you-know-what and pretty soon they’re yapping like sled dogs,” said Sandy. “But babes go for guys who go slow, if you know what I mean. Leave long pauses – use few words – be deliberate – focus – maintain eye contact but don’t push, don’t lean – draw her to you with silence.” Pure NLP – and just as likely to work.

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