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Sleight of Mouth is a system of language patterns for persuasion. The concept was devised by Robert Dilts who modelled the argument and persuasion skills of Richard Bandler (the co-founder of Neuro-linguistic programming). By breaking down the methods, Dilts came up with 14 (sometimes[How to reference and link to summary or text] stated as 16 or other) patterns.[1]

As with other facets of the NLP system, the intention behind formalising the study of influence allows people to understand the process, and to duplicate those skills through direct application of one or more of the Sleight Of Mouth patterns.

The name "Sleight of Mouth" builds off the phrase "Sleight of Hand" which refers to a magicians' skills in making things happen which appear impossible.


Ultimately, Sleight of Mouth focuses on influence by challenging and thus changing beliefs.

Normally, a belief is simply something that you believe, like "I believe there is a God." However, in Sleight of Mouth the concept of belief is built on a more specific set of definitions, as follows:

  • Complex Equivalence: X=Y, or X is equivalent to Y
  • Cause-Effect: X causes Y, X results in Y

Complex Equivalence and Cause-Effect can be seen in the following two examples, respectively.

  • You're late again, which means you don't love me. (Note that this is not just "I believe you don't love me", but rather there is something which leads to that outcome.)
  • I am not going to do that - [because] I am not that kind of person!


A brief description of the key patterns appears below. However, most of the understanding will follow from working through examples, and seeing how these are applied.

  • Intent: Focus on the intention behind the statement. This can be done by highlighting their positive intent behind the belief, or by challenging the negative intent.
  • Consequences: Find a consequence (even an unintended consequence) which results in the belief being challenged.
  • Another Outcome: Maybe people who XYZ need ABC.
  • Counterexample: Use an exception where their statement would not be true - which causes the belief that underlies the statement to be questioned.
  • Apply to self: Turn the comment back to them - by saying (or implying) that the consequence they suggest applies to you, actually applies to them for making the original statement.
  • Reality strategy: Challenge the belief based on the fact that beliefs arise from certain perceptions. Ultimately, this is about asking how they know their belief is true, or what aspects of the belief are really the issue. (This is like the Metamodel.)
  • Model of the World: Argue that they are saying that as a metaphor for something else.
  • Meta frame: Challenge the basis behind the belief, rather than the belief. Suggest that their belief presupposes something.
  • Change Frame Size: Extend the implications of the belief to a larger (or a smaller) scale; or to a larger (or shorter) time frame.
  • Hierarchy of Criteria: Challenge the belief based on more important criteria, suggesting something more important they should be considering.
  • Chunk Down: Look at a specific element and challenge the belief.
  • Chunk Up: Generalise in order to challenge the belief.
  • Metaphor/Analogy: Use an example which challenges the belief.
  • Redefine: Use similar words to say the same thing, ensuring that the implication is changed.[1]

Example SetsEdit

You're late again, which means you don't love me.

  • Intent: I'm glad you care enough about me to be concerned about that.
  • Consequence: You're just trying to get me to always fit within your timetable.
  • Another Outcome: Would you have preferred me to cancel our dinner, if I knew I was going to be late?
  • Counter Example: Have you ever loved someone, but still been late?
  • Apply to Self: An accusation like that makes it sound like you don't love me.
  • Reality Strategy: How did you come to that conclusion? Has someone accused you of something similar in the past?
  • Model of the World: I'm guessing that it's not so much that I'm late, but you're concerned about me not focusing on the little things in our relationship.
  • Meta frame: Where did you learn that being on time equates to love?
  • Change Frame Size: Most people are late for meetings every day ... are you saying that none of them care?
  • Hierarchy of Criteria: Isn't it more important that I actually made the effort to get here, in spite of everything that happened along the way?
  • Chunk Down: What about all the times I have been on time?
  • Chunk Up: You're judging an entire relationship based on time-keeping?
  • Metaphor/Analogy: Isn't that like saying if you don't cook for me every time, you don't love me?
  • Redefine: You're saying a small delay defines an entire relationship?

I am not going to do that—I am not that kind of person!

  • Intent: It's great that you make decisions based on how you see yourself as a person.
  • Consequence: Why are you focused on decisions which avoid you having to leave the house?
  • Another Outcome: But if you don't do that, can you ever hope to develop into the person you'd like to become?
  • Counter Example: Have you ever done something that you didn't think was "you", yet you really enjoyed it?
  • Apply to Self: You're not the kind of person to pre-judge, yet here you are - pre-judging.
  • Reality Strategy: And exactly what kind of person do you have to be to do that kind of thing?
  • Model of the World: Does everyone who is afraid to try something new say that?
  • Meta frame: You're only saying that because you're afraid of what others might think.
  • Change Frame Size: Yeah, that's right. Only a truly open-minded person would do that.
  • Hierarchy of Criteria: What's more important, trying new things and expanding your horizons or being safe and restricted in your tiny comfort zone?
  • Chunk Down: What kind of person would that make you, specifically?
  • Chunk Up: Do you always get out of trying new things by making excuses?
  • Metaphor/Analogy: People aren't born astronauts.
  • Redefine: You don't have to tie up your identity with a few actions.

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Dilts, Robert (1999). Sleight of Mouth: The Magic of Conversational Belief Change. ISBN 0-916990-43-5

Further readingEdit

  • Dilts, Robert; Sleight of Mouth: The Magic of Conversational Belief Change (1999) ISBN 0-916990-43-5

See alsoEdit


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