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Communicating With the Human Mind

Updated on December 3, 2012

Persuasion in the Age of Overload

How do you get your message across to anyone in this age of information overload?

Each of us is subjected to millions of bits of information coming at us through all five of our senses. Some even estimate that we receive 400 billion bits of information every second.

Your nervous system is constantly being bombarded with an unimaginable volume of information. Even the most powerful computer would soon seize up in the face of that onslaught so the human ‘computer’ needs to have a mechanism to enable it to cope – otherwise we’d all go crazy.

Fortunately our mind has a built-in filtering system to make dealing with all that information manageable. The good news is that if you understand how this works you can communicate more effectively with others.

A useful model for explaining this has been developed in the field of NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming).

This model explains what happens inside our minds when we experience communication – it might be something we see on the television, a phone call we receive or a comment somebody makes. This ‘trigger event’ then enters the mind’s filtering system. Understanding what happens during this filtering process gives you a huge advantage in communication because you will have unique knowledge of your audience.

Here are the four steps of that process:

  • Filter Level 1: Deletion, Distortion and Generalization
  • Filter Level 2: Memories and Decisions
  • Filter Level 3: Values, Beliefs and Attitudes
  • Filter Level 4: Metaprograms

Below, we look at each of these filters individually.

Overall, the filters explain how two people see the same things differently or why one will buy and the other will run the opposite way.

What happens next?

After the trigger event has been processed through our mental filtering system, we create something inside of our head that is known as an Internal Representation. This may be in the form of a picture, a sound, a feeling, a smell, a taste or words (in the form of self-talk). This all happens very quickly at an unconscious level.

The nature of the Internal Representation will determine how we feel about something (called our State) and, in turn, this will influence our physiology. The combined result of this will cause us to take a particular action – leading to the eventual result or outcome.

When you are communicating with people, you want to ensure that the Internal Representations and States that you create in their minds are as positive as possible.

Clearly two people will have different Internal Representations depending on how they have filtered the information and this will cause them to create different outcomes.

Your ability to control your own Internal Representation of an event – and that of the others around you – will determine your success.

Four Persuasion Filters of the Mind

Here we look at each of the filters in more detail

Filter Level 1: Deletion, Distortion and Generalization

When we process the information that our senses have taken in, we adapt what we see based on our own experience and priorities.

  • When we delete information, our mind decides not to make us consciously aware of it.
  • If we distort information, we change its meaning into something different, based on pre-conceived ideas.
  • When we generalize information, we put things into convenient categories by saying ‘that is the same as …’

These shortcuts are essential to manage the flow of information but can sometimes work against us.

Filter Level 2: Memories and Decisions

  • Our memories have a significant impact on our perceptions and on the way we behave.
  • Decisions we have made in the past also have a huge impact on who we are now.

Filter Level 3: Values, Beliefs and Attitudes

  • Our values motivate us and help us decide what to do. They guide us when to feel good about something and when to feel bad.
  • Beliefs are the way we generalize about the world. They can be seen as an 'on/off' switch that creates or denies us personal power.
  • Attitudes are our collections of beliefs and values around subjects.

Filter Level 4: Metaprograms

Metaprograms are unconscious filters that have a big influence on the way people think and act. The basic metaprograms, for example, categorize people based on their:

  • Source of energy - 'Introverts' typically enjoy their own company when they want to relax while 'extroverts' re-energize in the company of larger groups.
  • Decision-making – 'Thinkers' tend to be cool and rational about decisions whereas 'feelers' tend to rely more heavily on their emotions.

Understanding your own metaprograms and those of people around you can give you a big advantage in communication.


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