How To Understand The Powerful Linguistic Aspects Of NLP: It's Not What You Think!

7 May 2019

How to understand the powerful Linguistic aspects of NLP: It’s not what you think!

Unfortunately, the title is a bit misleading — in a linguistic kind of a way!

The powerful linguistic aspects of NLP

It wasn’t intentional, but once I had the image and text all done, I realised that the linguistic aspect of NLP is all about what you think — but might not be saying — with the words you choose. So there’s a bit of a double entendre in the title. It’s not what you think. But it is about what you think. Oh dear! Read on — I’m sure it’ll all make sense!


In this podcast, Aaron and I talk about the Linguistic part of Neuro Linguistic Programming, what it encompasses and what meanings we can extract from what we say — and what we leave out.

More than verbal language

Contrary to what many people think, the Linguistic part of NLP doesn’t allude only to verbal language. Linguistic refers to anything that conveys a message. Sign language is an excellent example of this, where the ‘speaker’ uses no sound yet communication is still very effective.

Skilled NLP Practitioners can pick up the language conveyed by their clients eye movements, hand and finger gestures, breathing and pauses, sighs, changes in skin colour as well as noticing changes in tone of voice, words and the metaphors they use, etc. Noticing the not-so-obvious can be important because people are skilled at masking how they truly feel about people or situations. However, their body language will often give them away! Listen for the example in the podcast.

linguistic information from eye accessing

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

Unintentional masking

Sometimes people have no conscious awareness of how they might be creating a problem but, by paying attention to non-verbal clues it’s possible to uncover the real issues. We discuss how we move our eyes when we think and speak and how, as observers, we can tell the thinking style someone is using. We talk about how language is often literal rather than metaphorical, so someone saying they feel ‘low’ or ‘down’ will be looking down. When they look up, they’ll report that ‘things are looking up’ or ‘life seems brighter.’

We examine why it’s difficult it is to speak negatively to yourself while looking up. I relate an incident that occurred over the weekend with a friend who was wearing a black cap — and the influence this had on her mood and her body language. And a similar black cap incident from a few years back.  

Linguistic assumptions

To understand even a simple sentence you have to differentiate and understand the various assumptions that are inherent in that sentence. Working out the assumptions can be an incredibly complex exercise when broken down — and yet we do it quickly and automatically in most everyday conversations. I break down a couple of simple examples to illustrate this.

We deliberate about the use of metaphors and how we often learn their meanings without ever having had them explained to us. And how the metaphors people choose (usually unconsciously) can often convey a profound underlying message. You might be surprised to learn how some metaphors came into being!

Using positive language

I emphasise the importance of using positive language, especially for children under the age of seven and for people for whom English is their second language.

Different advertisers are skilled at using association and hypnotic language to persuade people to buy stuff — I speak about a current example of this. And Aaron asks for suggestions for motivating his soccer team. 

 Emojis 😊

Finally, we have a conversation about the growth of Emojis as a way of conveying the information that’s missing in non-face-to-face communication.

Click play to listen.