The Unfair Advantage: The Power to Influence Others

Duane Lakin




Why should people want to pay attention to you? There is always somebody else to listen to. Whether you are selling or managing, the key issue of whether someone will give you the benefit of the doubt is whether they trust you or not.


There are numerous techniques available to help you develop trust in your communications. These techniques came about from asking one simple question, “Why are some people more successful than others?” These techniques are not new. Many people do them instinctively at times. Some people do them most of the time. The key is to be aware of them so you can use them consciously.





The set of skills for developing trust and rapport with others is called neurolinguistic programming, or NLP. They are based on one simple principle – people trust those most like themselves. All the rapport building techniques are based on how to create the experience of being like someone else. The idea is to line yourself up with another person so they perceive or experience you as being similar, usually at an unconscious level.


One of the ways you know this is happening is when you hear people use the phrase, “He speaks our language.” That is a high compliment because they are actually saying you understand them. When people think or believe that, they give you enormous benefit of doubt, the unfair advantage. They feel you have the same biases, you understand their needs and concerns, etc.


You can learn how to speak the language of someone else. People don’t use words randomly. Words don’t just come out of their mouths. There is a pattern to the words people use, and if you can begin to understand the language people speak, arid match yours with theirs, you get an unconscious alignment with them. This kind of thing is very obvious when two people speak different languages, such as English and French. But the same thing goes on at a deeper level every time you interact with another person.


Your language reflects the way you think, which is built on how you store information from your senses. In Western culture, there are three basic ways to store information – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (sense of touch). In other cultures, smell and taste play a much larger role.


In Western culture, when you begin talking about something, you are drawing on either visual, auditory or kinesthetic information. At any given time on any given topic, there will be some of each. But if you listen and notice a person’s language, for a specific topic they will have a preference that shows up more than the other two. The key is to remember that the preference changes from topic to topic. People don’t have one preference all the time.

To distinguish a person’s preference, notice the words they choose. The action words will give away the language they like to use. Examples:


  • Visual person: I see what you mean. How do you picture that?
  • Auditory person: I hear you. That sounds good to me. That rings a bell.
  • Kinesthetic person: I have a good feeling about this. Let’s get into the swing of things.


Sometimes you will run into people who use neutral, or digital, words. These are words that people are able to produce without accessing their brains. They don’t have to think to say them. Lawyers and politicians are very adept at choosing these kinds of words.


When you hear or read digital words, you don’t get any cues to learn that person’s language, so you can’t do anything to establish rapport. To overcome that, ask a question. If you can get the person to think, they will have to go into one of the three areas. If you choose to use digital words yourself, it will encumber your ability to establish rapport.


The only time you would want to use digital words is if you don’t want to take the chance of the other person responding to your choice of words. If you want to interview someone and you need to know a lot about them, you might want to start with a digital word to see where they go. That way you can cue off them instead of them cuing off you.


Believe and decide are examples of digital words. Digital words are neutral; they don’t relate to any of the senses. Digital words often sound businesslike so they tend to creep into our business correspondence. Yet they have no impact. Throw them out if you want to make an impact in your written correspondence.


At this point Lakin throws out some phrases to the group and has them guess which language they are in. Examples:


  • This issue is too hot to handle: Kinesthetic
  • Please call at your convenience: Auditory
  • I look forward to our meeting: Visual
  • Much has been said about our service: Auditory
  • Listen carefully to what we are showing you: Auditory and visual
  • Let me clear this matter up: Visual


  • I understand: Digital


  • If YOU can tell yourself that what you’ve seen fits your needs, we’ve been a success: All three


When you need to make a key point, you can use all three languages, such as in the last example. However, only do this verbally, never written. It is a cumbersome sentence, and will only confuse people who read it. Even verbally it is cumbersome. But it works because people don’t listen to the whole thing. They just hear the part in the language they prefer.


You can also repeat yourself verbally if you switch languages each time. Do you see what I mean? Can you hear what I am saying? Do you get the feel of it? These are basically saying the same thing in three different languages. You will hear the one you prefer and gloss over the other two.


As an exercise, Lakin has the members read different letters in the handouts and asks them how they would respond to them.




The key to using these techniques on a daily basis is practice. For most people, this stuff doesn’t come naturally.


At this point, Lakin has the members describe their products or services using all three languages.


When writing to someone you don’t know, try to get all three languages in your first few sentences. You want to connect right away to get the person interested in the letter. Use all three languages in the closing of the letter as well. The stuff in the middle is less critical.


However, you don’t always have the option of seeing these things in writing, and when you don’t see them, it makes it easier to forget about them. In a way, it is even more important verbally to be aware of which language will appeal to your audience. Your own words at times can actually mislead you.


Example: You are in a group meeting and you say, “Anybody feel we should discuss this?” If you have a visual audience you will get no response. Then you might make the assumption that it is okay to move on to the next item when people really do want to discuss it. If you asked, “Does anybody see a problem with this?” your visual audience would jump right in.


At this point, Lakin plays audiotapes of conversations and speeches for the members to practice their recognition of which languages the cues for the different languages.

The way to code is to listen to words that people have a choice about. The main words are the ones that really clue you in as to what language the person is speaking in.


You want to communicate, “Do you understand what I mean?” How would you say it in each language?


  • Visual: Do you see what I mean?
  • Auditory: Do you hear what I’m saying?
  • Kinesthetic: Do you have a sense of what I’m trying to carry across?


If you want to communicate, “Does anyone have any suggestions how this could be improved?”:


  • Auditory: Can you tell me something that would help me make this better? If you want to communicate, “How can I help you?”:
  • Auditory: What can I say that would be of assistance?


At this point, Lakin breaks the group into pairs and has them rework paragraphs in the different languages. Afterwards, they regroup and share their results.




Language is not the only part of this process that reveals your thinking process. You also physically show how you are thinking. The minute you start to think, your eyes will give away whether you are thinking visually, auditorially or kinesthetically. If the other person doesn’t think, or uses digital language, it is also hard to read the visual clues.


The first thing to do is learn to read eye movements. But you have to be restrained with this technique, you can’t be continuously staring into someone’s eyes trying to read them. That is not how you establish rapport. The trick is to pick and choose. Determine what is giving you information right now, use that, and then let go of it. Learn first to observe eyes, and then learn when to do it. Do it when you have no other information.


People have very quick eye movements. Unless you notice them they will go right by you. But it is worth the time to notice them. Across every culture, there is a “map” you can use to interpret eye movements. If you are talking to a person and you see their eyes move up, whether it is left or right, it is a visual clue. That person is in a visual mode in their brain at that time.

If the eyes go as though they are looking into either ear, they are into auditory. If the eyes go down they can also be in auditory because they are talking to themselves. Often you will see people turn their heads slightly as if talking into a phone.

If they eyes are down towards their body, they are in a kinesthetic mode.


In the visual mode, if they look up and to the left, that means they are remembering something they have actually seen. If they look up and to the right, they are constructing, picturing something in their mind they have not actually pictured in reality. In the auditory mode, if their eyes go to their left ear, they are remembering something they have actually heard. If their eyes go to their right ear, they are hearing something they haven’t heard or they are trying to put the sound into words.


This does not work for left-handed people. What makes it even more difficult is that there are degrees of left-handedness. Some lefties reverse all of this. Some reverse none of it. And some reverse only part of it. When dealing with a left-handed person, until you have interacted with them a while, and watched their eyes and listened to their words, you will have a difficult time interpreting their clues.


You can even use these techniques to change your own behavior. The next time you lose something, put your eyes in the up and to the left position. Then see if you can remember where you put it.


Although some people may try to use it this way, you cannot use these techniques to determine if someone is lying to you. In order to do that you have to be a master at observation, asking questions and timing. You will never get that good. Don’t try to use this for telling if someone is lying. Use it to determine what language you should match the other person with to get rapport and have influence. Also, by matching language you can get better information from them.


At this point, Lakin has the members break into pairs again to practice reading these visual clues. They ask their partners five or six questions from a list distributed by Lakin and watch how their eyes move when they think about answering the question.


Next, I.akin shows videos of people talking, and the group discusses what their eye movements mean.


These techniques can be useful for dealing with customers. Assume a customer comes into your office and says, “Things weren’t quite what I expected them to be.” Her eyes move up and to the left. You want to keep rapport and gain more information. Most people would ask her, “What did you expect?” By studying her visual cues, you can ask a better question, such as, “What did you expect to see?” or “How would you hope it looked?” Anything that implies other than how it looked would be appropriate.

These techniques are also extremely useful for performance reviews and interviewing type situations. By building rapport through language you can get the other person relaxed and talking easily about themselves. Also, if they are reluctant to talk about a certain subject, you can get them going by continually asking questions about that subject in their language. They will begin talking about it without being aware how you are getting them to do it.


The best place to practice these techniques is by watching television interviews. The only lime it doesn’t work is when someone is making a press conference speech. Turning off the sound and watching the eyes will help develop your skill.






These techniques are quicker than verbal techniques, and they happen all the lime. You do them all the time and you are aware of them when they take place because they are a natural phenomena. You may have never realized you can do it as part of being an effective business professional.


When people are in rapport, you know it. When people are in rapport, they tend to physically mirror each other in terms of their posture, gestures, etc. In fact, this technique is called mirroring. When people have rapport, they tend to move at the same speed, sit in similar positions, etc. If you want to draw someone in to you, you mirror their movements. On the contrary, if you want to get rid of them, you start doing the opposite.


People often spend too much time interpreting the meaning of another’s posture. Don’t interpret it, model it. However, don’t be too obvious or it won’t work. Start off mirroring one part of their posture. Talk for a while and wait for the other person to move. Don’t immediately match that person’s move. That’s too obvious.


At this point you have two options. You can either let a little time go by, or you can ask the other person a question. If somebody is talking, they tend not to look at you or pay any attention to you. As they talk, gradually move into mirroring that person. Then you start to get an unfair advantage before you even start to sell an idea or product because you are simply doing what people do when they are comfortable with each other. The only thing is you are doing it proactively and consciously. Just don’t be too obvious.


When you do this, the rapport is almost instantaneous. And it is so strong you can test it. If the rapport is there, it doesn’t matter who is following who. When you think the rapport is strong, move your position. If they move in response to your moving, the rapport is strong. This is so quick and so effective, when you lose rapport, you can take it and build it up quickly again.


Remember: Don’t interpret posture. Just observe and minor.

You cannot mirror and be uncomfortable, because if you are doing anything that is uncomfortable, that also gets communicated. People then experience the sense of discomfort, and they don’t know why so they don’t like you. If the other person is in a position to where you can’t comfortably mirror all of them, you have to compromise. Decide what part, for example the head and shoulders, and mirror that part.


These techniques are also useful for making presentations. In small groups, you can minor different individuals at different times to get their attention. If you are making a presentation and one or two people in the group are more important to you, minor them. If you have a partner who is sitting down next to you while you are standing up talking, have him mirror the key people in the room.


For large group presentations the principle is the same. You want to-have rapport with everyone as quickly as possible. Get people involved and get them laughing. One way is to ask the audience a question, raise your hand, and have everyone who answers the question raise their hands. That immediately gets them mirroring you. Making them laugh gets them to relax and give you the benefit of the doubt.




The Unfair Advantage The Power to Influence Others – Duane Lakin