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How To Persuade Others Using NLP

EngineerI approached the Delta check-in at JFK Airport with trepidation. The lady behind the counter wasn’t laughing a lot.

In fact she wasn’t laughing at all and may never have laughed in her entire life if the look on her face were anything to go by.

She really was in need of a Life Coach.

I mentally rehearsed what I was going to say as I neared the front of the line. I knew I needed to execute my plan with clinical precision if it were to succeed.

“Yes!” she barked.

All of a sudden my mind went blanker than Sarah Palin facing a Katie Couric question. “Er” I stammered. “Er, I was thinking that you, er…er. Look, look! I can see Russia!”*

“What?!” She looked at me with a sense of agitation mixed in with the kind of momentary pity usually reserved for the bugs you clean off the front of your car. She glanced over my shoulder at the lengthening line and back at my ashen face.

I gulped and tried to gather my composure. Unfortunately my composure had wondered off to get a coffee and was trying to avoid the embarrassment of being associated with me.

How Not To Get An Upgrade

I blurted out, “Can I have an upgrade….please?” What the hell was I thinking of? Can I have an upgrade? Can I have an upgrade? That was never going to melt the Ice Queen.

I may as well have said, “do you fancy a dance darling and then maybe back to my place for coffee and a look at my etchings?”

I wandered back past the snickering line having being summarily dismissed in full view of half the flight. There were no upgrades, no better seats and no she didn’t want a dance either.

I slumped in my seat and tried to compose my thoughts as to how my cunning plan went so horribly wrong.

I replayed what I meant to say and then compared it to what I actually said. I may as well have been comparing the limp cellophane wrapped sandwich of dubious origin I’d eaten on the first stage of my journey, to the sumptuous banquet I was imaging partaking in, on my transatlantic leg.

Maybe I could have another go, I thought to myself an hour or so later. By now the line had gone as most people were checked in, Anyway, what had I got to lose? It’s not like she was going to beat me up. Although I’m pretty sure she could have if she’d wanted to.

Be Confident

This time I marched up with the sense of confidence and determination sadly lacking on my previous attempt. My nemesis had her head down and was sorting boarding cards. Without waiting for her to acknowledge me, I slammed my hand down on the counter top. As she looked up I felt the blood and confidence drain from me.

Are you one of those people that can raise just one eye-brow? If you are, never underestimate the power of that ability. To me, it sits just a tad behind being able to fall asleep before the birds start chirping as the most under appreciated skill known to humans.

The Ice Maiden looked at me and raised one eyebrow without saying a word. “No upgrades then?” I meekly ventured. Apparently not.

I shuffled back to my seat convinced there were people heading from other departure gates to see me make a complete fool of myself as the news spread.

Then as I sat there a strange thing happened. I started to laugh about my feeble attempts and laugh quite loud. The more I thought about it, the more I laughed. Then I have no idea what came over me, but I decided to have one last go.

I was still laughing when I got to the desk “Remember me?” I inquired with a huge smile on my face. At that moment a change took place. I’m not sure if there was a shift in the tectonic plates or maybe Mars had slipped behind Uranus, but a smile started to spread on the lovely lady’s face.

Humor Is a Great State Changer

Feeling encouraged I battered on ,“You know what? I absolutely love Delta. And what I love most about it, are the brilliant staff like you” She started to laugh.

“No seriously, I would gladly sell my house if I had one and give all the money to Delta, such is my devotion to the greatest airline the world has ever known. My bedroom is a shrine to Delta Airline, all things Delta and of course it’s world-class ground crew”

This wasn’t at all what I had planned, but it made her laugh and the net result was ten minutes later I had my upgrade into business class. Delta business class wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, but who cares. It was free and it was better than economy!

That was my first ever attempt to get an upgraded flight other than asking sheepishly “I don’t suppose there are any upgrades, are there?”

Since that day three years or so ago I have flown about a dozen times, and only once have I failed to get a better seat and I have had three cabin upgrades. That’s a pretty good record for somebody that has no real ‘status’ in terms of being a regular flier with any one airline.

I always buy the ‘ultra-economy, tight-arsed can’t change a damn thing ticket’ and that doesn’t give you much kudos with the big carriers because they don’t make any money on them.

I have read all sorts of tricks and tips on how to get upgraded in hotels and on planes. Some great, some ok under certain circumstances, and some downright bizarre.

Probably the worst in terms of air flight is to claim you need extra leg room because you have a bad back.

Airlines cannot seat anybody in an exit aisle (which is where the extra leg room is without being upgraded) that is physically incapable of opening the door in an emergency. So approaching the check-in whilst dragging one leg behind you and muttering “the bells, the bells” probably isn’t advisable.

I am a Red member of Virgins Flying Club. That is slightly above ‘Scum of the Earth’ in terms of being upgraded. In fact, to get to be a Red member, you only need to know how to spell Virgin and preferably your own name, although the latter isn’t mandatory.

I tell you this because if I were a Gold or even just a Silver member the odds of getting a better seat or upgraded would be exponentially increased.

Think of Brad and Jenn trying to book the last table in the fanciest restaurant in town on a Saturday night, versus OJ out on parole and without his anger meds demanding he get it, and you get the idea of where the balance of power lies.

Here’s How You Really Get Upgraded Using NLP

The advice I am going to give you is tailored towards airports, but it can easily be used with hotels and anywhere else where upgrades are feasible.

So, if you’re ready, let us take a peek together into the murky waters of NLP and advanced language patterns.

Let’s get some of the obvious stuff out of the way why this sometimes doesn’t work. In the first reason you’ve always got the option of asking for a supervisor, but do so in a way that doesn’t undermine your first point of contact

  • The person you are talking to has zero authority to upgrade you. This is much more likely than would have been the case twenty years ago because of flying clubs, air miles etc
  • The plane is full and you are checking in late with all seats allocated
  • The check-in staff know there are some heavy hitters due to check in. Priority will always go to frequent flyers
  • You look like a tramp that was just thrown out on the ‘Tramp of the Year’ convention for being too scruffy
  • Some people are simply less susceptible to this kind of approach than others
  • They think you’re mental

The starting point be it a plane or a hotel is to know your geography. Go online and see which seat you have been allocated. Then check which seats in economy are the best to ask for in case you can’t get the desired upgrade i.e. Exit aisle seats which can vary in number from aircraft to aircraft.

The reason for this is simple. If the person helping you isn’t able to offer what it is you want, they may want to compensate some other way. That may be to offer you a better seat in the same class, which is still a result if you’re on a long haul flight, trust me.

Out demo flyer is called Bob and he is checking-in and about to attempt to get an upgrade. Let’s see how he does shall we? Actually, seeing as this is fictitious and I’m trying to make myself look good, I think we both know he’ll have the keys to the plane inside ten minutes.

“Wow, what a day! First I get bumped into in my rental car in the parking lot. I have to sort that business out with this really nice guy who was very accommodating, but then guess what happens? I am in the elevator and I get stuck at the first floor. (Bob starts laughing) It’s not even the first time that’s happened to me and to make matters worse there are some guys in with me that insist on talking about business, business, business. Can you believe it?”

Bob slams his hand down on the counter and looks almost conspiratorial as he leans forward.

“I was just wondering if you are in a position to please help save the day for me now?”

“Er if I can”

Bob hands over his passport and ticket and as the person is about to take it he gently lays his hand on top of the other persons in a fleeting, friendly and definitely non-pervy I’m not about to stalk you kind of way.

“First class, I knew you would if you could. I have been on the go for 12 hours and I was curious to know whether you could allocate one of those lovely spare business class seats to me because I would really like to get some sleep on the flight home.”

Bob shuts up, smiles broadly and leaves an empty silence whilst at the same time mirroring the upper body of the check-in assistant and making a slight tilt sideways of his head.

At that point, Bob is whisked away into the Upper Class lounge where he is plied with Champagne, caviar and peanut M & M’s

Is NLP Really Magic?

Could the above work, or is it just gobbledegook? Well let’s take a closer look by breaking down what happened and you make your own mind up.

Suggestion – The intro is using the power of suggestion with words like first, business, bump etc as well as building rapport. It may seem obvious when reading it and you may think people would notice, but it isn’t, and they don’t. As long as it sounds conversational and genuine that is all that matters.

Questions - There are also a couple of questions thrown in prior to the real request. These are intentional and used to keep the person off balance. If you ask a question of somebody they go inside to search for an answer. If you don’t give them time to answer, it is confusing. Then when you hit them with another question they really want to be able to give you an answer. It is important you allow them time to answer this one. It is a somewhat similar process to the confusion technique used by hypnotherapists when conducting trance inductions.

Note: If I ever try this I make sure I ram my car into another one in the parking lot and then hit the emergency button in the elevator whilst between the first and second floor, for the sake of integrity.

Interrupt – Bob slamming his hand and laughing unexpectedly is a pattern interrupt and is designed to momentarily confuse the other person. When something unexpected happens no matter how seemingly insignificant, the brain takes a moment (usually 3 to 5 seconds) to readjust. That time period is a window to say what it is we really want.

Wondering – The use of the word wonder or curious requires the other person to go inside and start asking themselves what it is you are wanting to know.

Authority - If you ask somebody whether they are in a position to help in a situation like this you are really asking “have you got the power?” People like to think they have authority and if they can demonstrate that, then they are often inclined to do so. To say no, may make them feel powerless.

Help - We are hard-wired to help others. I know it often doesn’t seem that way, but it is and people can actually get a high not dissimilar to cocaine when acting altruistically.

Now - This is another embedded command. We are telling the recipient we want what we want and we want it now please.

Building Rapport – Most people respond better to requests for help from people they have made physical contact with, even if it’s only a friendly hand on the shoulder. In fact in sales, you increase your chances of closing a deal by (I think because I’m going from memory here) about 45% if you make (appropriate) physical contact.

The personal space thing is largely a myth if you are in rapport with somebody. Having said that, a minority of people may freak out, so do this with caution. For example, this would not have helped me with my lady from Delta, it would probably just have got me a broken arm.

Repeat – After some more suggestions, such as first class etc. Bob repeats back that the person says they would help if they could by simply saying “I knew you would”. This creates a contract in the mind of the other person and makes it trickier to back down.

Assume – This is similar to the sales technique of assuming the sale. Bob has indicated he knows there are seats available. If there are (and that is often, but not always the case), then the person may not know he’s bluffing and they can’t just say “Sorry it’s full”. If they are full, then they will just tell you and you can ask for an exit aisle or Premium Economy seat.

Reason – Bob gives a reason why he wants the upgrade. Again this is important, as people respond much better to requests when they are told why they are being asked. Even if the reason is trivial, or seemingly irrelevant, it helps them justify it to themselves.

Mirroring – The mirroring of the other persons actions can also be very helpful in building rapport and again, people do not notice it. We have a tendency to naturally mirror and match people anyway, this just speeds up the process.

Deference – The tilt of the head at the end is to show deference. There is a case to be said for keeping a straight body and head, thus demonstrating authority, but I prefer this approach because the other may appear intimidating.

Advanced Techniques

I could have also gone into anchoring, but unless you have chance to chat for a good five minutes and are prepared to spend days practicing it, I’d advise to leave well alone.

You may be thinking about wimping out and just asking for a better seat in economy on your first attempt. If you resist such wimpiness and ask for business or first class first, your chances of getting a better seat in economy are significantly higher.

The first request acts as an anchor and the person will then be unconsciously reluctant to offer you nothing. A better seat in economy is an easy out for them.

I know some people will doubt the ethics of using such tactics, but there is a serious side to this. I also want to demonstrate how YOU can be unwittingly influenced by others.

Having said that, we’re looking for a free upgrade here, not trying to mug Old Granny Johnson out of the life savings she’s about to spend on Christmas presents for the local orphanage. That comes next time when I tell you all about hypnotizing old ladies out of toy money.

If you are interested in some of the body language I was talking about check out this post because I think you’ll find it interesting.



17 comments to How To Persuade Others Using NLP

  • Zoe

    I’m fired up to try this on my upcoming journey from Bangkok to the UK and US… I have a feeling I might end up sputtering out your first attempts, though, rather than the suave NLP tactics.

    This was a really engaging way to outline the tactics at work — I actually burst out laughing, which is an effect I never predicted NLP would have on me.

    Zoes last blog post..Why I’m Not Realistic

  • guy

    how polished do you have to be with this stuff Tim?

    it’s the whole touching/slamming of fists that worries me.
    get those two mixed up and you are in real trouble.

    guys last blog post..My one piece of advice for bloggers: Part 3

  • Tim, this was a fascinating article with your usual twisted humor thrown in as a bonus. I think the science of manipulation is becoming much more widespread and we definitely need to understand it to protect against it. I see nothing wrong with your tactics here. I wouldn’t hesitate to use them, but the article was so long I can’t remember what they were. :-)

    Stephen – Rat Race Traps last blog post..Set Yourself Free From Manipulative Relationships

  • Yes Tim! I’m loving it! I wish I would have actually read this post sooner as I’m flying American tomorrow. It would have allowed for more time to develop my intro. Seeing as how my pool boy’s on holiday and I was waiting on my granny butler to feed me grapes by hand, (he’s getting the shakes now so it wasn’t the best experience)I wanted to wait until later to read and soak it all in.
    In any event I’m starting now and I’ll try it out in the morning. :) Cheers, great post!
    lol – I went through this comment twice to remove the need/had to/musts and replace them with wants/wants/wants.

    Sherryayns last blog post..People Who Redefine…Kid Builds Roller Coaster In His Backyard

  • SLAM!

    Hey Tim, I was wondering if you would give me the premium commenter status upgrade on your blog? You know, the one where you give out free champagne and caviar?

    Vlad Dolezals last blog post..90 Day Free Hugs Challenge

  • Thanks for sharing that story. I had to comment because the only time I’ve ever been able to blag an upgrade was on Delta as well (Atlanta to Puerto Rico). It was my honeymoon and the Delta people were so friendly and human about the whole thing. I can’t remember the last time (or even any other time) I’ve really had something positive to say about an airline, but it made us feel really valued as customers. Yay Delta!

    Tim Woods – LifeCraft: Lifestyle Design Resourcess last blog post..Inside the Mind of Roger Federer: The Mental Advantage of a Tennis Legend

  • How hard is this to do if I have someone with me? Does it become more difficult? I know I’ve been able to get upgrades on hotels.
    They always save some nice rooms and if you stop in late in the evening they can give you a nicer room. I just casually add on, to my request, that I know they have rooms set aside. Usually they are handicapped rooms. You know the ones: wide bathroom doors, lower sinks and mirrors, etc.
    In that case I will ask for a lower price for the room.

    Maureens last blog post..The Smell of Purple

  • @ Zoe – Practice it and make it as conversational as possible and you’ll be ok. As I say, if you’re talking to somebody with no power, then it’s more problematical.

    @ Guy – You may end up punching a few attendents as you iron out the flaws, but you’ll be brilliant within 10 or 15 years when you get out of prison.

    @ Stephen – Yeh it’s the longest post I have ever written, but it kind of needed the length to allow me to squeeze just enough twisted humor in there ;-)

    @ Sherryayn – You bring up a good point in that you can just do SOME of this. You can forget the pattern interrupt and the embedded commands and just use the first bit of language. To be honest that’s what I tend to do most often.

    @ Vlad – It’s in the mail.

    @ Tim – I know what you mean, I rarely have anything good to say either. Having said that BA were brilliant when we emigrated with our dog and I also got an upgrade on my honeymoon when flying with Virgin. Shame they left the wife in economy, but whatchya gonna do? ;-)

    @ Maureen – For sure it is more difficult with two people because by definition there are less seats together. Having said that I have had 2 upgrades out of JFK (Delta and BA) and bot times I was with my wife.

  • This stuff definitely works, but I feel a bit queasy about actually using it when I don’t really, really need to. Good point that it’s just about getting a flight upgrade, but I guess I don’t want to make a habit in myself of doing stuff like this that could bleed over into less clear-cut circumstances.

    But good case study in hypnotic language patterns and applied NLP nonetheless.

    Duffs last blog post..Emotional Bodybuilding and the Cultivation of Inflation

  • @ Duff – That is a very good point. I would NEVER use this stuff to gain clients etc. I would find that unethical. I have spotted people using it on me, usually really badly.

    I once said to a car sales person who kept touching my forearm, “It that a half-assed attempt at anchoring me?”

  • Skippy

    3 things…..

    Have I not taught you anything???? Brad and Jen are not together….. allegedly!!!!

    You never told me there were peanut M&Ms in Upper Class – surely it’s worth the $2000 more just for them????

    I’m sure the upgrades were just to get rid of you and shut you up!!!!! I’ve been upgraded twice, both times flying alone and both times a complete surprise. What you got to say about that????

  • So, first of all…I LOVE your humor. I am one of those people that if a post/article/book lacks some hint of humor, getting me to read it is like a frog to wear blue jeans & a straw hat – ain’t gonna happen!
    I must try your suggestions the next time I fly – I have apparently been living in a cave on a deserted island for the past 25 years because I was not aware you could simply ask! How exciting is that! Thank you.

  • Tim,

    Great post. No, you can’t upgrade to the cockpit! I have my Jedi mind trick prevention helmet on, nananananananana I cant hear your ninja airline redirect language…….

  • @ Skippy B – There’s always one!

    @ Jeanne – Thanks a lot and glad you like a giggle! You can ask for anything you like now. Give people the option of saying no if they want to.

    @ Mike – That’s exactly what I programmed you to comment. Bwahahahahaha

  • Hi Tim – At last, I’ve found someone who has been successful at getting the upgrade. I was Virgin Silver for a while and that didn’t seem to help one bit.

    I’m going to refer back to this next time I’m going on a transatlantic flight and rehearse a bit beforehand. Have you managed to get upgraded to upper, or premium economy with Virgin before?

    Cath Lawsons last blog post..Why Michael Jackson’s Funeral Tickets Shouldn’t Have Been Free

  • My only jump up two classes was with Delta. Both times with Virgin was into Premium Economy, which is still brilliant. Same goes for BA, but that flight was from JFK and we ended upstairs too and that was very nice.

  • Really enjoyed this! Well done!