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Embedded Commands

Human species have evolved and come a long way. One very prominent evolution that we have undergone is the development of language. We have developed over 6000+ languages worldwide. Most of them have their own script and set of etiquettes. From primitive animals to humans, we all use a certain medium to communicate. For humans, language is that medium. Unlike animals, our non-verbal cues are backed by a plethora of symbols which form our language (both written and verbal). How our mother verbally tells us it’s okay to have the snacks in front of the guests, but her eyes deliver a completely different message! We use language to express and explore the extent of our imagination. One very striking feature of the languages we have made is that they do not hold the same literal meaning when translated from one to another. For instance, ‘let’s kill it!’ does not actually imply killing a person in English itself or in any other language.

We humans have used our intelligence not just to convey but also to seed certain thoughts in other individual’s minds. The application of you thinking of something according to my wordplay is what makes communication through language and imagination so unique to us. This also implies that the words we speak have the power to either break or make things possible for ourselves or for others around us. Remember the time when one statement of confidence from your well wisher, pushed you to do the right thing exactly when you lost all the hope, that explains the commendable power and magic language holds in our lives.

Two eminent researchers Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky held very contradicting views about the relation between thoughts and language. The former strongly believed that our thoughts lead us to put concepts into words. One example of this could be how does a child know who its mother is? It slowly learns to conceptualize mother into literal terms only due to its experience of how a mother should feel. The latter strongly emphasised the point that language is the gateway to wider concepts and a much greater thought process. We know about new ideas only due to its exposure to us via certain words, names. Do you think you would be able to define and understand the concept of multiverse without understanding the universe? Or how does an unlearned man differentiate between two different birds without knowing them as different concepts altogether? While both the views oppose each other, they both hold equal importance in the understanding of how language functions.

When we express our thought, we frame and encapsulate it to be stored in our mental schema. Minute details while expressing the thought therefore points toward great understanding of what part of the experience went to the forefront and what slipped from the sides. To understand this, let me bring in an example- considering we explain to someone the weather of Mumbai on a particular day, we can put it forth in several minutely different ways. One being, ‘It rained in Mumbai today but it will be clear tomorrow’ in this sentence, there is a clear indication of greater focus on tomorrow than today. In a slightly different variation, ‘it rained in Mumbai today even though it will be clear tomorrow’ just the change in words from ‘but’ to ‘even though’, changes the directive of the sentence and shows huge variation in the perspective of the speaker. One last variation will help you better understand how language can be used to convey highly contrasting meanings with little or no variation or just with the change in tonality. In the sentence ‘it rained in Mumbai today and it will be clear tomorrow’ both the subjects have equal value and weightage showing how both the things matter equally to the speaker. All these sentences help us to understand subtle yet deeper parts of an individual's mind and play a highly important role while working with them in a therapeutic setting. In some psychological cases just the understanding and awareness by the client about the variations in their language usage helps them understand the dysfunctional perceptions, causing them distress. When active changes are therefore brought in the language, the entire setting of the situation and its experience changes for the individual which helps them function much better and positively in the long run.

The concept we tried to understand above also plays its role in what we communicate. What we communicate is less of what we feel and more of what we want to put to the world. Our communication is based less on our feelings and more on our expectations from a setting. Language, then, is directive and suggestive. As Paulo Freire rightly said, “Language is never neutral”, we always communicate to express our views, ideas, opinions, etc. Even when we silently converse with ourselves, we are mostly trying to figure out our mind or are directing ourselves to do something, isn't it?

One way of communicating your point to the other party is to be direct about it. For instance, being brutally honest about how you don’t like the dress that your friend is considering to buy is an example of one being direct and explicit while communicating. However this style of communication has the potential to strain a relationship, which a lot of people usually like to avoid. Therefore, a subtle way used by people to order someone to do something is by the use of embedded commands. It is a strategy that helps people to be assertive in a very polite and socially acceptable manner. This very immediate and clever strategy is automated in each of our minds. Some people have mastered the usage of embedded commands leading people into highly commendable behavioural changes. Embedded command in very basic terminology is ‘ghuma kar baat karna’. It is the strategy of silently slipping a thought into someone’s mind without letting the individual become consciously aware about the same. It’s like telling your friend that even though she looks lovely in that dress, she might already know that the outfit is out of fashion, and if she feels like she can look over some other designs, since there are so many new ones lately! It is of course backed by a lot of tools like eye contact, voice modulation, hand gestures, and imagination. It is a very powerful strategy and one of the main reasons why people are so curious about neuro-linguistic processing.

In technical terms, embedded commands mean hidden indications to get started with subliminal communication, also called subliminal messages and indirect suggestions. We are aware that our unconscious is active all the time, even when we are asleep. Our unconscious collects all the available information from the environment, some make up the part that we are actively engaging with, while the other slips from the side. Our brain follows this strategy to save us from times of danger. The tendency of our unconscious to know our surroundings much more strongly than ourselves lead to appropriate behavioural changes. The same concept is used by NLP practitioners to help people reach the state of relaxation using hypnosis. The process isn’t as easy as I make it sound.

Hypnosis is an exhaustive process, the term applies to a unique, complex form of unusual but normal behavior which can probably be induced in every normal person under suitable conditions and also in persons suffering from many types of abnormality. It is primarily a special psychological state with certain physiological attributes, resembling sleep only superficially, and characterized by a functioning of the individual at a level of awareness other than the ordinary state, a level of awareness termed, for convenience in conceptualization, unconscious or subconscious awareness. When hypnotized, or in the hypnotic trance, the subject is found to think, act, and behave as adequately as, and often better than, he can in the ordinary state of psychological awareness, quite possibly because of the intensity of his attention to his task and his freedom from distraction.

While using an embedded command, we should focus on making the command inviting and not insisting- the appeal should look easy and suggestive rather than forceful and compelling. When a person is gushed and forced into something, it adds to distrust rather than helping them to get their work done. A person using embedded commands should therefore be polite and inviting. Tonality should also be considered highly important while making a command inviting. The tone should be soft, questioning and friendly. How- ‘would you like to come over?’ sounds much more appealing and easy than ‘get yourself here right now’. We should also keep in mind how being confident is different from being desperate- confidence leads you to look more compelling and attracts people like a magnet while being desperate really creates a feeling of being like a chewing gum which gets stuck to a shoe unwantedly. Confidence increases your chances of getting to have done whatever is required. While confidence looks like a good strategy, overconfidence and aggression would do just the opposite of working out.

There are several techniques to use an embedded command. In the first technique we make use of ambiguity. An additional advantage of this language pattern is that it occurs naturally in every other language outside of English. This will prevent the listener from even realizing that you are doing this on purpose. How does this technique work? You start in the I-form, but at a certain point you switch to the you-form, causing subliminal direct commands to be put in your language. ‘I remember when I first came to this room, I felt highly relaxed and happy. I believe you will feel the same way’ the second technique that is found to work wonders is the usage of imperative questioning like ‘How does it feel like, Amy?’. Adding the personal noun to this type of questioning really makes it much more compelling and worth answering. The usage of non- verbal cues is yet another clever strategy to make the command strong and unconsciously embedded. These nonverbal cues include raising one’s eyebrows, just pausing at the right instances, changing the tonality, preferably lower notes and adjusting one’s volume accordingly, i.e. giving the command in a whisper, or louder whenever necessary. One can also switch positions with their body to ‘mark’ the assignment. Looking at the other person’s left eye during the command to enter the unconscious is really impactful as the left eye is connected to the emotional center of our brain and the right eye is connected to critical thinking. This is because each eye is connected to its opposite hemisphere: from the left eye to the right hemisphere and vice versa. Pointing towards the person, and laughing are some other ways that one can use to relay commands.

There are several instances when people use embedded commands in their businesses to make things work out for themselves. Most often in sales, retail businesses, etc. embedded commands make up a huge part of our communication. We use it when trying to act humble, mildly assertive or manipulative. Embedded commands work in a very elegant way to improvise one’s language usage. But this, like any coin, has two sides as well. Language has been a crowning achievement of our species and embedded commands have been kindly passed to us with it. Its usage has brought us so far and made our survival possible as social beings.

Throughout this article we looked at several factors and instances of how language is used, framed, shaped and understood. We also got to understand how we can use it to become much more effective communicators. This brings to a good conclusion of how language can be used for both positive and negative purposes. How we use it depends solely on our intentions and capabilities. My very concluding statement after trying my hand to making you understand about this subject of discussion would be, it is good to use strategies like this to encourage and help people gain confidence in themselves and for strategic business planning but excess and ill usage of anything does lead to highly impairing remarks on people in the long run. We should therefore be careful and highly cautious when using these techniques in clinical settings. Wrong practices through the usage of strong tools like embedded commands also points towards ethical concerns and increased psychological problems in subjects exposed to it.


R. (2020, November 18). Embedded Commands: Use These Powerful NLP Techniques. Happy Rubin.


This article on 'Embedded Commands' has been contributed by Surbhi Malu who is a student of Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) From Sophia College. and peer reviewed by Saumya Joshi who is a psychology enthusiast, currently in third year of undergraduation from Vivekananda College, Delhi University.

Surbhi and saumya are both part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is mentored by Anil Thomas.

Surbhi is in keenly interested in field of Abnormal and Developmental Psychology.

GIRP is an initiative by (International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology) IJNGP and Umang Foundation Trust to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.

Anil is an internationally certified NLP Master Practitioner and Gestalt Therapist. He has conducted NLP Training in Mumbai, and across 6 other countries. The NLP practitioner course is conducted twice every year. To get your NLP certification

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