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The National Council of Psychotherapists

Est. 1971


Observing and utilizing micro-behavioural cues in hypnotic communication




Asaf Rolef Ben-Shahar



The Ericksonian psychotherapist learns to observe the client’s idiosyncratic behavioral patterns, to learn and recognize ‘what’s going on in him’. It is possible to develop these necessary observation skills and utilize them firstly by becoming more aware of these sensory-input variables and secondly, by learning how to use them as feedback: to pace, lead and otherwise interact with the client. I shall give an account of some of these micro-behavioral cues (minimal cues) and give an example of their utilization.


Gilligan (1987) lists some of the minimal-cues, including kinesic, para-linguistic and linguistic cues. Kinesic cues comprise of body posture, muscle tonus, breathing patterns and eye movements, skin tone – color and texture, temperature and so on. Paralinguistic (in NLP meta-language) is about ‘how to we deliver our message’ in terms of tone, tempo volume and so on. Linguistic cues include predicates, organ language, and symbolic and metaphoric expression.


Lewis and Pucelik (1990) offered the ‘communication categories’ model, which specified twelve ways to distinguish the different representation systems. It is assumed that a person with a primary representation system can consistently present an idiosyncratic map that may correspond to their model. These categories, although constructed primarily for differentiating different rep-systems, are valuable tools in understanding the richness of minimal cues. These include –

1.      Language: Predicate preferences (using visual, auditory or kinesthetic language) – parallel to Gilligan ‘Linguistic Cues’.


2.      Postural characteristics: Breathing patterns, holding and posture changes according to the preferred rep system (belongs to Gilligan Kinesic cues).


3.      Body 'types' and movements: Lewis and Pucelik have joined Satir's categories with the four main representation system archetypes. Kinesthetics, auditories and visuals (and digitals) are supposed to have distinctive body types and movements (kinesic).


4.      Lip size: The authors argue that lip size is generally different for visuals and Kinesthetics (kinesic).


5.      Breathing patterns: Visuals are said to breathe higher in their chest, while auditories breathe in a leveled way and Kinesthetics down in their belly (kinesic).


6.      Voice: Tonality, speed and tempo are different for visuals, auditories, kinesthetics and digitals. While visuals, for example, speak quick and high, kinesthetics speak slowly with a deep voice (paralinguistic cues for Gilligan).


7.      Eye elevation: Different internal processes will result in different ways of relating to others with eye contact (kinesic).


8.      Rules of looking while listening: While eye contact is important for visuals, it can distract auditories or kinesthetics, and can supply another indication for preferred rep system (kinesic). 


9.      Satir Categories: According to this model visuals=blamers, kinesthetics =placaters, auditories=distracters and digitals=computers (paralinguistic & kinesic).


10. Meta model violations (Strategies in communication): People with different communicational styles will have different linguistic idiosyncrasies. When done habitually meta-model violations can let us know which portion of the reality the speaker takes for granted, thus help us discover his preferred rep system (linguistic cues for Gilligan).


11. Meta model ill-formed meanings: Similar to 10, the use of language will differ between visuals, auditories, kinesthetics and digitals and the common 'errors' in language will inform us about the persons communication style (linguistic)


12. Accessing cues: Bandler & Grinder claimed that thought processes are accompanied by systematic eye movement, and that it is possible to extract strategies of thinking by observing these cues. Visuals will access visual processes (high up) more often, and usually will first turn into stored visual information, while kinesthetics tend to access feelings first and auditories – sound (kinesic).     


While we all, as humans, share similar themes of responses, each of us still has a unique pattern of responses. The job of the therapist is not to learn the ‘universal’ meaning of body-language, or the usage of predicates but instead to stay curious, aware and observant of the person’s own patterns of responding.


For instance, if John always frowns when he talks about pleasurable experiences, when I notice him frowning it would be more reasonable to assume he’s experiencing pleasure and not follow ‘universal’ rule of frowning=worry/anger.


Learning to observe, interpret and utilize minimal cues is of particular importance when working with unconscious or multiple-level processes, or when conscious cognitive involvement (e.g. speech) is either unwanted or unavailable.


For example: Maureen worked with me for a while and wanted to do some trancework, but said ‘she cannot possibly be hypnotized’ (she has been told so before). I have noticed that she had extremely busy (and frequently destructive) internal dialogue going on, and that whenever she engaged in negative-internal-dialogue, she looked down and to the left. We began a naturalistic trance communication and Maureen was slowly entering a trance, but as soon as she realized she was in trance, her eyes rolled down & left and she came out of trance, questioning her entire experience.


I have asked Maureen to keep her eyes down & left while she repeated my sentences to herself – so she needed to internally repeat whatever I told her externally. Soon her eyes came to center and she developed a nice trance. Whenever hey eyes rolled left & down she was asked to talk to herself in a structural way (accept and utilize / pace & lead). Maureen trance


levels improved and made it easier to


meet her desired outcomes.





  • Gilligan, S.G. (1987), Therapeutic Trances, The Cooperation Principle in Ericksonian Hypnotherapy. PA: Brunner/Mazel.


  • Lewis, B. & Pucelik, F. (1990). Magic of NLP Demystified, Or: Metamorphous Press.




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