Shifting Outcomes

It has been pointed out that "purpose directs activity." Thus, a particular outcome itself sets a type of frame that determines what is perceived as relevant, successful and "inside the frame;" and what is considered not relevant, unhelpful and "outside the frame." In a brainstorming session, for instance, the outcome is to "come up with new and unique ideas." Making unusual analogies, telling outrageous jokes, asking silly questions, and being a bit "bizarre," would all be relevant and helpful activities with respect to that outcome. Bringing up existing solutions and policies as "the right answer," and evaluating whether or not something is "realistic" would be inappropriate and unhelpful.

On the other hand, if, instead of brainstorming, the session involved the final stage of negotiations with a key client, the outcome of the session might be to "establish and reach consensus about the priorities for the completion and delivery of a specific product or intervention." With respect to this outcome, it is less likely that suddenly using unusual analogies, telling outrageous jokes, asking silly questions, and being a bit "bizarre," would be perceived as relevant and helpful (unless, of course, the negotiation had reached some kind of impasse which required a bit of brainstorming to get past).

Similarly, different behaviors will be perceived as relevant and useful for "getting to know each other," than for "meeting an impending deadline." Thus, shifting the outcome that is the focus of attention with respect to a particular situation or interaction will alter our judgments and perceptions about what is relevant and meaningful with respect to that situation.

The Sleight of Mouth pattern of Another Outcome involves making a statement that shifts people's attention to a different goal than the one that is being addressed or implied by a particular judgment or generalization. The purpose of the pattern is to challenge (or reinforce) the relevancy of that judgment or generalization.

For example, let's say that a participant in a seminar or workshop has done an exercise and feels frustrated with it because he or she "did not get the expected results." Frequently, a person feels this way because he or she had an outcome such as "doing it perfectly." With respect to this outcome, a generalization or judgment such as "not getting the expected result means you have done something wrong or are not yet competent enough," might be appropriate. Shifting the outcome of the seminar exercise from the goal of "doing it perfectly," to the outcome of "exploring," "learning," or "discovering something new," however, can greatly shift the way we approach and interpret the experiences that occur during that exercise. What is a failure with respect to "doing it perfectly," may be a success with respect to "discovering something new."

Thus, applying the pattern of shifting to another outcome would involve saying to the participant, "The outcome of the exercise is to learn something new as opposed to demonstrate that you already know how to do something perfectly. As you think back over the interaction, what new learnings are you aware of?"

A similar principle operates with respect to all of our life experiences. If we evaluate our response to a challenging situation with respect to the outcome of "being comfortable and secure," it may seem like we failed miserably. If we perceive the same situation with respect to the outcome of "growing stronger," we may discover that we have been quite successful.

Consider the following statement made to a client by the famous psychiatrist and hypnotherapist Milton H. Erickson, M.D. (the psychiatrist referred to in the example of the man who thought he was Jesus Christ):

It is important to have a sense of security; a sense of readiness; a full knowledge that come what may, you can meet it and handle it — and enjoy doing it. It's also a nice learning to come up against the situation that you can't handle — and then later think it over, and realize that, too. was a learning that's useful in many, many different ways. It allows you to assess your strength. It also allows you to discover the areas in which you need to use some more of your owji security, which rests within yourself. . . Reacting to the good and the had, and dealing with it adequately — that's the real joy in life.

Erickson's statement is an example of applying the Sleight of Mouth pattern of Another Outcome. The comment transforms what might be considered "failure" with respect to one outcome (handling the situation), into feedback with respect to another outcome ("reacting to the good and the bad, and dealing with it adequately).

Handling the situation

Reacting to the good and the bad, and dealing with it adequately

Changing the Outcome Shifts the Frame of What is Relevant and Successful

Try this pattern out for yourself:

1. Think of a situation in which you feel stuck, frustrated or a failure.


e.g., I feel that a person is taking advantage of me and I am not able to confront that person directly about my feelings.

2. What is the negative generalization or judgment that you have made (about yourself or others) with respect to that situation, and what outcome or outcomes are implied by that judgment?

e.g., Not speaking up for myself means that J am a coward.

e.g., To make myself speak up for myself, and be strong and brave.

3. Explore the impact it would have on your perception of the situation if you thought about it with respect to some other possible outcomes as well - e.g., safety, learning, exploration, self-discovery, respect for myself and others, acting with integrity, healing, growing, etc.

For instance, if the outcome were switched to "treating myself and others with respect," or "treating others the way I would like to be treated," judging oneself as a "coward" for not speaking up for oneself, may not seem as relevant or appropriate a generalization to be making.

4. What is another outcome that you could add to or substitute for your current outcome that would make your negative generalization or judgment less relevant, and make it easier to view the current consequences of this situation as feedback rather than failure?

Alternative Outcome(s):__

e.g., Learn to act toward myself and others with congruence, wisdom and compassion.

From the NLP perspective, switching to another outcome serves to "reframe" our perception of the experience. "Re-framing" is considered to be a core process for change in NLP, and is the primary mechanism of Sleight of Mouth.

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