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Forget Mind Reading, Calibrate Instead

Before being trained in NLP, I assumed straight away that I knew what state people were in.

“Why are you so grouchy?” I would ask.

“But I’m not grouchy!” They would reply.

“Yes you are! I can tell!” I would insist.

And this counter-productive dialogue would continue on and on until I gave up arguing, absolutely certain that I knew how they felt and knowing they weren’t admitting it.

How stupid of me.

During my very first NLP training, I learned that I absolutely cannot know what’s going on inside a person’s thoughts just by looking at their face.

Or maybe I can…

To do that, I first have to link up what they’re displaying on the outside to what’s happening on the inside. And to do that, I have to talk to them. There’s really no way around it.

So now, whenever I see a new face, I ask about it.

“What are you feeling right now?”

If I get an answer, bingo! I have now linked up the internal state to the external behavior.

What does that mean?

Anytime I notice that behavior (facial expression), I know what they are feeling. This is called calibration.

Of course, this principle works in any sensory channel. You can link a particular intonation to a specific state. You can also link the strength of a handshake to a specific state.

The key here is to use external behavior to monitor the internal experience of the person you’re interacting with.

With experience, you’ll be able to point out very specifically what the other person is processing.

I do this all the time with my wife. I’ll look at her and ask:

“Honey, why are you making so many calculations right now?”

She’ll look at me in disbelief (not any more now, she’s used to it) and scream:


Calibration is undertrained and underestimated. It is one of the most critical skills you must develop to master NLP.

To further your calibration skills, get acquainted with the work of Eric Robbie and Rex Sikes — now known as The Amazing Rex. Rex’s mentalism work revolves around absolutely exquisite calibration skills, of which he is a master.

And the next time you notice a particular cue in someone — facial expression, voice tone, skin temperature — don’t assume you know what state they’re in. Ask. Then link up the two.

john kooz - April 6, 2009

HEy, great blog!! SEtting anchors involves Eliciting the state, Calibrating it, setting the anchor, testing anchor, and future pacing the anchor. I had felt hazy on the calibration component of the 5 step process but hearing your lucid explanation opened up a doorway of clarity after shutting the doorway of confusion and obfuscation regarding calibration. Thanks for helping to paint a sharper picture of how calibration is just "indicators" of a person’s state. When the red light is on on the oven, it emans it’s heating up. When a person has brow furrowed, right eye squinted and hunched and you ask them what they feel, and they say perplexed, ANY time you see them with "brow furrowed, right eye squinted and hunched, you know they’re" you’ve calibrated that state to knowing that it means "perplexed". Therefore the "brow furrowed, right eye squinted and hunched" state is like the red light on the oven; both serve as indicators for what’s going on "inside". A green light on the oven could mean, "cleaning mode", just as someone who’s in a state where there breathing is steady, chest out, and smiling, and you ask them what they feel they’ll say "happy" you’ve calibrated that "breathing is steady, chest out, and smiling" to mean happy for THEM. "breathing is steady, chest out, and smiling" does not mean happy for every person just that specific person. To continue the analogy to now an absurd level of metaphor (LOL!) everyone’s "oven" is built different with different indicator lights.

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