The Power of Suggestion

by vernsanders on January 31, 2012

OK…if you know all this, pass by, but even obvious truths need to be restated once in a while…

The human condition, it seems (and particularly for creatives), includes some kind of genetic predisposition to extrapolate. Let me count a few of the ways:

  • A young person, growing up, shares a dream or an idea, and the consistent answer from “elders” is “why do you want to do that?”

The young person grows up with a significant self-esteem problem, and an unwillingness to explore anything beyond the known.

  • A performer, at the end of a concert, meets a receiving line of congratulations. Among the well-wishers is one(!) person who says “it was a little out of tune in the second movement of one piece.”

All the performer can think about (for a long time) is how people hated the concert.

  • A routine visit to the doctor prompts a “Everything looks great, but I’d feel better if we did more tests.”

All the patient can think about is the worst possible scenario.

Now I’m sure that you, as do I, know people who are exceptions to this rule. But even that fact makes you wonder, right? What are they hiding? Do they not understand?

Why is this important? Because it applies in group situations as well, and specifically in ensemble leadership.

If you routinely tell your sopranos that they sing flat, guess what?

If you routinely tell your drummer that they can’t play time, does it get better?

If you tell the trumpet section that they Scratch that…you can’t tell a trumpet player anything… Joke! JOKE! J O K E!

Ah…but the opposite is true…

If you say to your sopranos “thanks for staying in tune” when they do, how long does it take until that’s not a problem any more?

If you tell your drummer that their time was impeccable when it is, doesn’t that transfer to the next tune?

But wait a minute, you say…

You can’t fix those problems that easily.


But if you help people learn how to solve those problems in a situation where the solutions are achievable, and THEN use the power of suggestion, my experience is that the problems do go away. Maybe not forever (there is a bit of Pavlovian reinforcement that needs to happen…after all it IS a problem, not a freak occurrence…), and maybe not today, but trust me, eventually they will go away.

So try teaching people to do well at your recurring problem, and telling them how great it sounds when they succeed. Report back to me and let me know what happens. I’ll bet you’ll be pleased.

Ipod shuffle status: 3595 (Thinking About Your Body – Bobby McFerrin)  of 7875

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