I recently got ahold of Jonathan Altfeld’s “Automatic ‘Yes'” CD set, the subject of which is the powerful skill called “state chaining”. (I won’t define or describe it here. Hit the link for a full description of the course, and buy your copy before the special sale ends.) I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to the basics of Jonathan’s approach in the Master Practitioner training he co-trained with Doug O’Brien a little while back, and it was something I wanted to play with and get better at doing. Before the end of the training, I realized I’d been doing it in certain contexts all along, in shorter chains, and I hadn’t realized it.
Listening to the CDs reminded me that I’d never really spelled out how I think about how I do it, so I resolved to put it here. I’ll start with one particular aspect: how to shift someone from a high-energy unresourceful state, such as anger, to something a little more flexible.
Many years ago, I was an Emergency Medical Technician working for a private ambulance company, and I was stationed at a state psychiatric hospital. I happened to walk in on a training they were having for their nurses and technicians: Bruce Chapman’s Handle With Care Behavior Management System. I was immediately captivated by Master Bruce’s teaching style and his philosophy. I arranged to take the training for myself. What I’m about to share here is roughly based on something I learned in that class and in much subsequent reading of Chinese philosophical work such as the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu and The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
Here we have the Tai Chi Tu, commonly known as the “Yin/Yang symbol”. This is the Taoist in-a-nutshell representation of the way the universe works. You’ve seen it many times, no doubt, but I imagine nobody’s really explained it. I’ll give it a shot.
First, you’ll notice that it’s a circle. No beginning, no end. Now, pick a spot, either at the top or the bottom, where either the black or the white is almost non-existent. Moving clockwise, you’ll see that the color you chose increases while its opposite color decreases… and that as soon as it gets to the point where it can’t hold any more, you’ll see that the opposite color starts to kick in, PLUS, there’s a little “seed” of the opposite color contained in the fullest part of the swell.
Now, I can’t find the citation at the moment, but there’s an old saying that hard winds don’t blow all morning and heavy rains don’t last all day. Physics tells us that energy constantly changes form. Biology tells us that we change or we go extinct. It isn’t just that change always happens; it’s that it must happen. So when I’m in front of an angry person, I know I don’t have to do anything at all to get them to stop being angry. All I have to do is get rapport, pay close attention to when their angry state changes to another state, catch the transition point, and steer it to where I want it to go. The best part is, if I can figure out what the “seed” of the next state is, knowing that it’s already there, I can speak to it… drawing attention, and therefore the other person’s energy, toward it… making sure that it really is what’s next.
Anger, and most other high-energy emotional states, cannot last long. It’s physically impossible to maintain it. It costs too much. Anyone who claims they’ve been angry about something for years and years… they aren’t angry. They may be bitter, but they aren’t angry. Anger is a flash, not a smoulder. (This is one of the ways the psych nurses know when someone is faking a condition, and why we keep people for observation for up to 72 hours.)
Jonathan suggests in the Automatic “Yes” CDs that, to move someone out of a high-energy unresourceful state, we should turn it up rather than try to turn it down. I agree. Several times I’ve been called to the psychiatric unit where I work because a patient is scaring the staff and the other patients despite the fact that he isn’t actually doing anything. He’s got a clenched jaw, closed fists, and knitted brow, and he’s pacing, and he’s been doing it all day. When I respond, all I do is engage the guy in some sort of conversation and then do something that I think will annoy him. Not anger him; just irritate him. It adds energy to his stuck state, and then he has to choose which side of the fence he’s going to crawl off on. Is he going to start throwing things and kicking walls and cursing, or is he going to start talking? As soon as he gets to the decision point, I lead him to the state I want him to have. Usually I just tell him what it is: “It’s gotta be frustrating,” I say, or “I’d be scared too if I were in your place.” Sometimes I offer a path to follow instead: “You just have to wonder what’s going on, but the more questions you ask the more answers you get.”
(Of course, I’m ready if he decides to go the other way, too. It’s never actually happened, but if it does, at least he’ll have resolved his stuck state and can work from there.)
I can take these more energetic states and ride/drive them to something a little more useful for the other person and a lot safer for those around them. Which is, essentially, what state chaining is about.
I strongly recommend Jonathan’s “Automatic ‘Yes'” CD set to you and to anyone else who wants to take their social skills to the next level. And I want to thank him publicly for helping me to think more clearly about one of the things I’ve been doing without realizing it.
The US Federal Trade Commission requires that I add: While Jonathan did ask me for a product review, it should also be noted that I bought my copy of this audio program directly from his Web site, and that my recommendation is not a form of payment for the product.
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