The human sub-conscious is a powerful thing. Beyond our conscious, rational mind lies an entire array of primitive, yet powerful lower thoughts. They keep our heart beating, our senses alert for danger that may threaten us and decide how we feel about people upon first meeting them.
One such idea about human thought the so-called iceberg communication theory suggests that, just as only 10 of an iceberg is above water, so most of our thought processes – our subconscious in other words – accounts for almost 90% of the communication we have with ourselves and others. While this may vary between individuals the accepted consensus is that the subconscious has an incredible amount of influence on how we perceive people and are in turn perceived.
Psychologists believe this is because of something called Subconscious Psychology Osmosis, an idea which suggests that repeated exposure to a particular message results in it being quietly absorbed by the subconscious, resulting in us making practical decisions or forming beliefs due to our deepest thoughts having been effectively compromised.
A case study expressing this idea was carried out by a tutor running a development programme for a law firm. As part of the feedback of the programme, the individuals taking it were asked to rate the tutor anonymously on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very poor, and 5 being very good.
During the course itself there were a great number of flip-charts and summaries given as they progressed. But on this particular programme there was a powerful emphasis given to the number 5. Wherever possibly this number was prominently displayed and included while all other numbers were deliberately avoided. So the delegates would be given 5 key ideas, 5 ways to persuade a client, 5 key tips to close a deal and so on. Again and again the number 5 was presented.
This was the only time during the time the programme was run that the results from the feedback were straight 5 with every attendee rating the performance of the tutor as very good. In 13 years this was the only time that the 5 strategy had been employed. The theory went that without this subliminal messaging team the results would have been far different. Despite the competency of the tutor and his team, the senior associate lawyer clients undertaking the course would, as a sceptical and cynical group have never rated the tutor so highly without this deliberate prompting.
Laws of the Iceberg
The Iceberg theory is supposedly made up of three laws. The first one is that every stimulus has a response. The most given example of this one in effect is that of the reluctant introverted employee forced by their boss to attend a networking event and meet new potential clients. What the underling does not realise is that they are already doomed.
Subconsciously and without any effort the unfortunate subordinate is already broadcasting to others the message, through their body language, that they are unhappy with their situation and don’t want to be there. Worse still for them others are unknowingly picking up on these signals and reacting to them, resulting in people not wanting to meet the underling or being closed to prospects and proposals.
As a result, the subordinate fails to make their targets which naturally does not impress the boss. This failure reinforces the negative beliefs that the introverted employee has about such social engagements meaning that the next time they are forced into such a setting they perform even worse, all the while impacting their performance in other areas due to low morale and shaken self-belief.
The second law of the iceberg theory suggests that a single detail can produce 100% of a decision. The example given here is of a pair of identical twins attending an interview for the same job. They look exactly the same, sound exactly the same and are wearing exactly the same clothes. In the course of the entire interview, there is only one difference between the two – the first flicks the cover of the chair as they are called in for interview before sitting down, while the second simply sits.
In most cases, individuals would be more inclined to choose the first candidate as of the two, they stood out more. However, in specific cases they would choose the second – for example if the interview was for a chair manufacturing company and the applicants were going for the job of quality assurance manager. One single detail makes all the difference.
The third law of the iceberg theory has already been expanded upon, namely that you can deliberately influence the subconscious thinking of others to influence their behaviour. This was shown in the example given about the tutor at the law firm earlier.
Another idea linked to the theory suggests this: That you can consciously affect your own subconscious behaviour and so change your conscious behaviour as a result. The traditional understanding where such things are considered is that beliefs drive behaviour. We act the way we do because of the ingrained sense of values and ideas deep in our identities. But the key thought here, is that if you can change the beliefs then you can change the behaviour.
Research carried out by the Neuro-Linguistic Programming society suggests that by repeating the same behaviour 21 times it become habitual and thus a part of the subconscious. This is why it can often be so hard to change or break bad habits. In order to do so, you have to replace them with different thoughts, habits or ideas. This is made especially difficult if, like most people you are completely unaware that these mind-sets even exist.
Another piece of research carried out on graduates from Yale University in the 1950’s found that, of the students surveyed, 3% of them were worth more financially than the other 97% combined. Further still, the 3% enjoyed better health, better relationships and seemed to be more successful by any applicable measure.
The usual reasons were suggested: the 3% enjoyed better parental support and wealth, they had chosen the right degrees or careers to make a fortune, or they were all men. However the research oddly turned up a different explanation – in the case of the 3% they had all produced written goals in the 1950’s while the 97% had not.
What this appeared to mean was that the 3% were in fact taking control of their own destinies by building a subconscious mind-set that would drive them to their success. By creating a written statement of their goals and keeping it prominently displayed around their offices and homes they would be constantly reminded of it, and have the idea reinforced over and over again until they came to believe it and act accordingly. Every action they took was done under this belief that they were working towards their individual goals.
The path to success thus lies in harnessing the power of the subconscious mind. Reprogramming your mind with your chosen goals and build a mind-set of achievement and you too can follow in the path of the 3%.