NLP for Sales: Presuppositions

Have you ever taken something someone said the wrong way?

Okay, okay, I know that’s an unfair question – of course you have!

The reason why you take things the wrong way isn’t always because you are overly sensitive, it’s because of presuppositions.

What’s a presupposition? Good question! A presupposition is the underlying meaning, or assumption that can be derived from a statement someone makes whether it’s written or spoken.

Now, I wanted to start talking about presuppositions in NLP because I want to change the way people feel about NLP when it comes to sales.

Whenever I’m online reading about sales tactics and techniques and I come across a mention of using NLP in sales, either the author of the article is mistaken and not quite clear on what NLP is and how to use it, or they break out into diatribes about how NLP is either hogwash or manipulative.

The prevalent misinformation makes it easy to be confused about NLP and how to use it in sales situations. This reminds me of what Engineers call signal to noise ratio. There is a lot of noise about NLP, but very little quality information (signal).

So I’m going to do my best to explain NLP in a way that not only makes sense, but shows you just how useful it actually is.

The best way for me to explain presuppositions is to give you examples.

“You need a plan!”

Here’s a rule that is very important to remember: every statement is a claim to knowledge.

It’s that claim to knowledge that builds the presupposition, or assumption, in a statement. When someone says something like, “that’s dumb,” “ I like that,” “he’s short,” “that’s not how you do that,” “it’s hard,” or “the plane is about to take off” there is an obvious claim to knowledge with each of these statements.

It doesn’t just work with statements, it also most often works for questions as well.

“Where’s the pen?” Suggests that there is a pen and someone else moved it from where it should be and put it somewhere it shouldn’t be.

“What’s on TV?” Suggests that there is a TV and the person questioned knows the programming schedule for a specific time.

See how it works?

Of course, any statement or question can have multiple presuppositions. Consider, “do you have the time?” Or, “she shot me!” Or, “Who would read an article entitled, ‘location, location, location?’”

You may think that these have one obvious presupposition, however they actually have multiple possible presuppositions. This is how people get in trouble with their conversations. When you assume one thing but the meaning is something else entirely, it creates confusion, frustration, and can lead to angry outbursts and confrontation.

Consider, “you need a plan!” What is the claim to knowledge behind this statement?

Here’s some of the possibilities:

  1. You have something you want to achieve
  2. You don’t know how to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve
  3. Plans are necessary to achieve this goal
  4. You don’t have a plan
  5. You don’t know how to make a plan
  6. You don’t realize you need a plan
  7. You are stupid

If you say, “you need a plan” to someone, you can expect them to get angry. It’s like asking someone, “what’s your problem?” I can guarantee you’re not going to like the response.

Now you may think that you would never use statements like these however, it happens every day, all day long in almost all conversations unless you are actively aware of what you are saying.

So how can we turn, “you need a plan” into a statement that will actually help the person were talking to? What if we asked a question? We could use either, “do you have a plan?” Or “what’s your plan?”

These questions presuppose that the person you’re speaking with is smart enough to realize they need a plan, and also presupposes they have likely come up with a solution. It assumes they are intelligent and you are merely inquiring about their decision.

Can you now see how understanding presuppositions is helpful? Let’s look at a sales example.

“Are you the decision-maker?”

When you are qualifying someone, it’s important to know if they are the decision-maker because, if they are not the decision-maker, you are probably wasting your time speaking to them.

Now, most sales books prior to 1990 told you to ask them directly: “are you the decision-maker?” (and “what’s your budget?”)

What does this question actually presuppose? It really gives the impression that it’s pretty unlikely that they are the decision-maker, and as a salesperson you are accustomed to having your time wasted by underlings who can say no but can’t say yes.

A better question would be, “who else, besides you, is responsible for making the decision to purchase?” This version of the question seems to be in vogue lately as it is taught by several high profile sales trainers. However, even though it is more inclusive it still suggests that there is someone above them that makes the final decision.

The language in the above two questions are very similar, however the presuppositions in those questions are different. Even so, neither one is conversational. In fact, they are both intrusive and off-putting.

I understand that as a salesperson I have to ask questions, but what if I was clear about my desired outcome and asked questions in the way that was conversational and coerced the other person to open up to me and share the information that I need to know in order to help them?

The best way to ask this question is: “can you walk me through the process you will use to make this decision?”

This version gets the information you need to know, yet doesn’t offend the person you’re talking to. On top of that, it is an open ended question and will get the prospect talking.

You will find as you use this question, they won’t just give you a quick answer, they’ll tell you everything you need to know about who makes the decisions, how they make the decisions, and if you ask them how they made a similar decision in the past – they will tell you.

NLP is built on presuppositions

For a salesperson, the ability to use NLP is essential!

I was a little hesitant to start writing about NLP for sales because I don’t really want my competitors to know this information, but I love NLP too much to let people ruin it with their foolishness and misinformation.

While everyone else is trying to apply state chaining, unconscious installation, and collapsing anchors to sales, I’m happy to use the true fundamentals of NLP to help my customers get what they want.

NLP is built on presuppositions, and that is the first fundamental you should understand if you want to make use of the NLP toolset. Think about the statements and questions I used in this article and think about the rule: every statement is a claim to knowledge.

Come up with examples of your own and listen for the underlying message in the conversations you have with people and the statements they make. After you gain enough experience, you can get to the point where you appear to be psychic because you can predict what has to be assumed in someone’s experience in order for them to say the things they say.

When you have that level of skill with just this one NLP tool, you will have the skill to be one of the top sales people in your industry.

About Michael Miller

Mike Miller is the co-owner of, a Digital Marketing Agency in Atlanta, Georgia that focuses on aligning sales and marketing for exponentially greater results.

Michael’s mission is helping small business owners understand, and organize their marketing so they can make money and grow.

Mindwhirl helps business owners plan and implement effective, profitable marketing campaigns and sales programs.

If you need more sales, we know how to get leads and grow businesses. Call us today at (770) 295-8660, or email Mike at


  1. Good communication really is everything. So many relationships – business and otherwise – suffer because of misunderstanding and yes, presupposition.

    Drilling it down in your mind, before you speak, to your quote “every statement is a claim to knowledge” is a great way to avoid those misunderstandings.

    • It’s true Neena. I see so many conversations that go like this:

      Person 1: “I want it to be really nice, light and airy, you know what I mean?”

      Person 2: “Yeah, no problem, I’ll take care of it!”

      I always wonder what was actually communicated because there had to be a lot of mindreading going on. Even though Person 1 knows what they want, Person 2 has something in their head that is probably not what Person 1 was thinking. But Person 2 had a presupposition that made them think they knew.

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