As a psychology graduate, I wasn’t that impressed by NLP – but perhaps that is because I had already learned much of what it has to offer. I took the trouble to qualify as an NLP practitioner back in 2007 to confirm my views that it is effectively a simplified form of applied psychology. However, there are plenty of people who have found it valuable in their day to day lives and as a tool to improve business relationships and, particularly, in selling. I mention aspects of NLP in various training programmes that I run so I thought it was about time I provided a brief overview of the main elements that I have found useful over the years: What is neuro linguistic programming and how might it be useful to me?
Origins of NLP
It was developed in the 1970s by a group of psychologists (Richard Bandler – psychologist, John Grinder – linguist and Gregory Bateson – anthropologist) who studied successful people. Neuro relates to the brain and what happens in your mind, linguistic relates to language and how you use it and programming focuses on the patterns of behaviour that you learn and repeat. In essence, it is how to use the language of the mind to consistently achieve specific desired outcomes.
There are a number of core concepts in NLP including: senses, rapport, mental maps, flexibility and outcomes. There are pre-suppositions (core beliefs) including “you have within yourself all the resources you need to achieve what you want”, “the meaning of communication is the response it elicits”, “mind and body are connected” and “there is no failure, only feedback”.
There are some aspects with which I am not comfortable – such as the use of hypnosis (there are links with Milton Erickson) and techniques such as time line, swish patterns, tapping and anchoring.
The first books that I read on the subject were: “NLP – the new art and science of getting what you want” by Dr Harry Alder in 1994, “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman in 1995 and “NLP – The new technology of achievement” by Steve Andreas and Charles Faulkner (of Accelerated Learning fame) in 1996.
The key themes in these books are communication, the power of positive thinking and the need to see things from other people’s perspectives (empathy – which is extremely important in all aspects of communication and selling). Adding these things together, comes the idea that all behaviour is as a result of a positive intent – people may do or say strange things, and the trick is to understand their positive intentions.
Most useful NLP concepts
From my perspective, the most useful concepts (whether from mainstream psychology or NLP) are:
- Circle of excellence – Some people have found this a helpful technique for mentally rehearsing a future situation – for example, in preparing for a critical pitch presentation.
- Chunking – This is about the level of consideration. In negotiation, you might chunk up to a level where there is agreement before chunking down to deal with areas of disagreement.
- Empathy – Seeing things from the other person’s perspective. Where I might talk about “walking in the other person’s shoes” in NLP an exercise by Robert Dilts suggests you sit in one of three positions – your own, the other person’s and an observer’s.
- Enabling and limiting beliefs – Our beliefs are self-fulfilling, so whether we think positive thoughts or negative ones, they will affect the outcome. This is partly to do with our brain’s ability to filter out and only receive information that supports our internal hypotheses.
- Filters – People unconsciously use filters to transform experiences into thoughts. Common filters are deletion, distortion and generalization. NLP offers questioning techniques to help you achieve better communication with people using each of these filters.
- Language patterns – From the language people use, you can detect “meta programmes” or their dominant mode of thought. For example, moving away from vs moving towards, big chunk vs small chunk, internal vs external, past vs future, options vs procedures and proactive vs reactive.
- Logical levels of change – Some people find this helpful in change management
- Mental map of the world – Each person creates a mental map of the world according to their own reality. Understanding someone’s map enables you to communicate more effectively with them.
- Mirroring and matching – These are techniques where the NVC (non-verbal communication e.g. breathing, posture, gestures) is subtly reflected back to enhance the development of rapport.
- Pacing and leading – Where you match the pace of the other person’s speech before attempting to lead the conversation.
- Positive – The brain deletes negatives and works more efficiently with positive commands. So, rather than saying “Don’t shout” use “Stay calm”. We’ve all experienced what happens when someone says “Don’t think about a red elephant!”
- Reframing – Looking at a person or situation in a completely different way. For example, instead of seeing a partner as being difficult and argumentative, reconsider them as being highly creative with novel ideas.
- Representational system – The suggestion that each person has a preferred representational system (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic (feeling) and auditory digital) that is reflected in both their behaviour and language. By matching representational systems you increase rapport. The concept is widely deployed in schools to ensure that lessons leverage the various ways in which learning is best achieved by those with different preferences.
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