NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Programming, is a word often heard and used in our society. NLP techniques can be used by psychotherapists, coaches, trainers, managers, sales people, teachers and more, with the aim of changing one’s thoughts and behaviours to help achieve the results the individual desires.
There are several definitions of NLP. Each of the founders of this movement offered their own version. The one I particularly resonate with is:
“The process of creating models of human excellence in which usefulness – not truthfulness – is the most important criterion for success.” – Steve and Connirae Andreas
NLP is short for Neuro Linguistic Programming. NLP is based on language processing, but should not be confused with natural language processing, which shares the same acronym.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming covers three areas:
The popularity of Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP has become widespread since it first appeared in the 1970s. At the time, mathematician Richard Bandler and philologist John Grinder asked themselves a simple but fascinating question: “What exactly is the difference between a person who is only competent in one area and another who achieves excellent performance in the same area?”.
They believed it was possible to identify the thought patterns and behaviours of successful individuals that they could model and teach others.
Despite the lack of empirical evidence to support it, Bandler and Grinder published two books, The Structure of Magic I and II, and NLP took off. Its popularity was partly due to its versatility in addressing the many different problems people face.
Through the modelling process that the two creators of NLP developed, patterns of good intra- and interpersonal functioning are identified, which can then be transferred to other people, like technological know-how.
Based on this approach, NLP has developed continuously and has now become a synthesis of many disciplines offering systematic and effective tools for developing competencies in all areas of professional and personal life.
NLP’s uses include the treatment of phobias and anxiety disorders, improving work performance or personal happiness.
Like any other theory, NLP is based on a philosophy of principles that focus on learning and facilitating mental processes, behaviour, communication and change. When you come into contact with the presuppositions of NLP, it is not necessary to take them as true or to prove their futility.
The list of NLP principles is long, but I will detail only 5 of the ones I particularly resonate with, and the rest I will just mention.
Humans cannot know reality itself and each of us has a model of the world called a “map”. What we know are perceptions of reality. These perceptions are
Neurolinguistic “maps” created through representational systems (senses): Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Olfactory, Gustatory (VAKOG).
Our maps contain elements of the present (now and here), the past (memory) and the future (imagination). These maps determine our behaviour. Therefore, we can act on the mechanisms of perception to be more adaptive, i.e. we can act on the present, past and future through the processes of memory and imagination because they use the same nerve circuits.
It is extremely important to remember that “people react and respond according to their inner maps” and no individual map is more “real”, more “right”, more “true”, more “objective” than another map.
The complexity and uniqueness of our maps makes each of us unique!
Throughout our lives we go through different experiences and thus gather resources that help us in solving problems that arise. If we fail to bring out these resources within ourselves, then we can transfer them from others. The idea of transferring resources from other people is the basis for NLP.
Flexibility and creativity are the two elements that support this principle. NLP develops both of them and forces you to constantly find solutions.
Each person is responsible for their own states and the results they achieve. By taking responsibility for our own lives, we get out from under the influence of dependence on other people and create a healthy basis for a good management of our personal existence.
Human behaviour is determined by the pattern of the world on which it is based, so we each choose only those solutions of which we are aware at a given time in a given situation or at a given moment in our lives.
The behaviour we are talking about might not be acceptable in the given context, but there are situations where it is desirable. For example, the ability to hurt or even kill someone is not socially acceptable behaviour, but in war or for self-defence it may be desirable.
This principle facilitates understanding, empathy and forgiveness.
NLP is a vast field. As such, NLP practitioners use many different techniques including the following:
Anchoring – Turning sensory experiences into triggers for specific emotional states.
Anchoring is a natural process by which any element of an experience (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Olfactory, Gustatory = VAKOG) can create (recall) the whole experience. The notion of anchor resides in the fact that our subjective experiences are represented, stored, processed and interpreted in the form of VAKOG or VAKAd (Ad = Auditory digital) schemes. In other words, an anchor is a small part of a pleasant or unpleasant experience which, accessed, facilitates our access to that experience.
You’re completely related. Now accentuate the representations: make the image brighter, more colourful, bigger, increase the volume of the sounds, make them louder, intensify the bodily sensations, prolong them. Change the representations in such a way as to reach that maximum of living.
The practitioner synchronizes with another person by matching their physical behaviors to improve communication and response through empathy.
“Creating rapport involves creating trust, harmony and cooperation in a communicative relationship.” Robert Dilts
Rapport is essential in effective communication. Establishing rapport involves finding elements in the two communicators’ “maps” that overlap and are common. It is however much more than identifying the common parts, rapport is simultaneous communication at the unconscious and conscious level, at the verbal, para-verbal and non-verbal level. In many ways rapport is like a dance, an ongoing guidance between two partners, the only difference being that in the case of dance the one leading the process does not change. In rapport, both “partners” in communication take turns in taking the role of guide, of leader.
Rapport is a process that has several stages:
This process involves identifying and recognising the person’s behaviours in communication. The term pacing can be applied at both the relationship and task level. The aim is to understand the person’s model of the world and to create the conditions for guiding that person towards a certain destination.
Leading involves trying to influence the person to make a decision to change. In practice, this leading is never taken separately from pacing, as it is an important part of the rapport. When pacing, you are trying to get into the other person’s skin, to experience what it is like to live in their model of the world. You communicate with him through his language and think like him. When you drive, you try to influence him to a new behaviour and a new way of thinking. Leading is only possible through precise pacing.
Sometimes, it is just as useful to “mismatch” to “break” the rapport. It is the exact opposite process of tuning. Why would we want to do this? Mismatching and breaking rapport can be useful to a manager who has no time to waste in a conversation with a particular person. Or vice versa – a subordinate who has had enough of the conversation with the boss. Once again, watch out for the ecological framework! Maybe it’s not ecological to look out the window while your boss is green with anger after your latest stunt and tries to talk to you. Disagreement often comes in increments, from low to high intensity.
You can start by decreasing the time you make eye contact, then change your posture, change your voice. It is essential that when you end a conversation of any kind, with any person, in any situation, that you leave in a neutral state, not in a totally unrelated state.
Changing patterns of behavior or thinking to achieve a desired outcome instead of an undesired outcome.
The Swish Model is part of what we call the Submodality section of NLP. It is a way of finding the internal “code” for an internal image, feeling, sound, thought, taste or smell that determines a person’s motivation.
With a Swish pattern we can easily change a state or behaviour when we can find the “trigger” of the problem.
NLP is used as a method of personal development by promoting skills such as self-reflection, confidence and communication.
Practitioners have applied NLP commercially to achieve work-oriented goals, such as improved productivity or job advancement.
On a broad scale, it has been applied as therapy for psychological disorders, including phobias, depression, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Personally, I use NLP exercises and techniques in both training and coaching. One technique I particularly resonate with is trance (simple exercises) which mainly help the client to relax and become aware of behaviours. A useful exercise I often use is auditing and belief strengthening when discussing goals, purpose.
There are various NLP courses and books that can help you.
Among the books I recommend as a basis:
– “Introduction to NLP” by Joseph O’Conner and John Seymour to better understand the concepts of NLP.
– “Coaching with NLP” by Joseph O’Conner and Adrea Lages if you want to develop your coaching skills.
– One course I personally attended was the NLP Practitioner course organised by Integrative NLP which is available in various cities. It lasted 7 months and was intense with lots of practical exercises in addition to theory. But there are other courses in the market. The important thing is to manage what is right for you.
NLP has become very popular over the years. This popularity may be due to the fact that practitioners can use it in many different areas and contexts.
However, the general ideas on which NLP is based, and the lack of an official body to monitor its use, mean that the methods and quality of practice can vary considerably. In any case, no clear and impartial evidence has yet emerged to support its effectiveness.
For these reasons, good marketing may also have contributed to the widespread popularity of NLP, particularly in the commercial sector.
Personally, I believe there are benefits to understanding and using certain NLP techniques in personal and professional life. I will mention a few general ones:
Discovering the preferred types of communication, taking into account the VAKOG system, of the people around you (friends, colleagues, family) to know exactly how to speak “in their language”. You can discover how exactly to make them pay attention to what you say and how to make them more receptive to your messages, thus avoiding misunderstandings.
Awareness of the link between your own emotions and success in life. Correctly identifying and managing your moods helps you to show confidence whenever needed.
Setting goals that really matter to you and that are aligned with your values and skills, rather than goals “imposed” by others, so you can achieve them more easily.
Learning to value yourself and discover your hidden talents.
In conclusion, I recommend discovering for yourself whether NLP is right for you or not by attending a course, reading books or interacting with people who already apply NLP in their personal and/or professional lives.
NLP Practitioner course organised by Integrative NLP
“Introduction to NLP by Joseph O’Conner and John Seymour
“Coaching with NLP” by Joseph O’Conner and Adrea Lages