10. NEURO – LINGUISTIC PROGRAMMING (NLP)
John Grinder and Richard Bandler created in the mid-1970 s what has become known as NLP. Neuro-linguistic programming covers virtually every area of human behaviour so there is quite a lot of duplication with what I have written on behavioural subjects. In this article I will attempt to avoid this by referring to only a few aspects of NLP which I find are the most important.
NLP arose from the wish to model behaviour which in itself is the result of neurological processes. We wish to model behaviour so that we can learn from it and may be even be able to imitate it. What is the right way to react in given circumstances? Unfortunately the model of successful behaviour also include elements which haven’t contributed towards the success. And of course, the role model is never us, so care is necessary before following it.
NLP is the application of systems thinking to subjective experience. It is the ability to choose how to respond to stimulation reaching us through our sensory systems (seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling and smelling) at any moment in time. NLP explores how thoughts (neuro) are translated first into (silent) words (linguistic – in effect we are drawing conclusions from what we have been thinking) leading to action (programming – the unique way of putting this together to create behaviour). As Charles Handy pointed out, this can also work in reverse; changed behaviour can result in different words which lead to other thoughts. So it can be quite a powerful instrument. NLP also allows you to choose your emotional state (following an initial automatic state which never lasts longer than 90 seconds, unless you want it to!). Your emotional state can influence the states of others in a positive way.
Beliefs are treated as suppositions
Our behaviour is strongly influenced by our beliefs. This a most important area in NLP. Beliefs are seen not as facts or truths and we should be wary of this. Instead NLP operates with a lengthy list of pre-suppositions (conclusions which are drawn from a world of interacting people). Here are a few examples to indicate what we are referring to:
- context makes meaning
- every behaviour has a positive intention in some context
- people will normally make the best choices available to them
- people respond to their internal maps of reality, not to reality itself
- to get something different you must do something different
- genuine understanding only comes with experience
- you cannot not communicate. The meaning of your communication is the response which you get.
You should indeed be aware that we operate on the basis of assumptions, mostly of our own making. It is important that you try to realise what these are. This could be a rather long exercise. Get into the habit of questioning your starting points. What are the facts? What might be the real reasons for a particular outcome?
Further, the words we use (the second step in the chain: thoughts – words – action/behaviour) destroy some of the essential ingredients (colour and feeling) which we wish to get across in our communication. Language generalises, deletes and distorts experience. I am very aware of this when I use Dutch. Not only is the colour and feeling greatly diluted but bad pronunciation can lead to my conveying something completely different from my intention. So feedback, emphasised by NLP, is so vital. And you must make sure you get it. Unfortunately this also happens in your own language!
This is a reminder of how hard we need to work on the effectiveness of our communication, otherwise we could be struggling. Practise listening for evidence of missing information, determining if the missing information is relevant. If so then you will need some suitable questions (diplomatic ones) to retrieve it.
An example on the basis of ‘I’m OK if you’re OK’ from Eric Berne
When I first arrived in the Netherlands in the late 70’s, KLM was involved in a big campaign to make cabin personnel in aircraft aware of how their behaviour influenced the well-being of the passengers during a flight. They used a very simple model based on what is known as transactional analysis which was also adapted for the insurance industry to help them deal with customers who were not always impressed by the service which they received. I was part of a working party responsible for this adaptation. You could see this as very much a predecessor to NLP.
According to transactional analysis, every form of communication between persons can be analysed. The theory is that we choose to communicate in this context either in the role of a parent, or an adult or a child. This is unimportant if the other party adopts the same role (parallel transaction) or the diametrically opposite role (e.g. parent to child, or child to parent – crossed transaction). But the transaction is doomed, if for instance the ‘parent’ in us is used to address an ‘adult’, who was expecting a more rational approach and not one of being talked down to. The course helped with recognising these situations aiming to return a conversation to the central parallel form, adult to adult, or ‘I’m OK if you’re OK’!
As used here, and as also in NLP, a model is useful in understanding what is happening but never replicates the actual situation. But because it is suitably simplified, it is also powerful and we can learn from it.
An example from NLP – reframing
Reframing is a technique which can be applied to any situation to improve understanding. It involves looking at the situation as if were in the distance and you could view it from different angles. You choose a different frame through which to see it. Some of the various frames are:
- what would be the longer-term effect if this situation were to continue?
- does the development of the situation bring you closer to where you want to be?
- if you don’t fully understand the situation, then backtrack by stating your understanding in steps from an earlier, but recognisable phase?
- suppose that another situation had developed, would you mind?
Reframing reshapes the context and makes re-evaluation possible. We can then alter our perception and may even find an advantage we had previously overlooked. Reframing can also help you to see a situation in a more positive light. This is often necessary to convince people to accept ideas. Formulating positively is nearly always more helpful than the opposite.
NLP represents a handy way of looking at behaviour. The creation of models is intended to facilitate understanding so that action can be taken to effect change if desired. It is impossible to do NLP justice in this short article but that is also not really necessary. The essence is trying to comprehend how our behaviour comes about. If you are unhappy with your behaviour, or elements of it, then this knowledge is important because no permanent change in behaviour can take place without attending to its origin. This is called re-anchoring. This is not easy and requires care. After all, your behaviour is closely linked to you (and your personality).