There are few models that are as beloved of management trainers as Robert Dilts’ Logical Levels of Awareness.
It is popular among those who have learned it as part of formal NLP training, through reading books, or by osmosis. The logical levels model is pervasive and hard to miss if you are alert to these things.
So, in this article, I want to explain what it is, how it came about, and why it is a big idea that merits your attention as a manager.
Why Use Different Levels of Awareness?
If you want to understand a person’s problem, or help them to change, you need to address that problem or change at the right level. The logical levels of awareness is a simple model that helps us understand how people process events, and choices.
It was developed by Robert Dilts, learning from work by one of his University teachers, Gregory Bateson. Unlike a lot NLP-based models, he seems to have hit on something simple, easy to understand, and genuinely useful.
He explains it fully, with his own account of its origin on his NLP University website. Sadly, his article is full of jargon and far from an easy read.
What are the Logical Levels of Awareness?
These are five (sometimes six) levels at which we engage with a question:
- Environment (and Outcomes)
Opportunities, threats, and constraints
Actions and Reactions
- Capability (or Competence)
Plans and Potential
- Beliefs (and Values)
Mission and Choices
Motivation and Drives
If you want to help me make a change, you need to address the correct level. This is sometimes the same one where the problem occurs, but usually, it is at a deeper level. For example, failing to do something is more likely to be a capability issue than one of behaviour.
But you may have the capability you need, but lack the confidence and self-belief to apply it. Or, you may not see yourself as someone who does these things (Identity).
Diagnosing the problem therefore becomes a question of:
‘which logical level does the true issue lie at?’
A Sixth Logical Level
Dilts later suggested a sixth logical level, below Identity: Spirituality.
This looks to your sense of purpose and being a part of something bigger. Some practitioners prefer not to use this – particularly in a business context. They fear it will look flaky to some people.
On the other hand, I choose to mention it, but am not using it, because I see this level as deeply personal, and nobody’s business but your own. Some will embrace it as a core part of how they wish to apply the model to themselves. Others will see it as irrelevant to their own lives, feeling that Identity has this covered. Still others will reject it as not valid.
What about Neuro-Logical Levels of Awareness?
Don’t get me started. Dilts prefers this label because he sees the levels tracking to some form of neural correlates. This seems to me to be fatuous, silly, and just plain wrong.
Other ways to Frame the Model
Dilts has sometimes referred to this as the ABC model, for this reason:
- Identity – who I Am
- Beliefs – what I Believe
- Capability – what I am Capable of
- Behaviour – what I Do
- Environment – my Environment
Spirituality – now coming before Identity – poses a problem for this formulation!
Another approach is to focus on the questions that go with the five levels:
- Environment – where, when?
- Behaviour – what?
- Capability – how?
- Beliefs – why?
- Identity – who?
I learnt about this stuff many years ago, but it was only in thinking of it as a big idea that I hit upon an obvious link. Dilts does not claim it and, as seems fitting, the link may have been at an entirely subconscious level.
But I suspect this links very closely to Freud’s big idea of three levels:
- Super Ego
Social, Moral, Conscience
Conscious, Rational, Organizing
Emotion (Pleasure and Fear), Biological urges, Instinct
These, in turn, informed Eric Berne’s development of Transactional Analysis. In this, the roles of Super Ego, Ego, and Id are played, respectively, by the three Ego States:
- Parent – Super Ego
- Adult – Ego
- Child – Id
There is no direct link between the levels. But Freud clearly had in mind different levels and ways of thinking. It’s just that Dilts has found a far more useful approach than Freud’s for assisting change in the workplace.
What is Your experience of the Logical Levels?
We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.
To learn more…
The NLP Pocketbook has a chapter on the Logical Levels of Change. The book is full of tips, techniques, and tools to help you succeed and make a positive difference in your life.