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NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming

NLP - Neuro Linguistic Programming
NLP - Neuro Linguistic Programming
NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming

Sometimes a big idea comes along that really does feel new. And, in the early 1970s, that was Neuro Linguistic Programming, or ‘NLP’.

However, like many big ideas, NLP had its antecedents. It was built on the foundations set by others. But what it did was combine many things into a new framework. Some were well-understood. And others arose from the direct research of its founders and the people who followed them.

The name, Neuro Linguistic Programming roots it into its 1970s origins. And many of the ideas now seem familiar. Indeed, we have covered a fair few of them in earlier Pocketblogs. But now seems a good time to take a broad overview of the whole of NLP.

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Logical Levels of Awareness

Logical Levels of Awareness
Logical Levels of Awareness
Logical Levels of Awareness

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.

Continue reading Logical Levels of Awareness

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An Introduction to NLP Skills

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


One of the commonest acronyms and buzz-phrases a manager will encounter is NLP, or Neuro Linguistic Programming.  What is it?

First off, ignore the name: we’ll come back to that later.  Focus on what it does.  NLP is a toolkit of resources that help us with improving our performance and general communication-related tasks like:

  • being better understood
  • influencing others
  • making decisions
  • understanding other people
  • reading between the lines
  • improving aspects of performance
  • setting goals
  • uncovering issues
  • resolving problems and issues
  • negotiation

The toolkit was developed using the fundamental philosophy behind NLP, that:

‘Excellence can be modelled and reproduced’

Put simply, if you do something well, then if I do it exactly the way you do it, I will do it as well as you.  Clearly, this approach has applications in all areas of business, public service, management, sport… the list goes on.

A lot of the tools were therefore originally developed by observing excellent communicators and therapists, documenting what they did, testing and codifying the lessons and distillig their techniques down into a set of rules.  These form the body of NLP.  They include things like:

The Meta Model
A set of language constructions that we can recognise in other people’s speech, which give clues to the faults in their thinking (modelled from family therapist, Virginia Satir)

The Logical Levels Model
This model (described in an earlier Pocketblog, ‘I can’t do that now’) sets out different levels at which we perceive aspects of ourselves and the world.  It is useful in diagnosing problems and stimulating change.

Change Processes
NLP has its roots in Therapy.  So a lot of the tools are helpful in personal change and personal decision making.

The Modelling Process
How to elicit how excellence arises.  Use it to observe a great sales person, for example, to distil what they do and codify it into a sales process other team members can apply.

The meaning of your communication is the response you get

At its core, NLP offers a very simple model of communication.  If you want to take responsibility for your own communication with others, NLP offers a four step process.

  1. Decide on your outcome: what do you want the other person to do or think?
  2. Communicate: put out your ideas as effectively as you can.
  3. Notice how they respond: do they get it? What are they doing in response?
  4. Be flexible: if you didn’t get the response you wanted, try a different approach.

NLP Communication

Why ‘Neuro Linguistic Programming’?

I suspect the name is as much an attempt to shroud the new (in the 1970s) methodology in a mystique and in academic language, as anything else.  Neuro, because it works with our best understanding of how the brain works.  Linguistic because language is the medium through which it operates and Programming, because it seeks to create new, more useful habits.

Further Reading

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I can’t do that now

The NLP wave rises and falls and, frankly, I’ve lost track of whether it is near a popularity peak or a sceptical slump.  Of all the ideas that managers use, this is the one that comes in and out of vogue most often – on a two or three year cycle, it seems to me.

Why does NLP peak and trough so much?

Many practitioners do NLP no great service in making some extravagant claims for what it can achieve, whilst others doggedly push away at the very real benefits of improved communication, processes and insights that an understanding of its models can offer us.  The world becomes exhausted by and cynical of the excessive zeal of some trainers, then recovers, as other trainers help build a new cohort of learners who can see real benefits.

Gillian Burn’s NLP Pocketbook is a contribution to ‘real benefits’ end of the spectrum, and has a nice take on one of the most powerful NLP models.

Logical Levels of Change

This model has many uses, so let’s pick one: let’s say that you ask someone to do something.  Let’s further assume that your request is reasonable, and that your relationship with them is good, so you have every reason to expect them to comply.  So it comes as a surprise when they say:

‘I can’t do that now.’

Handling Resistance

This sounds like resistance, so rule number one is to respect the resister and assume that their reason for resisting is a good one.  But what is it.  On the face of things, their statement gives you no clues; but if you listened very carefully, they probably told you exactly where the problem is.

Listen Carefully

What you are listening for is where they put the emphasis of their statement.  It may be very subtle, but can be remarkably obvious.  They may have said any of these statements:

‘I can’t do that now.’
Meaning: ‘there is a problem with the time or place.’

‘I can’t do that now.’
Meaning: ‘I have a problem with what you want me to do’

‘I can’t do that now.’
Meaning: ‘I don’t have the ability to do it’

‘I can’t do that now.’
Meaning: ‘I don’t believe I can do it’

I can’t do that now.’
Meaning: ‘this is not something I can do’

Once you know where the problem lies, you can tackle it more confidently.

What else?

Could there be another reason?  What if there appears to be no emphasis.  The Logical Levels model suggests a sixth possible level, deeper than the five we have seen.  If we characterise these five as:

Environment – Action – Capability – Belief – Identity

… the sixth level is Purpose, or meaning.

People need a Purpose

We all need a meaning to our lives and a purpose for doing something.  In their mind, they are possibly asking ‘why?’ If you are unable to supply a good reason, then you should not be surprised to encounter resistance.  One of the powerful words we looked at in an earlier blog is because.’

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The NLP Pocketbook

The NLP Pocketbook
is full of easy to follow descriptions and examples from the best tools that NLP has to offer.

NLP, by the way, stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming

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There is also a chapter on the NLP model of communication in:

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So here’s the deal

Listen carefully when people resist you, act on the information you gather: not your assumptions, consider the powerful tools NLP can offer you.

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