For those who haven’t heard of it, NLP stands for ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’. This is a set of principles based loosely on psychology (but not considered a part of ‘mainstream’ psychology) that looks at basically ‘reprogramming’ the mind through language and cognitive behavioral therapy style strategies.
Originally NLP was intended as a set of tools to be used by therapists, based on observations of successful therapy, but it has since been adopted and the techniques have been used by everyone from self help gurus who instruct people to use self directed NLP in order to change their own thought processes for the better, to marketing and sales experts who look at how they can influence the thoughts of others to buy their products. The idea is that a combination of language distortions and behavioral practices can influence the functioning of our mind, and that at the same time our own speech and behavior can reflect this. By using language, visualization and other techniques it is then possible to ‘reprogram’ the mind in certain ways.
NLP was founded by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, and they describe it as a ‘model of interpersonal communication’ and a system of ‘alternate therapy’. The goals are self awareness, communication and control of mental and emotional patterns. While critics state that NLP is not supported by scientific evidence, and that it uses a number of ‘incorrect’ terms and concepts that class it as a ‘pseudoscience’, many have still found that it can be useful in a range of applications.
There are various different ‘models’ within NLP that contain set rules and practices. The ‘meta-model’ for instance is a pragmatic communications model that is used in order to specify information within a speaker’s language. The model was originally presented by Bandler and Grinder in their book ‘The Structure of Magic 1: A Book About Language and Therapy’. The model was based on looking at the successful techniques used by the best psychotherapists in order to effect change through language. The meta model aims to be very precise in communication in order to clarify distortions and to help uncover information that might have been ‘repressed’ or overlooked.
If you were to state for instance then that ‘everyone thinks that X is going to be the next big thing’, then a practitioner could ask ‘who is everyone?’, ‘do you necessarily agree with that statement?’, ‘what was the last big thing?’ or ‘how do you define what a ‘big thing’ is?’.
There are many examples of distortions, presuppositions and ‘deletions’ that we use in day-to-day language. One such distortion is known as ‘mind reading violation’ which is a presupposition about what someone thinks or how they will react. For instance ‘X is going to angry when they find out!’, ‘how do you know that X will be angry? Have they told you?’.
Presuppositions are often used in a different way, and these are statements in which prior knowledge is contained. For instance if you say ‘I did that too’ without specifying who else did it, then a savvy practitioner may ask ‘who else has done it?’ and this could uncover some information they otherwise wouldn’t have shared. Similarly words like ‘again’ suggest something has happened before.
People also tend to over-generalize in conversation and might say something like ‘everyone hates me’. Of course the meta model would encourage you or another to question whether ‘everyone’ is really the right word to use here, and who specifically is causing you the problem. Of course this is also an example of mind reading violation as no one knows that ‘everyone’ hates them.
The Milton Model
The Milton model meanwhile was inspired by Milton H. Erikson and was created as an answer or alternative to the meta model. Here the model is designed to be purposefully vague, and to this way direct people’s thoughts. Milton was a pioneer of ‘medical hypnosis’ and suggested that the unconscious could be lead by creating openings and blanks for it to fill – whereas direct conscious commands are simply refused.
For instance if you tried to hypnotize someone to be confident you would not say ‘when you are in front of the audience you won’t feel nervous’, instead you would say ‘when you are in front of an audience you may feel yourself feeling ever more confident’. This is not as commanding and opens the brain up to the ‘possibility’ of being more confident – getting it to ruminate on the subject and to think around it, rather than there being a direct statement to oppose. Even more indirect could be a statement such as ‘you might find it appealing how much more confident you could feel when commanding an audience’. The word ‘commanding’ is quite descriptive and can encourage imagination, while the there is also a presupposition here in the language that you are going to feel more confident without actually stating that you will.
The Milton model also means using universal quantifiers and other such generalizations in order to help encourage the patient. For instance quantifiers such as ‘always’ can be used as in: ‘you can always improve your confidence’.
Rapport, Pacing and Leading
NLP also involves the process of building a rapport with subjects in order to help them open up to suggestions and ideas. This is achieved through the use of the Milton model, alongside gentle mimicking of the client. For instance then an NLP practitioner might sit in the same position as the individual, use similar language and aim to mirror their body language, and this would in turn allow them to feel closer to that person (it happens naturally when two people are getting on). This eventually allows the practitioner to start ‘leading’ the other person who will then begin to mimic their postures and gestures if they change.
Pacing and leading can also be used through scripts, and this is a part of the Milton model that is also present in hypnosis. The practitioner for instance might say:
1. You are breathing in and out
2. You are sitting down
3. You are breathing in a rhythm
4. You are hearing the sound of your breathing
5. And as you move slightly in the chair
6. You might start to feel yourself relax
The first 5 statements here are ‘pacing’ where you simply tell the patient what they are already doing. This has the effect of making them believe that what you say is ‘true’ so that when you tell them they might start to feel calm, this then makes them more likely to actually feel more relaxed. Statement 6 is leading and this way you have gently allowed yourself to start guiding the process.
Similarly sales people use a technique in which they get people to agree with them before starting to try and ‘lead’ them. They might do this by asking questions to which the obvious answer is yes, and then ultimately start asking less obvious questions. For instance:
1. It’s a beautiful day isn’t it?
2. Would you say you are someone who enjoys feeling good?
3. Would you be interested in something that can make you feel very good very easily?
4. Would you like to see our new product?
Because the person has probably said yes to one and two, and probably three, that makes them far more likely to also say yes to number four.
Conversational postulates meanwhile are when you say things like ‘can you take a moment to just relax?’. This way the question is really ‘can you’ and not ‘will you’ and this makes the person more likely to respond well.
Clients and patients may also give away things about their mental state and the way their mind works through a variety of cues and this can tell you how they picture things in their mind. For instance a verbal cue might be for someone to say that something ‘sounds interesting’ or that they ‘see what [you] mean’. This then tells you that they use either ‘auditory’ or ‘visual’ ‘representation systems’ and that they are thus perhaps more likely to respond well to visual or auditory stimuli.
Meanwhile accessing cues are when people look in a certain direction while thinking which NLP proponents believes corresponds to visual or auditory memory, as well as ‘fictional’ or ‘factual’ information. By watching where people look it’s believed to be sometimes possible to spot lies or other things.
Finally someone might convey more than they mean to in a gesture or hand signal. For instance if they are talking about their table at home, they might hold their hand up as they do and this can tell you roughly how high up that table is and where it’s located in their home. They are after all essentially recreating the image of their table with their hands for you.
The aspects of how we see something in our own mind, and its properties (moving or stationary, acoustic or visual, 1st or 3rd person, colorful or black and white) are known in NLP as ‘submodalities’ and it is believed that these can communicate a lot of information about how a person feels on that subject or memory.
It is also believed that this is a two way correlation, and that by ‘reframing’ those memories or images you can change the way you feel about them. For instance, if you imagine yourself talking in front of an audience but the image is small and dim and black and white then it may be that you don’t feel positively about it. Practice reframing it then, by imagining yourself in vibrant color and ‘full screen’ and you might feel more positive about the thought/memory.
At the same time you can reframe memories by thinking about the context of them. For instance if you think of an injury as a set back in your work life or relationships then it can be very upsetting, however you can ‘reframe’ it by looking at the positives and seeing how you can use the time constructively to do something else.