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Using NLP in Training

Using NLP in Training

In his book “Changing Belief Systems with NLP”, one of the earliest NLP practitioners, Robert Dilts, identifies six discrete levels of experience corresponding to six different levels of neurological ‘circuitry’. The Dilts Change Model (as it has now become known and which is shown in the pyramid diagram below) simply says that the ability for someone to change what he or she thinks and ultimately does is governed by a hierarchy of different levels of perception. The higher the level at which the change is made, the more pervasive and permanent the change will be.

The Dilts Change Model

One simple way to use this model is to think about a hierarchy of questions we can put to an individual starting at the base environment level (with where and when as shown in the table below) and then moving up with deeper questions which elicit more reflection and therefore potential change.

Level Eliciting Question
Purpose Who
Identity Why
Beliefs Why
Capabilities How
Behavior What
Environment Where and When

Dilts suggest then that our beliefs, identity and purpose are so powerful a force in our lives, we need to understand them well so as to get control of them (and to ensure that they don’t control us)? Many of our beliefs (and therefore our whole identity and perceived purpose in life) were instilled in us as children by parents, teachers, social upbringing, and the media before we were aware of their impact or able to have a choice about them. Of course, it is possible to restructure, unlearn, or change old beliefs which may be limiting us and imprint new ones that can expand our potential beyond what we currently imagine.

The Impact on Training

So what impact does this thinking have on training? Well, training must seek to change thinking at a higher level than where and when but at least at the behavior level of what should change and then higher. Why would you consider training someone who is already exhibiting the behaviors and even skills (capabilities in the Dilts model) that are needed? But here is the problem. Changing behavior, capabilities or beliefs is more difficult and takes time.  Individuals may be locked in to a deep set of beliefs that are hard to dislodge. For example, an individual may believe him or herself to be incompetent or stupid, may not value the knowledge being shared or training being offered, or they may have a self-concept that is different to the person the trainer/coach perceives the person to have!

To take a very simple personal coaching example, we may want to encourage an individual to give up smoking. Everyone is capable of not smoking, so it should be relatively easy to get the whole world to quit right? Well, as we all know, it is extremely difficult for many people, no matter how good the encouragement or coaching. Why? Because for most smokers, it is not a case of changing their base knowledge about when and where they can smoke (which has been heavily constrained in recent years) or even their capability or skills (giving them substitute products for example). Instead it is more about changing beliefs and the smoker’s identity as a smoker. This is manifested in beliefs such as: “I am more sociable/confident when I smoke”, “It gives me something to do with my hands” or “I will put on weight if I stop”, etc.

All training or coaching then can be the most effective when it encompass the beliefs and identity level in Dilts’ model. If trainers can get participants to change their unsupportive beliefs about themselves, then the behavior will change much more effectively, comprehensively and lastingly than simply trying to change capability. A trainer cannot change a person’s beliefs of course (he or she must be the one to make the change) but they can create the climate in which this is possible.

Apart from building in many more how, why and who questions to any training or coaching event, one extremely effective way to have an impact on individual’s beliefs is to use metaphors: playing games; telling stories; and having them experience things for themselves as much as possible.  The job of the trainer or coach is to provide the safe environment for this to happen. This is the ultimate power of experiential learning, and the most natural way to use the NLP Change Model in training.

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About John Radclyffe

John Radclyffe, Founder and Managing Director of WorldGAMES in Australia, is a rare breed of facilitator, trainer and consultant who has in-depth and hands-on experience in a broad range of skills; training, financial, marketing, new business development and business management among them.

View all posts by John Radclyffe →

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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