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What is NLP? (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)

What is NLP? (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)

Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP was originated by John Grinder (whose background was in linguistics) and Richard Bandler (whose background was in mathematics and gestalt therapy). Their primary purpose was to develop explicit models concerning human communications (both internally from one person’s brain to body and from one person to another). Drawing somewhat on the linguistic analysis work of Noam Chomsksy and gestalt-based Psychotherapy of Fritz Perls, Grinder and Bandler symbolized the relationship between the brain, language and the body under the term NLP. Through the years, NLP has developed some very powerful tools and skills for communication and change in a wide range of professional areas (including psychotherapy, coaching, training and others). Some psychologists have questioned the original research base used to develop these tools but there is nonetheless a very wide following and now a large community of NLP practitioners throughout the world.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (as the name implies) has three key components: neurology, language and programming. The neurological system regulates how our bodies function according to instructions from our brain, language determines how we interface and communicate with other people and our programming determines the kinds of models of the world we create. Neuro-Linguistic Programming consequently aims to describe the key dynamics between mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how their interplay affects our body and behaviour (programming).

In essence, all of NLP is founded on two fundamental precepts:

1. The Map is Not the Territory. As human beings, we can never know reality. We can only know our perceptions of reality. We experience and respond to the world around us primarily through our sensory representational systems. It is our ‘neuro-linguistic’ maps of reality that determine how we behave and that give those behaviours meaning, not reality itself. It is often not reality that limits us or even takes us forward, but rather our internal map of reality.

2. Life and ‘Mind’ are Systemic Processes. The processes that take place within a human being and between human beings and their environment are systemic. In other words, our bodies, our societies, and our universe form an ecology of complex systems and sub-systems, all of which interact with and mutually influence each other. It is not possible to completely isolate any part of one part of this system from the rest and we should therefore view things as holistically as possible. Such systems are based on certain ‘self-organizing’ principles and naturally seek optimal states of balance.

The 4 “Pillars” of NLP

As a coherent or integrated psychological approach, NLP needs to be understood holistically before we can start to use some of its specific techniques or tools. An appreciation of what are called “the four NLP pillars” is an important and fundamental step in this regard.

As the diagram below illustrates, these four pillars consist of Sensory acuity, Rapport skills, and Behavioural flexibility, all of which combine to focus people on Outcomes which are important (either to an individual him or herself or to others).

The Four Pillars of NLP

Let’s look briefly at each of these individual pillars:

Sensory acuity – This means using your senses as fully as possible: looking closely and carefully at, listening to and feeling what is actually happening to you.  By developing our senses we begin to notice how our world is so much richer when we pay much closer attention to it.

Rapport – This is specifically the quality of a relationship or its level of mutual trust and responsiveness. Whatever you do and whatever you want, being successful will involve relating well to others and influencing them in positive ways. One key lesson in establishing rapport is how you can say ‘no’ to all the requests for your time and still retain friendships or professional relationships.

Behavioural flexibility – Every individual has many choices in terms of future action. Fundamentally, this often comes down to knowing how to do something differently when what we are currently doing is not working or is sub-optimal in some way.

Outcomes/Knowing what you want – Goal precision is the key to success. The more precisely you know what it is that you want and why, the more likely you are to get it. What this really boils down to is beginning to think about what it is we really want rather than getting stuck in a negative problem mode or spending time pursuing a goal that we don’t care about.

Summary

Although it has many application sub-components, including people’s preferences for Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic experiences, eye movement cues, reframing, anchoring and many others, in overall terms, NLP theory suggests that language serves as a representational system for our experiences. Put another way, we code our experiential reality with words, thus creating our reality (our own “meta model”). However, we delete, generalize and distort information so that it often becomes disconnected from its deeper or more substantive meaning. Just as the map is not the territory it represents, so language may not always describe reality accurately-there is a gap. This gap is created by our natural attempt to delete, distort and generalize and it is by better understanding how this process occurs that NLP can give us greater insight into what people may actually be communicating (both ourselves and others).

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at OptimalJon@gmail.com

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4 Comments

  1. John AinsleyOctober 13, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    We were quite sceptical about NLP until we became practitioners. Our thoughts were changed when we worked with a client to help him overcome the fear of delivering presentations. It was important to him as he knew he would need to deliver as part of a course of learning. We worked with him over a couple of weeks and whilst he did not achieve 100% comfort (not a bad thing in my mind) we did succeed in allowing him to present without breaking into a cold sweat and freezing completely. The great thing for us was meeting him some months later and he was delivering a presentation to some young aspiring engineers and he was great !!

    • Dr. Jon WarnerNovember 29, 2012 at 8:23 pmAuthor

      Nice practical example John.

  2. Ray@nextlevelpersuasionOctober 18, 2014 at 7:40 am

    NLP is like the ‘user’s manual’ for the mind, and allows us to use the language of the mind to consistently achieve our specific and desired outcomes.

  3. Vimlesh RaiDecember 8, 2016 at 7:19 am

    I am very thankful to john for representing full explanation of NLP and its advantages in life.

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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