Is it NLP or is it “Ain’t”?

photo credit paul bica

photo credit paul bica

Many sales gurus and motivational speakers claim to be trained in NeuroLinguistic Programming and to be experts in the field.  Unfortunately, those who have been “trained” by these gurus show up in my office in a state of self-denigration because they haven’t achieved the success they “should” have.

So why is this the case? What is the difference between what many claim to be NLP and what really is NLP?

In my humble opinion, the difference between NLP and other types of quick change is the set of principles or presuppositions that guide the processes and the framework within which skills are applied.

The Major Presuppositions are:

1. Every behavior has a positive intention.

2. People respond to their map of reality, not reality itself.

3. The effectiveness of a communication can be evaluated by the response it gets.

4. The element in a system with the most flexibility will usually be the controlling element.

5. People work perfectly – within their map of reality.

6. People make the best choice available to them at the time.

7. Every behavior is useful in some context.

8. People have all the internal resources they need.

9. There is no such thing as failure, just feedback.

10. Most things can be accomplished if the task is broken into small enough chunks.

11. The more choices we have to accomplish a goal, the better chance we have to achieve it.

The presupposition that guides all my work now is: Every behavior has a positive intention — so don’t ever try to eliminate a part of yourself or a behavior!

If I don’t determine the purpose or positive intention of the problem, and make sure it is met before making any other change, I know I will fail.

I didn’t always understand this principle until early in my practice when a client came to me to change a very destructive behavior.

“Curt” had a history of self-mutilation and was referred to me by a Chicago NLP psychologist who had been working with him. He had made a lot of progress with the psychologist and wanted to continue the work after his move to Denver.

In our third session, he revealed he had been cutting himself for years and he wanted to “destroy that part of himself.” I asked the part of him responsible for the behavior what it was trying to accomplish for him. At first he was baffled – it was a “bad” thing; what on earth could be the positive intention? Once I explained the possibility that it was trying to help him in some way, we uncovered the intention: to prove to the world that he was sorry for hurting his daughter when she was a child. He had a deep sense of responsibility for her emotional problems and wanted to have a way to demonstrate his regret. He had made amends to her but needed to show “the universe” that he had truly “paid his dues.”

Once we had defined the purpose, we found healthier ways to satisfy the positive intention. He was able to give up the cutting and other destructive behaviors (he had actually shot himself a year earlier!).

No matter what intervention I may consider, I now always presuppose a positive intention and accommodate for it.

The Presupposition in Meetings

This same principle operates effectively outside therapy. Over the years, I have facilitated many meetings for companies, executives and professional organizations. They usually call in a facilitator when there has been an unmanageable level of conflict or need to institute an organizational change.

Objections, complaints, resistance and frustration are a huge part of what keeps meetings or change from being effective. When I assume a positive intention behind each one of these and address the objection as a useful behavior, it is much easier to get to the underlying, and usually important, purpose

Meetings go much more smoothly when objections are seen as a useful way to get to the source of a problem.

Years ago I attended a Tony Robbins seminar (who by the way is an amazing motivator and has done a lot of wonderful publicity for NLP). He led the audience in an exercise wherein the energy of a motivated part was “poured” onto the resistant part to eliminate it. I then understood why people who had been trained by him showed up in my office for help!

When I think of the various “short cuts” used instead of uncovering the positive intent behind a behavior and finding more useful ways to achieve it, I’m reminded of the Whack-a-Mole game.  Those shortcuts almost always are a suppressing mechanism of some sort. The shortcut becomes a long-term commitment of energy to keep that behavior suppressed, and it still pops up. It then requires more energy to deal with the resulting behavior, and so on.

One could say: “If the process or person is ignoring or violating one of the presuppositions, whatever they are doing, no matter who they are, it isn’t NLP.”