A brief encounter with Neuro Linguistic Programming

Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP… sounds pretty serious for a training course doesn’t it? 

My fellow LGComms Future Leaders and I had chosen NLP as our final spell of formal learning together (the informal learning will continue over the years I’m sure).  Anybody who is familiar with the teachings of NLP will know a day’s training would only give us a whistle-stop tour of the subject but we logged in via Zoom in the middle of a pandemic eager and ready to learn.  

I was first introduced to the world of NLP a few years ago, so when the course tutor asked what I knew about the subject I had to admit I couldn’t remember much.  With a title like Neuro-Linguistic Programming I concluded honesty was the best policy!

It was a pretty full day of virtual learning, complete with IT issues, curious pets, children vying for attention and indiscreet video breaks (so we could snack!) but we all came away having understood more about what makes people (and ourselves) behave a certain way.

Each of us will have had our own learning but here are my five, quite simple, takeaways from the day:

  1. Know your own values – knowing what is important to you helps you confirm what grounds you as an individual.  I like values described as the ‘brake pedals of your mind’.  It’s nearly impossible to do something against your own values.  Our values shape thebeliefs that govern our life, emotions, health, skills and everyday experiences.  To help us understand ourselves better it’s worth spending time understanding what our own values are.  I see mine as my own operating principles; they help me better understand how I manage and lead a team and why I may react to situations (and people who hold very different values to me) in a particular way.
  2. Expand your thinking – we often believe things are true or a certain way, without the supporting evidence.  Our beliefs are basically assumptions we have of people and the world around us, and everybody sees the world differently.  NLP has a set of ‘convenient beliefs’, which help us to challenge our own assumptions.  They help us frame and expand our thinking, encouraging us to be more resourceful.  If we are more resourceful we are more positive and undeniably more productive as a result.  I call it internal questioning in a healthy way.
  3. Understand and appreciate styles – we’ve all been in situations where the finer details of a task have got lost in translation.  This is because we all have habits and our own preferred ways for translating what goes on in our lives into our thoughts. Some people prefer pictures, others sounds or touch.  As we can’t go around asking people to share their own preferred learning style we can make note of a person’s body language, eye movements and the pace in which they talk to help us understand them better.  These small clues can help us build rapport and improve communication.  It sounds complicated but it really isn’t.  We often do it without realising…think about how you naturally mirror body language or match the pace of speech with someone during a conversation.  It works virtually too and in some ways it is more important, given that there are fewer environmental factors at play.
  4. Use specific language to influence – small changes in the language we use can make a huge difference to the outcome of a conversation.  Whether it’s negotiating with a senior leader or giving feedback to a member of the team, understanding the art of using certain words can help us navigate difficult conversations to reach a win-win outcome.  Top tips include replacing ‘but‘ with ‘and‘, and navigating back to points of agreement and harmony by using phrases like ‘I agree with your thinking’.  Basically if you want to persuade someone to act, then you need to start from where they are, not from where you are. 
  5. Challenge your internal gremlin – we know in some situations (cue a pandemic!) a healthy dose of anxiety can motivate, whereas at other times it can be seriously unhelpful.  When it is negative, it’s worth noticing the language we use to talk to ourselves.  We may have allowed our own self-talk to put up harmful boundaries.  It is your job to challenge them.  If you can understand the way you think, you can influence how you think.  If you believe you can do something, then you generally will. 

In a nutshell, NLP encourages us to respect and learn how other people view and experience the world because we all view it differently. 

So whether we are communicating with another member of the team, the chief executive or the leader of the council it’s important to understand how they see, hear and feel the world around them.  It might not always be fact or accurate but it’s worth seeing it from their perspective because it will help us make sense of their behaviour.

When planning a campaign many of us spend a considerable amount of time researching our audience and test ideas.  In the same vein, if we spend time understanding each other we will have more constructive conversations with positive results.

Just one day of NLP training taught me the importance of moving from a place of judgement to curiosity.  Open your mind, I promise you’ll learn more about yourself and others.


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