Newly qualified NLP Practitioners want to know “How do I get really good at NLP?”
It’s clear that high-quality practice is a large part of the solution. However, I know that many people struggle to practice NLP as thoroughly or as often as they would like.
Part of the reason they struggle is because of the definition of NLP they have been given or have accepted. This isn’t a criticism of the teaching or of the student either.
There are many ways to define NLP and any definition carries with it a set of assumptions. Some of those assumptions can lead to faulty thinking, or to limitations which are not useful.
To me, faulty thinking is like faulty wiring – sometimes it appears to work well, other times it doesn’t work at all. The overall result is only a fraction of what you could achieve. Let’s look at some examples:
- NLP is about techniques
- NLP involves big change
- NLP is therapy
- NLP is something I only do within a specific context
“NLP is about Techniques”
Many people think that NLP is a set of techniques. How is this limiting? Think about this: how many times a day do you get the opportunity to do a ‘swish’? I’m guessing that for most of you this doesn’t happen very often and that’s part of the problem.
NLP is made up of skills, such as anchoring, rapport and a whole host of awareness skills too. How many opportunities do you get every day to subtly anchor someone? Or get into rapport? Or be aware of changes in their physiology/state/language/tonality etc? Or in your own?
Even if you live alone in a cave, there are many opportunities every day to practice and master your NLP. But only if you think about NLP skills. The techniques are just examples of effective ways to apply those skills to achieve specific outcomes.
“NLP involves Big Change”
I know that the promise of NLP is great – you can transform your life and do many things you had previously considered impossible. This is generally true.
However, the idea of Big Change can be something of an obstacle. Not everything you do with NLP needs to be earth-shattering. It doesn’t need to turn the world upside-down. Often, the best changes are subtle and take place over a period of time. The hallmark of a good piece of NLP is to create the minimum upheaval in reaching the outcome.
Consider: If you thoroughly shake up the lives of all your practice partners, you may quickly run out of people to practice on. And do you really need to have a massive impact? It can be like blowing out a candle with a nuclear explosion – the degree of force is unnecessary and there’s plenty of fallout to deal with.
It’s also a mistake to focus only on an ecological destination, while forgetting to include an ecological process for change.
To summarise: If you’re looking to set the world on fire every time you practice NLP, this will seriously limit your opportunities.
“NLP is Therapy”
For various reasons, some NLP students get the idea that NLP is a kind of therapy. Even those who aren’t therapists can form this opinion. How, then to practice?
Those who are therapists will have existing clients and can add NLP to their existing skill-set. Those who wish to use NLP as a stand-alone therapy face a different quandary: how do they get good enough to begin working on clients? How much experience is necessary before they can ‘go it alone’?
The non-therapists are left with a bigger problem – how do they practice NLP if they’re not interested in doing therapeutic change?
If you think you need to do complete pieces of therapeutic work to practice your NLP, you’re missing all of the other opportunities around you to sharpen your skills.
NLP isn’t therapy. It does have therapeutic applications. It has other applications too. Look for them in your existing areas of interest and practice sharpening your NLP skills in those areas instead.
Additionally, therapy is a remedial mindset in which all activity is focused on fixing areas that are judged to be deficient or broken in some way. The highest goal available within that mindset is to be ‘okay’ or ‘normal’. A different mindset allows us to achieve ‘excellence’ and far beyond.
“NLP is something I only do within a specific context”
As I explained in the previous section, sometimes NLP can become rooted within a specific context. Where do you use NLP?
If your answer is that “NLP is something I only do in a (business / coaching / sales / sport / therapeutic / self-help) context” then you are missing out on a lot of opportunities to practice.
This is a learned limitation – usually related to the focus you first brought to the course, or it may be due to learning NLP within a narrow context, such as ‘NLP for Therapists’ or ‘NLP for Business’. The best way for you to broaden your opportunities to practice NLP is to broaden the range of contexts in which you apply it. And you will have a variety of mindsets to draw upon that will guide applications.
The true strength of NLP comes from its freedom of application and the intermix of ideas between those contexts. For example, hypnotic language can be used to entertain people through storytelling – and storytelling has therapeutic and business applications too.
How can you use your NLP skills to:
- help your kids learn more easily
- master a new skill
- improve an existing skill
- coach others to higher achievement
- settle disputes at work or at home
- set and achieve better personal goals
- design a better business plan
- understand your spouse or partner better
- help your spouse or partner understand you better
- negotiate a raise
- negotiate a better price in a shop
- cheer up a friend, colleague, family member
Some of these examples may not apply to you and that’s okay. They are only there to whet your appetite – to get you to start thinking of ways in which your NLP skills can be applied usefully in unexplored contexts.
And explore the small pieces first – they have power. For example, all it takes to cheer someone up is eliciting a state, using a funny reframe, or firing an anchor. It’s a mistake to apply only the big pieces, applying or reproducing a set technique – or even putting someone through a process and “turning the handle”.
I know that most NLP learning involves things you ‘do’ to completion:
- a whole therapeutic change
- a ‘formal’ coaching session
- a ‘formal’ hypnotic trance
- a polished marketing piece
- a complete presentation
- a successful sale
This is another limitation of learning in a narrow context. Not every change is ‘formal’ or takes an hour to achieve. You have learned these things because it’s good to have examples of how to apply the skills of NLP in combination and achieve something useful.
Instead, remember that outcomes can be big and small. And the big outcomes are all made up of smaller ones – so it’s best to practice the smaller pieces too.
Many people avoid certain types of NLP practice on ethical grounds. Before I really get into this, I must first say that (in my opinion) there are unethical applications of NLP. However, there is nothing inherently ethical or unethical about NLP itself.
Think of NLP as a set of tools. The ethics are dependent on the choices and intention of the person applying them. For example, a knife can be applied to prepare dinner or may be used to save a life during surgery. Or it can be used as a lethal weapon. The application itself is key.
Let’s look at some examples where a misunderstanding or misreading of the situation can raise unnecessarily limiting concerns:
- not safe to practice NLP informally
- unethical or manipulative to practice NLP on unsuspecting people
NLP can be used to create powerful change. It’s quite natural that this should be treated with due care. However, I think it’s going a step too far to think that it’s only safe to practice NLP in ‘formal’ settings. Here’s why.
Think about this: where did NLP come from in the first place? If your immediate thought was ‘from modelling therapists’, you’re thinking too specifically. More broadly, it came from modelling effective human behaviour.
If the only applications of NLP were therapeutic, I could understand keeping such behaviours within a strict formal setting. However, what would be the sense of limiting how we apply effective behaviours? Especially considering how many of those behaviours occur naturally outside the therapy room.
Part of the goal of NLP training is to integrate the skills into your everyday behaviour. Some of the skills are already present in virtually everyone to some extent, yet are perhaps selective in their effect, or somewhat unreliable. For example, most people can get some rapport with some people. To integrate the NLP rapport skills would allow them to get rapport with a greater range of people in an increasingly reliable way – conscious access to a more reliable unconscious process.
And rapport is a skill you exercise virtually every day. Further, people anchor each other fairly frequently. Just watch some people in a cafe, bus queue or bar and you will notice this.
However, it’s much better to be aware of when we are and aren’t anchoring someone, so we can be sure our behaviour is guided by positive outcomes, rather than accident. So restricting NLP practice to the therapy room could actually be considered unethical.
And if you stopped doing all of the NLP-related behaviours in your daily life, it would be really hard to communicate with anyone or achieve anything worthwhile. So the more responsible choice is to bring NLP awareness and skills into every area of your life and move towards positive, ethical outcomes.
I’ve heard it said that it’s unethical or manipulative to practice NLP on unsuspecting people. I’d suggest that there is an ethical boundary here, rather than a clear yes or no. What it all comes down to is the purpose behind the use of NLP and the desired outcome.
Working towards mutually agreed outcomes is obviously ethical. And it’s not always necessary to explicitly agree the outcomes. Somebody might state their wants and you might see a win/win. The intervention itself need not be explicit in a “now I’m going to do some NLP” way. The outcome could be easier to achieve if done subtly.
If the NLP is used only to the benefit of the NLPer and against the interests of the other party, then it’s really not ethical.
Fortunately, this deliberate self-centred influence isn’t as effective as many people think. So many NLPers are caught up in the intricacy of the technology that they do not stop and realise that most people can spot a hidden agenda without taking any NLP training. Most people will know when there is something wrong, or they will intuit that the person is untrustworthy.
With that said, the full range of NLP skills are at work in many areas of daily life – and that means in the area of influence too.
For example, if you’re seeking a promotion, is it ethical to try and influence the interviewer? Before you decide, think about this: When you go for an interview, you tidy your hair and dress to impress. Isn’t that an attempt to influence the interviewer? Add in NLP skills too. Suppose you’re really good at getting rapport. Is that a fair advantage or an unfair one?
Overall, it’s a question of where you draw the line, so I’d suggest you don’t rule out using your NLP skills to mutual advantage, or in areas where you use such skills already.
The final category of objections are all practical concerns.
- People (will) think I’m weird
- Didn’t work on ‘real’ people
- No-one I know wanted me to ‘work’ on them
“People (will) think I’m weird”
When you think about it, some NLP-related behaviours can seem quite odd. Do you remember the first time you experienced ‘the swish’ for example? Or took someone into a hypnotic trance?
Those behaviours are okay within a seminar room or in a therapeutic or coaching environment. They are ‘formal’ change behaviours and belong in a formal setting. However, if you think about what is really going on in each case, you will probably realise that there are informal versions too.
Putting aside the techniques for now, think about all of the NLP skills – anchoring, meta model questions, eliciting states, reframing, etc, etc. All of those are natural behaviours we each do regularly. It’s just a question of practicing the skills in the right contexts. Then it will be more natural – for you and for others too.
“NLP didn’t work on ‘real’ people”
There’s a curious notion that the people you trained with are somehow ‘in on the secret’ and therefore more susceptible to NLP in some way. They are informed and therefore more at ease. They know what to expect and are therefore expecting the required result. This is true to some extent
Conversely, many of the NLP skills work better if the ‘subject’ is not aware of them. Take rapport, for example. It works best as an unconscious skill that is directed consciously. You decide to get rapport, to fall into the same rhythm as the other person and trust your unconscious mind to do that. However, if you – or they – suddenly notice (“Good heavens, we’re walking exactly in step…”) it can weaken the unconscious effects of the rapport and suddenly you’re not in step any more.
Many of those who struggle with NLP outside the seminar room do so because they are creating a strange space for those with whom they are trying it out.
Anything preceded by a statement like “let me try out this really cool mind thing on you – it’s NLP” is naturally going to create a strange atmosphere. With that strangeness can come discomfort and a degree of resistance.
By contrast, suppose they practiced eliciting states instead – by telling funny stories until they got a laugh or even a smile. Or suppose they used their meta-model questions to clarify what was going to happen later that evening. No strangeness, no resistance and no problem. Just common-sense NLP.
“No-one I know wanted me to ‘work’ on their therapeutic issues”
This practical concern is a subset of the ‘NLP is Therapy’ misunderstanding I dealt with earlier. To stop thinking about NLP as a series of therapeutic techniques is possibly the most powerful shift in thinking you can have from that point.
Put the techniques aside for now and focus on skills because it should now be really obvious that opportunities to practice your NLP skills are literally everywhere.
In response to these common needs, I’ve created a series of simple exercises which you can practice in the background during your day. The focus will change each week, so your skills will continue to sharpen.
How Exactly Does It Work?
- You will get a short review lesson of the relevant background information on Day 1.
- Each weekday you will receive a short email which briefly outlines the exercise of the day.
The initial version of the program is called NLP Practitioner Integration. It lasts eight weeks and you can sign up here:
Enjoy your practice!