By Xavier Pirla Llorens
NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming, and it has been sold for the last 40 years as almost a wonder tool. But what exactly is NLP? Why has it become so popular? Is it a good tool for a corporate environment?
NLP’s reputation comes for its power to understand human behaviour. Since the beginning of the 20th century when companies began to understand humans as something more than an extension of the mechanical work force, psychology played an increasing role.
NLP has offered a way to improve that the understanding of human behaviour in a very distinctive way that was not always well understood, in fact.
One of our brain’s functions is to gather information, to group it and to label it, that’s why we tend to say that so and so is X or is Y. We want to categorise what is around us for a better understanding.
A lot of people use NLP in that way but that is wrong. I understood it when I began to study NLP. As an engineer, I see the world in terms of processes and systems. This is the same view as the father of NLP, Dr. Richard Bandler, an IT engineer.
NLP doesn’t categorise people or put them into boxes. NLP focuses in the mental and emotional process that drives human behaviours.
It does it a very analytical way. For example, let’s say that you have an employee that is disengaged from his work. NLP wouldn’t label him/her but it would find how that particular person (not using a general rule) is experiencing reality and what he/she makes in her mind in order to not feel the necessary drive to perform.
A lot of my clients ask for quick fixes to pervasive situations. Real professional NLP doesn’t do quick fixes. My trainings give analytical tools to the attendants to explore and understand the inner world of the employee.
In this way, they can understand for example, if the employee feels like he/she is being neglected, feeling a lack of acknowledgement from his/her managers or maybe a lack of trust judging by the level of jobs being assigned to him/her.
But it is too tempting to simplify NLP saying that you can put people in boxes so you know how to manage them. That’s not real NLP. NLP is about understanding the complexity of the human brain and developing strategies to deal with it.
NLP is a very powerful tool for salesmen, leaders or anyone interacting with others as it allows a better understanding of the reason for behaving in a certain way and so, how to find ways to improve the situation.
It can be difficult to demonstrate the financial return of investments in soft skills training, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) being one of the top options available for learning these skills. Oddly enough, people often use exactly those skills to try to convince you that NLP isn’t the right choice and even use NLP to persuade you that you shouldn’t learn NLP. Anyway, it’s a lot more useful to consider the facts.
There are plenty of successful business examples of the use of NLP. When financial credit institution Diners Club increased the NLP skills of their customer service managers, they reduced their loss of clients with 67% and their clients spent on average 254% more. (Alder, 2002)
International companies like BMW, Fiat, Virgin, BT and many others invested in NLP training for their employees. In Belgium, shoe retailer Torfs, hair dressing chain Kreatos as well as paints producer, Boss Paints, are known advocates of applying NLP in various parts of their business. (De Standaard, 2016; Tertio; a.o.)
The effectiveness of applying NLP will be even greater when companies carefully plan how they will apply NLP in their business environment. Diners Club is a clear example of focusing the application of NLP on improving customer communication. BMW UK used NLP to model the behavior of their top 1% sales, so they could educate the rest of their sales staff on the successful strategies. American Express and Fiat used NLP to improve and spread formal and informal leadership throughout the company. They model successful leaders, teach their staff how to ask better questions, gain bigger insight in people, manage emotions and much more. (Alder, 2002)
The big question is this.
How do you make sure that we provide the pay-off to you and your company?
The answer is easy. Before you register for our course, ask yourself the following important questions.
Trust me, courses are a lot more effective and a lot more fun with the right participants, so we don’t want people in our course who don’t belong here.
What problem am I trying to solve or what opportunity do I want to pursue when I attend this course? Is this a problem worth solving or an opportunity worth pursuing? What is the right solution this problem or opportunity? Are you (or the person you are sending to us) the right person to solve this problem?
What are the objectives that I want to achieve from this course?
Learning objectives: What do I want to learn?
Development objectives: How do I want to behave different after the course?
Application objectives: Where do I want to be able to apply what I’ve learned? What do I want to do differently with what I’ve learned?
Impact objectives: What new results do I want to achieve by applying what I’ve learned?
How will you evaluate your return on investment? What objectives will you evaluate and how will you evaluate this objective?
Now that you have answered these questions, is this course in alignment with your needs, your resources and your expectations?
Let’s use these questions to evaluate a typical example. Sophie has just been promoted from an expert role into a management role. At this moment things are looking great for her, but she feels unsure whether her people management skills are sufficient for the job. As people management has become an important part of her job, Sophie thinks this is a problem worth solving.
Sophie had several conversations with us, went through our information package in detail and set some key objectives for herself.
Learning objectives: gain better insight in people, increase communication and influencing skills, ask better questions
Reaction objectives: feel more confident as a manager of her team, management becomes easy instead of a daily struggle
Application objectives: having difficult conversations, improving presentations, better grip on day-to-day management situations, convince difficult people in a positive and constructive way
Impact objectives: more people get along with her and follow instructions, team meetings become more effective and efficient, team performance indicators improve
Fortunately, we could accommodate for Sophie’s needs and through our practitioner course she could attain her objectives and much more. Since Sophie attended the course, she got enlisted in the high potential program of her organization. The course not only changed her professional life for the better, it also positively changed the way she could manage her private-work balance. At the time of writing, both Sophie and her husband are expecting their first baby, another life changing experience.
So make sure that you thoroughly evaluate your reasons for booking on the course so that when you arrive on day one you’ll know exactly what your target is. One more thing … after all that analysis, make sure you also remember to enjoy the course.
Not so long ago, Tom, one of the executives I coach, told me he had a problem with one of his staff members, Alan. (*) In Tom’s perception, Alan had difficulties setting priorities. Not knowing Alan at all, I had to disagree with Tom. What Tom really meant was that Alan’s priorities did not match his.
You can’t function without priorities, you always have to do something first, even if you do nothing at all. So how does this work?
First, in your unconscious rulebook for setting priorities, is your values. Values determine the sequence in which you take action. Unfortunately, most people get values wrong. Often, they have read the wonderful 7 habits book by Stephen Covey, and think they can decide which values to have. That’s not how it works. The values that you choose in those exercises are your noble view on who you would like to be, but the underlying truth is very different. We spend quite some time on our Licensed Master Practitioner training to teach our students how to find out what your real unconscious values are. Values are the first hurdle where things go wrong, because at work we play DJ with no less than 6 potentially different sets of values:
Our own unconscious set of values – who we are
Our preferred set of values – who we want to be
The values our company wants us to have – who the organization wants us to be
The real values of our company – how the organization really behaves
The unconscious set of values of our boss – who our boss really is
The preferred set of values of your boss – who your boss wants to be
No wonder Alan gets confused about his priorities, especially when there are big gaps between those sets of values.
And this is only the first step, priorities are not everything. Alan also needs the skills to execute a particular task, and – equally important – believe that he has this skill and believe that it is possible to do it.
But let’s continue to focus on priorities. There is still another system that can mess up our priorities, and that system is driven by your emotions. If stress or anxiety takes over, values will not help Alan. His priorities will be taken over by the unconscious mechanisms that try to reduce stress. The unconscious falls back to habits that the unconscious believes to be the answer to stress: eating, spending time on Facebook, cleaning out the email inbox, taking a cigarette break etc. To the outside world, it will look like Alan is distracted and wasting time, while Alan is trying to do what is currently most important to his system: reducing stress.
So how can Tom deal with all of this so that he gets Alan to execute his tasks in alignment with the needs and strategy of the company?
First thing is to find out what’s important to Alan in his work. This will give you some information on Alan’s intrinsic values, as well as some indicators on what might potentially stress Alan. I showed Tom some conversation techniques and meta-model questions to use.
Second thing is to make sure that Alan has a grip on his stress. There are two things that Tom can do here. One is to make sure that he does not unnecessarily put high stress on Alan. Second is to provide opportunity to Alan to better manage his stress, e.g. through stress management courses, provide sporting facilities at work etc. It is, however, Alan who needs to gain control over his emotions. This means that when Tom has put everything in place, it is still Alan who needs to take the initiative.
Third thing that Tom can do is to make sure that he is as clear as possible about what it is that he wants to achieve. Identify where he and his team are now with regards to this objective and how exactly Alan can contribute to get the team closer to their goals.
And those 3 things are exactly what Tom did. He had his conversation with Alan so that he had a better understanding of his motives, needs and values. It gave Tom the indirect feedback on how to better manage Alan. Tom also organized several sessions for his team on how to deal with stress and agreed with HR to negotiate a special discount with a local fitness club for all employees of his company. In addition, the company pays half of the subscription fee. Tom also increased his communication efforts towards the whole team. He does spend a lot more time preparing his communications, but according to Tom the effects are worth it.
(*) Names have been changed for reasons of confidentiality.