The presuppositions of NLP

Here are some of the presuppositions (things we come into a situation assuming) often associated with NLP.  They are not ‘true’ as such … more of a handrail when developing the attitude of curiosity and wanton experimentation.

The map is not the territory

A map is a practical resource which helps us to find our way around.  For a map to be useful it needs to change the size and reduce the complexity to a level which helps the user.  Maps for different purposes can look very different: a road map, ordinance survey map and tube map for example.  We get used to the maps that we use and it is sometimes a surprise and frustration when reality seems to be different from what we expected: roadworks, unexpected boggy bits, or stations that look far apart but are only a few minutes walk above ground.

In life we go around making mental maps (or models) to help us make sense of our experiences.  Beliefs about how people and systems work help us to choose what to do next.  These generalisations may come from our own experiences or have been accepted from those around us.  Just as a tourist map can point us to areas of interest our mental map draws our attention to certain information from our experience of the world – distorting it.  Because we experience the world in that way it can seem like that is the way it is, the only way it can be – our reality.

When we realise that the map is not the territory it gives us the option of changing the map.  And when the map changes, so does the reality of our experience.

People are doing the best they can given the choices available to them

If someone is behaving in a way which you perceive as ‘bad’ does that make them a bad person?  According to you, perhaps.  Would their mum agree?  The values that drive their behaviour may well be different to yours.  They may or may not be aware of what these values are … perhaps thinking they can’t help their reactions.  Perhaps even judging themselves (or part of themselves) as ‘bad’ for doing what they do.

Is this kind of judging of behaviour useful?  In some contexts such as in court it is essential in order to protect others from the consequences of future actions.  In a therapy or coaching context it is more useful to assume that people are always doing their best … given the choices that they perceive are available to them.  The mindset becomes exploratory rather than categoric, collaborative rather than judgemental.

Accept the person, help them gain more choices, change the behaviour.

Underlying every behavior is a positive intention

Every behaviour?  Always?  Maybe, maybe not.  But is this a useful belief to start out with?

Let’s consider the extreme case of someone who says that a part of them wants to commit suicide.  What could be the positive intent of such a seemingly destructive thing?  Well perhaps it shows that, at least in this area of life, the person can choose, that they have power over themselves and their life?  Perhaps it is to stop them being a burden to others and help the people around them have more freedom in their life?  Perhaps it is to end some suffering, gain relief and feel better?  Perhaps it is to punish the person and give them what they deserve so they can feel that justice has been done?

Rather than arguing against the behaviour this approach helps build understanding and rapport.  From here it is much easier to explore other ways of gaining the positive benefits without the negative consequences.

There is no failure – only feedback

OK, so it is possible to fail your driving test.  But does that mean you have failed?  Or could you have just succeeded in finding some areas for further improvement?

There is a saying in NLP, “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got”.  If you are attempting to get a certain outcome and it just isn’t happening then you can always work longer or harder.  If, however, these don’t work either (or if they are just a bit boring!) then it might be time for a re-think.  And if you don’t know what else there is to do then anything is probably as good as anything else – perhaps you can get some more information that way?  This is the attitude of wanton experimentation … what’s the worst that could happen anyway?

The meaning of our communication is the response we get

Have you ever innocently said something to someone and had them blow up in anger or run off in tears?  If we communicate a message to another person and they react in an unexpected way then we can always blame them for not understanding what we meant … but how useful is that map going forwards?  Alternatively we can take their response as feedback and design our next question to gather more information about, say, their reaction.

People are always communicating, verbally and non-verbally.  Research (that hardly anyone who trots this statistic out has actually read) suggests that only 7% of the meaning of our communication is through words.  The rest of the communication process takes place through body language, tone of voice and the various signals words cannot convey.  That’s means that 93% of what we communicate is not from our words!  Excellent communication is about your whole self. B y working on your stuff and developing your ability to be authentic – even when under pressure – you are increasing your power of communication and influence.

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About Richard Evans-Lacey

Richard Evans-Lacey offers Energetic NLP Psychotherapy in Bethnal Green, East London, E1. Call 020 7377 1918 for a free chat.
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