Monday, May 28, 2012

Is NLP more manipulative than other forms of influence?

A discussion in a LinkedIn Group of which I am part recently slammed NLP.  It was one of those conversations where people were happy to be certain about  what was wrong with something they didn't know and hadn't experienced.

Of course, there's a lot of stuff out there that I don't much like about NLP. Everything from speed seduction to trainers who use the F word in the training room. I don't like the rants, the pseudo-science or the arrogance that has been part of the way NLP has presented itself in the world. I really don't like the disrespect for other approaches and academic disciplines.

It's a little like saying I don't like LinkedIn Groups because some of the discussions sometimes contain opinions that are offensive or insulting.

There are lots of people who use NLP in ways that I find distasteful and more who are just not very good at using the techniques of NLP (all of which come from the observation of techniques in more intellectually respectable fields). It would be easy for me to do what I do and teach what I teach and pretend I found the techniques somewhere that didn't connect back to magic and speed seduction and hard-sell sales approaches.  It wouldn't be more honest.  Although I could have found these practices in lots of places, I did find them in NLP.

You, whoever you are, have influence just by being in the world. As much as you may think you have no power, you never practice manipulation, and you wouldn't dream of shaping the behaviour of the people around you, you are already doing all those things. It's inevitable.  Read the science on priming, and you will begin to understand that we all make a difference in the lives and thinking of the people around us.

The choice is not whether or not you will manipulate and influence. It is whether or not you will be intentional in the way you do it.

Everyone who uses NLP does so to change the results they get in dealing with other people. Some people change themselves and some people shift the attention of other people.  This is deliberate. They know they are being influential and they are willing to make whatever arrangements in their beliefs and ethics are necessary to allow them to be manipulative. Some of them have beliefs and ethics that are very different than my own.

Everyone who does therapy, coaching, teaching, managing, selling, or academic research also has the intention of making other people think or act differently as a result of their own thinking and actions. Lots of them focus on words that make them believe they are not responsible for the results they get. This is not less manipulative. It may be less ethical, since  they are able to achieve the results without owning up to their own role in achieving them.

The difference between practicing NLP and using your credentials to gain access to people who would not otherwise take you seriously is that practicing NLP involves you step by step, choice by choice, in realizing that you are manipulating someone else's perception of reality.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How to practice NLP

When you take a course in NLP, you are awarded a certification that calls you a practitioner.  If it said "practicer" would you be more likely to see the connection between practicing and NLP? NLP is not something you learn so you can know it. It's something you learn to practice so that you can do it over and over again.

What is the advantage of practicing? You get better.  If you practice NLP, you get better at managing your own state and influencing the states of people around you. That's pretty useful. It means that other people will have fewer opportunities to push your buttons or interrupt your (useful) patterns and you will have more choices about who and how you want to be in different situations.

Choice requires two things: intention and skill. The intention is an indication that you are prepared to make an effort to make something change. The skill is a tool you use to change something inside or outside yourself. You develop it through practice.

So how can you practice what you learn in NLP training?

1) On your own. Use reading, videos and imagination to create alternate ways of approaching and understanding the patterns you learned in class. Do mental rehearsal, notice the results, then become obsessive about changing just one thing at a time until you have found the most effective and elegant approach to a particular problem. Repeat with a new problem. Over and over again.
2) Practice with an accomplice.  Play guessing games and ask for verification so you know when you are right. Play rapport games and get better at getting into sync and discovering how many different tools you have for making someone else comfortable with you. Play language games and notice what happens when you ask questions or tell stories. And you can even practice the change patterns and discover how to become even more effective at running them.

NLP is not the set of exercises you find in a course manual. NLP is the ability to recognize, replicate or interrupt patterns of thought and behaviour. You practice it by becoming more aware of the people around you, and more intentional about the impact you have. Every day. In every interaction.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What to do when you're feeling a little blue

It's the night before the week begins - this week starts late in Canada. All of the bbqs and family gatherings are over for the moment. There's tons to look forward to as summer begins, and tons of work to do, and exactly 24 hours in each day.  There's a tiny sense of melancholy as the fireworks go off in the night.

What to do when you're feeling a little blue?

It's always a good idea to start by noticing what you're actually feeling. Give it a name, or map it in your body by noticing it's presence in your physiology and senses. If you're just a little blue, allow yourself to be just a little blue.

Now ask yourself: what is this good for?  If a good friend sent you a message you didn't quite understand, you'd work at it a little. The part of you that's feeling blue is a good friend and there's a message there if you pay attention to yourself. There's something you want that seems just out of reach. Noticing it will help you decide what to do next.

Then you have two choices: you can feel a little blue (it's not entirely unpleasant) and ask yourself what tasks you do best when feeling a little down. Or you can shake it off and focus on something that makes you feel more energized or more engaged. Get actively, happily distracted. Notice that in either case, after you notice what you feel, you do something. Action makes a difference.

If the blues don't lighten as you become active, then maybe you need to take another look at what you're feeling. Maybe it's grief or fear or something else masquerading as the blues. If so, give it a new name and start over again.

Either way, naming it, hearing its message, becoming active, and checking back with yourself is a great pattern for moving through a state as if you really did have your own best interests at heart.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When can you count on serendipity?

Serendipity is one of my favourite words. It's fun to say, and it's fun when it happens.  These are two good things.

It's a sneaky concept, the idea that you can find good things by accident. It sounds unintentional and unreliable.  Often, that's true.  But there are some loopholes and using them I find that serendipity is a good strategy for opening up or digging down into new possibilities.

Here's an example of serendipity at work.

On the Saturday evening of the first weekend of NLP Practitioner training, I wanted something new to read, so I downloaded a book to my ipad. The book was Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. If you click on the link, you'll see that the description is for a fantasy book about time.

Time is, of course, a key concept in change management and we held an event last week that included jazz musicians and discussion of time, timing, and getting into sync. So it's not surprising that this was the Terry Pratchett I decided would be a fun way to engage my thoughts and relax over dinner.

The serendipity is that the book is only partly about time. It's also about what it is like to live in the body and the senses. In the book, beings who are normally without bodies acquire human bodies and begin to notice how the body and senses have a mind of their own.

This is very funny.

It's also the main theme of the first weekend of an NLP training: we guide people into a heightened awareness of the connections between their bodies, their senses and their thoughts.

Isn't it odd that I found this book exactly when I was most immersed in its theme?

I think it is odd, but predictably odd. It happens to me all the time.  The book I need finds me when I go looking.  It's serendipity.  And it's been working for me for years.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Perspective, achievement and happiness

Let me tell you about my afternoon. I had lunch with a friend and one of the things we talked about was Monet's water lily paintings and the difficulty of knowing the difference between staying on the surface and going deep. Then my sister sent me a text to say my niece is crawling. And not long after that I began to watch a TED talk that suggests happiness is a matter of perspective and control.

There seems to be a theme here.

We sometimes talk about things slowing to a crawl.  Once you can walk, crawling is cumbersome and slow and undesirable.  But. . .  when you have been stuck in the places other people choose, then crawling means freedom and movement and fast, fast progress.

When I am working with clients, I listen to what they say and often offer back their own words, sometimes with an opportunity for amplification. I'll take them seriously and literally, and clients will suddenly hear themselves differently because I have sent back what I have heard. They will look "inwards" (have an "insight) when I reframe (but not reword) their own language. Although it seems like they are doing the work of going deep, I am really just repeating what is tangible and observable in the conversation. Is that adding depth or staying on the surface?

The TED talk puts the two ideas together: like Hamlet, it suggests that "nothing's either good or bad but thinking makes it so." We are what we think we are, and that depends on points of comparison. If we want to think of an idea as "deep" we just change our point of view - we can be "deep" by looking at the surface (if we think like Monet) or we can be deep by echoing (after all, an echo transforms distance into sound). If we want to go fast at a crawl, we start by being unable to move.

Think about this for a moment. It means that if you want to be happy where you are, all you have to do is move your point of view.  And if you want to achieve more (which means being dissatisfied with where you are now), you can also do that by changing your perspective. Both stability and motivation are determined by your starting point.

A baby learns to crawl, and nothing is ever quite the same again. You can change the reality of your life in ways that are tangible and sustainable. Often the best way to start, is to simply observe what is real from a new distance in time or space. Practice moving closer and farther away; practice being content and discontent. Decide what you want next, then choose a new set point and move towards it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The noise in my head

I am fresh back from a week on the beach, and my head is NOISY. On my week off, I read 4 books and worked on my own book, and made wild mindmappy notes on several other major projects. Now I'm back and behind in some ways and open to change and there are people to meet and wow, it's loud in here.

Now I have a choice.

I know how to make it quiet and I know that quiet feels good. Part of what I am doing in writing this post is reaching for some quiet so I can feel productive.

I have been reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer.  It contains a useful reminder that what feels good and what looks productive and what really works might all be different. I can look productive and feel good in the quiet.  The noise is probably making me better.

It's like covering the entire wall with post-it notes and pictures and diagrams in many different shapes and sizes and colours. The wall reminds me that everything fits.  In my head, that wall sounds noisy and dissonant. It's the dissonance, that sense of noise, that means that everything is still in play.  I can make it quiet, deliberately.  It's a skill that I own.  But if I use it too soon, I'll miss something I need.

So here I am. My week of relaxing has created noise and busy-ness and a kind of low-grade tension that is almost (but not quite) a headache.  And it's all good. This is what it takes for me to breakthrough to the next level.

Lots of people don't like this.  They want me to be calm and comfortable and focused at all times. I have spent years feeling guilty or broken or frustrated by people who accuse me of needing chaos and unhappiness to be productive.  Thank you, Jonah Lehrer, for spelling it out. It's not just me. This is the process. Most of the ideas that have changed and enriched us came from a similar kind of tension and chaos.

So - do I like the way I am experiencing the world this morning? Not so much. Am I willing to change it? Not yet. This is an angel I am willing to wrestle until I can claim a blessing from it.