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1. What does NLP stand for?

NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and if you think that's a damn stupid name you're probably right. The three parts of the name refer to:
The activity throughout your brain and your whole nervous system - why what you think affects what your body does and vice versa.
Refers to words - and how we use them: how we are affected by the words we use, how our perceptions are framed by the words we choose.
Taken from the computing term, this basically means that just as a computer will try to execute all of the instructions in a program, regardless of whether they make sense, so human beings tend to act in accordance with the ways in which their experiences have "programmed" them, even when the program doesn't make sense (like people speaking very slowly and loudly to foreigners as though that will improve the level of communication).

On the positive side it is the ability, when we know how something works, to change how it works. In this case, how to change our lives in the way we want by changing our thinking and our behaviour.
Important Note:
According to Korzybski, who first coined the label, there should always be a hyphen in "neuro-linguistic" to indicate that this refers to two individual entities - neurology and linguistics - working together, as compared with "neuro linguistic" (two separate entities) or "neurolinguistic" (a single entity), neither of which make this distinction clear.

2. What is NLP?

NLP is a mixture of things.
It is a mixture of concepts put together by Richard Bandler, John Grinder, Robert Dilts and others.
It uses a mixture of techniques, derived from the fields of hypnosis, linguistic analysis, neuropsychology and so on. For example:
The NLP Meta Model is based on Noam Chomsky's Transformational Grammar.
The Milton Model is based on the work done by Milton Erickson.
The Meta Programs, developed by Leslie LeBeau (Bandler's ex-wife, the former Leslie Cameron-Bandler) are an extended version of the Myers-Briggs test.
The saying "The map is not the territory", the concept of "chunking", and the term "Neuro linguistic", plus much, much more is lifted straight out of Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics.
The notions of reframing and parts (and how to deal with them) is based on work done by Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls, and so on and so on.
At its most basic, NLP is the study of people who are outstanding in some area - by means of "modeling" - in order to discover what makes the difference between average performance and excellent performance. And to describe the difference in such a way that other people can learn to replicate the "excellent" behavior.

3. How Does NLP Work?

According to one definition I read recently:
"NLP is a set of guiding principles, attitudes and techniques that enable you to change ... behavior patterns as you wish."
Put more simply - NLP aims to open up a person's range of choices in any situation so that they can optimize, or at least move towards optimizing, their performance. To this end, two of what are called the NLP "presuppositions" is particularly important:
Every behavior is appropriate in some context.
People always make the best choice they can (from their point of view) given the resources available to them.
As a starting point, the first presupposition takes the view that people act in whatever way they act in a given situation because at some time or other, in
(a) a situation they perceive to be similar to their current situation
(b) they used this behavior and it brought about the required result
     (or something equally satisfactory).
A problem will arise if:
the person is incorrect in their perception (i.e. if the situations aren't really similar at all),
the behavior is, for whatever reason, no longer valid (a 30 year old trying to be 5 year old-style cute, for example), or the original "cause and effect" weren't really cause and effect at all (assuming that writing a letter to Santa is how you get the Christmas presents you want).
From an observer's point of view the fact that a particular behavior is out-of-date, inappropriate, etc. may be obvious. From the perspective of the second presupposition, however, it is assumed that people only use invalid behavior if they don't know of any better way to achieve their desired outcome. That is to say, that no-one deliberately sabotages themselves by deliberately resorting to ineffective behavior.
Please note, however, this does NOT assume that people always make the best choices - from an objective viewpoint - when selecting an outcome, only that they will select what appears to them to be the best choice. What looks like a "best choice" to one person may be in conflict with the interests of everyone else around them.
The purpose of NLP is to remove whatever limitations we have accumulated which prevent us from making sound choices and acting effectively. By helping a person to extend their range of credible options we help them to make sure that they aren't forced to behave inappropriately because they literally are not aware of having any other choices.
This need to be approached with care, however, to make sure that the new choices are genuinely appropriate (or "ecological"). Thus:
Helping someone to overcome a paralyzing fear of snakes - in general - is useful.
Completely removing someone's caution in regard to snakes could be quite disastrous if they ever come across a Water Moccasin, a Black Mamba or a hungry Anaconda!

4. What are the NLP Presuppositions?

NLP is largely based on practical experience rather than academic theories, and the NLP pre-suppositions - some unique to NLP, some borrowed from General Semantics, cybernetics, etc. - are extremely useful as a guide to the thinking behind NLP as a whole. Because they are usually each expressed in a single sentence they are sometimes misunderstood as being vague and/or idealistic. In reality they are all extremely pragmatic.
Some of the best-known NLP pre-suppositions include:
If you go on doing what you're doing now you are very likely to go on getting the same results as you are getting now
Commentary: The pre-supposition here is that we are each responsible for our own lives.
Though we may not be able to control what goes on in the world around us, we can always control how we respond to those events. If we always act/respond in the same way then the most likely result is that we will maintain the status quo.
This is why making a decision on the basis that "that's the way we've always done it" is often the prelude to disaster.
If you want something different you must do something different, and keep varying your behavior until you get the result that you want
Commentary: The second pre-supposition is that there's a solution to every situation if you're prepared to keeping on looking until you find it.
This leads us straight into the third presupposition:
The person with the greatest number of choices in a given situation is likely to get the best outcome
Commentary: This is related to the idea of the BATNA (best alternative to non-agreement. If you go into a negotiation session with only one outcome in mind - and you don't achieve that particular outcome then you're up a dead-end street. If, on the other hand, you have several outcomes in mind (prioritized from "most preferred" to "least preferred", of course) then it is likely that you will achieve at least one of your outcomes.
You cannot not communicate
Commentary: People often imagine that they can avoid personal responsibility by simply saying nothing. This pre-supposition point out that we are constantly communicating, by what we do say, by what we don't say, and by a host of non-verbal signals.
On this basis it may be obvious that there is more to be gained by accepting responsibility for one's actions, than by trying to stay aloof.
The meaning of your communication is the response that you get
Commentary: The pre-supposition here is that people will respond to what they think you mean, which may be an accurate or inaccurate interpretation of your intended meaning.
(Please note, a "communication" is the 'whole' message - not only what you said but also all of the accompanying non-verbal signals.).
The value of this pre-supposition is that it points out that if we want people to respond appropriately to what we say then we need to talk to them rather than at them. That is, we need to be constantly aware of other peoples' responses to what we're saying, and adjust our communication accordingly, rather than just assuming that they will have understood what we meant them to understand.
Everyone has all of the resources they need
Commentary: This is one of the "dodgy" presuppositions in that it doesn't exactly match the presupposition it was based on. What Erickson actually said was that every client already had all the resources they needed to be able to deal with their "presenting problem". That is to say, at some level they already knew how the problem had come about and therefore already knew all they needed to resolve the problem.
Which isn’t quite the same as saying that we all have whatever resources (or capabilities) we need to get us out of ANY situation?
Even if we accept the presupposition as it is usually stated, I suggest that we need to acknowledge two qualifications which I call Bradbury's corollaries:
In order to use a resource you must -
know that you have it, and
know how to use it
(though not necessarily at a conscious level)
Let me illustrate what I mean by referring to the question of how children should be educated.
Some people, taking the viewpoint that we already have all the resources we need, argue that children must be free to learn what they want, when they want, and that ultimately they'll learn everything they need to know.
Those in the traditionalist camp point out, quite accurately, that this approach simply doesn't work and (here comes the non squinter) that education must therefore be carefully structured and controlled.
A third, and far more true-to-life approach takes into account all three parts of the NLP pre-supposition, thus:
Children have all the resources they need in order to learn very effectively. (If they didn't how do they learn to walk and talk without taking "lessons"?)
And they need to understand that they have this capability...
... and how to use it.
In other words, children do need help and guidance. Education, after all, is a living process, not a static event.
First and foremost, they need to learn how to learn. Just banging the tools down in front of them and expecting them to get on with it is a total non-starter. By the same token, however, too much structure and control turns learning into a boring routine chore. And look what happens then!
Every behavior has a positive intention
Commentary: This is possibly the most controversial of the NLP presuppositions, since it is so open to misinterpretation.

What we actually mean is that every behavior has a positive intention, as far as the person exhibiting the behavior is concerned.
This does not mean that the behavior is the best possible choice (from an objective point of view). Nor does it mean that the behavior will have positive benefits for anyone else.
A classic example of what we might call the inverted positive intention is the behavior of the bullying manager who gains re-assurance from hitting on the people under him/her.

The solution to this kind of inappropriate behavior is to find a way of satisfying the intention by more acceptable means. A way, for example, of giving the manager re-assurance in such a way that he no longer needs to bully his employees to get it.
Every behavior is appropriate in some context
Commentary: Another way of putting this is: if we adopt a certain behavior it's because once upon a time it worked. The trouble is that we often go on sing a certain behavior even though it is manifestly no longer appropriate.
Having said that, if we accept this presupposition then we also realize that the most effective solution is to find a new, more appropriate behavior rather than holding a lengthy, pointless post mortem over the old behavior (which is more likely to re-enforce that old behavior rather than driving it out).
A map is not the territory it depicts; words are not the things they describe; symbols are not the things they represent
Commentary: This may well be the single most important pre-supposition in the whole of NLP (originally developed by Alfred Korzybski, the founder of General Semantics).
In very simple terms it means that we are always slightly separated from 'reality'. We draw maps, but the map is not actually the place it depicts and we need to be responsive to what is actually happening around us rather than complaining that things aren't as they "ought to be".
Similarly, we need to understand that words are only a kind of shorthand for the things they describe. To get an inkling of what this means in practice, just look at the words on a banknote. What exactly does "promise to pay the bearer" really mean?
What would an actual pound or dollar look like, as distinct from a coin or bank note which represents or symbolizes some financial value?
Your mind and your body are indivisible parts of the same system
Commentary: The notion that our body and our brain/mind are separate entities was a developed within the medical profession around the 1930s and 1940s. If there was something wrong with your body - from a sniffle to malignant cancer - the only solution was some kind of physical treatment.
Despite its position (literally) at the head of the central nervous system, in mainstream medicine it was received wisdom that, for all practical purposes, the influence of the brain/mind stopped at the neck.
Somewhat ironically, this came about at the very same time General Semantics was investigating the idea that mental activity had a direct correlation to physiological activity.
Only in the last couple of decades has practical, scientifically verifiable evidence come to light that shows beyond reasonable doubt that the immune system, for example, is integrally linked to brain activity so that, for example, mental stress can inhibit the performance of the immune system and thus lead to lowering of general bodily health.
If one person can do something, anyone else can learn to do it
Commentary: One of the key activities in NLP is the modeling of people who are recognized (by their peers) as being excellent in some field of activity in such a way as to identify what they do that gives them such remarkable results.

When these differences have been identified they can be communicated to other people who can then learn to perform with a similar level of skill and excellence.

Having said that, the person learning the skill must have the necessary aptitude, and be willing to carry out the necessary self-development. In other words, whilst it is easy enough to model the activity of a world class sprinter, for example, a person who has only one leg, or is severely overweight or who refuses to take any physical exercise, is unlikely to be able to translate the modeled information into a personal skill.
There is no such thing as failure, only feedback
Commentary: When something doesn't go as we planned we tend to see that as failure. Depending on the seriousness of the situation we might then get angry, irritated, sad, depressed, worried, guilty or whatever.
None of which serves any useful purpose.

But what happens if we see the situation as feedback rather than failure. A real life demonstration of how not to do something?
Instead of being wrong we've learned something. Instead of feeling bad we are free to form a new plan of action and try again.

Cozy, rosy-tinted 'positive thinking’? Not exactly.
Edison identified about a 1,000 materials which are not suitable as filaments for a light bulb before he found one which worked and worked well.
A number of best-selling books (i.e. million sellers plus film) were turned down by more than two dozen publishers before they were accepted for publication.
And always remember the poor talent scout at Decca records who rejected the Beatles as having no future in music!
Change makes Change
Commentary: It is a common saying that "the only person you can really change is yourself". NLP goes one step further and also acknowledges that changing your own behavior inevitably has an effect on the people around you. The underlying notion, derived from the field of cybernetics, is that when one element within a system changes, the whole system must change in whatever way is necessary to adapt to that change.
There is a fascinating little experiment which demonstrates the truth of this presupposition. Groups of three people were seated in an otherwise empty room in such a way that they were each more or less facing both of the other two people. Nobody spoke, no one moved around, gesticulated or otherwise sent overt non-verbal messages. And yet ...
In every trial, it took no more than two minutes max. For the person with the strongest feelings at the time, positive or negative, to engender the same emotion in the other two people.
Genuine Understanding only comes from Experience
Commentary: You can read all you like, and talk to as many other people as you like, and you can watch other people doing something on video, DVD or film - but you don't really understand something until you personally have done it.
You will probably have noticed that all NLP pre-suppositions have a positive perspective.
Most NLP books discuss some of the presuppositions.

5. What are the NLP "Rep" systems?

"Rep" (Representational) Systems - also known as Primary (or Preferred) Thinking Styles, are the main ways in which we handle input from the world around us:
Visual - in pictures, moving or still
Auditory - in sounds
Kinesthetic - in physical or emotional feelings
Gustatory - as tastes, and
Olfactory - in smells
A person's current PTS(s) are usually reflected in their eye movements, their choice of words, their breathing and even in their overall posture.
Intellectual is not, as at least one (non-NLP) psychologist has claimed, a PTS or rep system, though it does have a distinct set of linguistic patterns associated with it, such as:
"I understand"
"That's something to think about"
"That's a reasonable idea"
and so on.
Auditory Digital is also not one of the five rep systems.
Auditory Digital is also known, especially outside NLP circles, as "self talk", and although it may mainly, or even entirely, take place inside your head, it still comes under the heading of auditory.

6. What are submodalities?

For each of the Primary Thinking Styles (see Question 6) or "modalities" there are a number of defining characteristics, called submodalities.
In the case of the Visual PTS, for example, the submodalities include:
Color - is the picture in color or black and white?
Brightness - is the picture bright, dark or washed out?
Depth - is the picture in 2D or 3D?
Movement - is the picture static, like a photo, or fluid, like a film?
Focus - is the picture clear or blurred?
For the Auditory PTS the characteristics include:
Volume - how loud is the sound?
Mono or Stereo - Does the sound come from one place only, from both sides, or from all around?
Continuity - Does the sound come and go, or is it continuous?
Tempo - is the sound fast, medium or slow?
And so on.
Change just one characteristic of an important submodality can have a profound effect. For example, turning the tonality of a self-talk voice from deep and serious to high pitched and frivolous can make it far less powerful and limiting for the person hearing it, and may even result in the voice disappearing altogether.

7. Can NLP be used in business?

Most definitely.
As managers begin to realize that a company is nothing if not the people that work for it (but don't expect any over-night revolutions!) NLP is growing increasingly popular as the basis for various training courses on interpersonal skills, especially coaching (see FAQ #14).
Because of mixed reactions to NLP, especially over its perceived use for manipulation (see Question 10) NLP techniques are often included in courses on selling, negotiating, people management, etc., but without being named as such.