NLP – The Presuppositions of NLP and Their Uses

The presuppositions of NLP are a set of convenient beliefs that NLP practitioners choose to adopt. They are the core values or guiding philosophy of NLP, which, although controversial in parts, offer a sound set of principles to live by. An insight into these tenets, can help improve your understanding of both your own communication and your interactions with others. They are useful for people in all walks of life, both for personal and professional gain.

So, what is NLP?

Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP, has been around since the 1970’s when it was first discovered, if indeed that is the right term, during a study of successful therapists. John Grinder, who was a professor of linguistics and Richard Bandler, who was a mathematician, were both very interested in psychotherapy and began studying these successful therapists in the hope of finding useful insights for other therapists to use. Whilst the therapists they studied used vastly different methods and had very unique styles, Virginia Satir and Milton Erikson being two of them, they were all highly gifted at establishing trust with their patients at an unconscious level, at building and establishing rapport. Using their own fields of expertise, maths and language, Bandler and Grinder were able to break down what the therapists were doing into logical, language bound processes and NLP was born. Grinder described NLP as “An accelerated learning strategy for the detection and utilisation of patterns in the world” whilst Bandler said it was “An attitude and a methodology, which leave behind a trail of techniques”. The important thing was that in breaking it down into manageable chunks, they made it easy for others to learn. Since then, NLP has been developed further and examines thought processes, language patterns and human behaviour. It helps us to understand the connection between human behaviour and emotions, the mind, body and actions. In the most basic of terms, it helps us to improve the effectiveness and impact of our communication and to understand the behaviour of others more easily. Some people have described NLP as being like a mental map – a guide to how our brain works and what you can tell about someone from the words they use or their behaviour. In other words to understand how people, including you, think, feel and react. Let’s begin by looking at the title, ‘Neuro Linguistic Programming’ and what each element means.

Neuro – this relates to the brain and what happens in your mind. You experience the world through your 5 senses (taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell) and then, use a set of filters in your mind to turn that information into processes (conscious and unconscious). Your neurological system is activated by thought processes which affect your emotions, your behaviour and your physiology (body language, facial expressions and involuntary reactions like blushing for example).

Linguistic – obviously this relates to language, more specifically how you use it to make sense of the world and how you communicate your experience to others through language. Have you ever tried to describe something you don’t have a word for? It’s all about how we interpret what we perceive.

Programming – this is the key, as it relates to patterns of behaviour which you learn and repeat; how you encode and represent your experience mentally. By understanding how your programming works, how it’s encoded, you can learn how to change the parts which are not helpful to you. The clue is in the word ‘learn’. Anything you learn to do one way, you can easily learn to do differently, if you want to!

When we use NLP techniques, we adopt a set of what we call presuppositions. They are 14 convenient assumptions that we use as our start point; a set of frames we use to help us get the best out of our interactions with other people. In some instances they give the person we are talking to the benefit of the doubt and allow us to believe the best of them, despite what may seem like an obvious contradiction on the surface. This gives us the best possible chance of successful communication with that person, because we are in effect then starting with a clean slate. We are not putting up barriers, or projecting our own limiting beliefs onto them. In situations where we are seeking to help another, be that in coaching, therapy, training or business, it gives our interaction with them the best possible chance of being successful.

Adopting these presuppositions in life, can free you from unwanted negative emotions and constraints, allowing you a more positive frame of mind and offering you a wider choice of possibilities. To help remember the presuppositions, we use the mnemonic device RESPECT UR WORLD. Here is the full list.

R Respect for the other person’s model of the world

E Behaviour and change are to be evaluated in terms of context, and Ecology

S Resistance in a client is a Sign of a lack of rapport (There are no resistant clients, only inflexible communicators. Effective communicators accept and utilize all communication presented to them)

P People are not their behaviours. (Accept the person; change the behaviour)

E Everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have available (Behaviour is geared for adaptation, and present behaviour is the best choice available. Every behaviour is motivated by a positive intent)

C Calibrate on Behaviour: The most important information about a person is that person’s behaviour

T The map is not the Territory (The words we use are NOT the event or the item they represent)

U You (U) are in charge of your mind, and therefore your results (and I am also in charge of my mind and therefore my results)

R People have all the Resources they need to succeed and to achieve their desired outcomes (There are no unresourceful people, only unresourceful states)

W All procedures should increase Wholeness

O There is Only feedback! (There is no failure, only feedback)

R The meaning of communication is the Response you get

L The Law of Requisite Variety: (The system/person with the most flexibility of behaviour will control the system)

D All procedures should be Designed to increase choice.


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