Don’t be put off by the creepy sci-fi concept of programming your brain – neuro linguistic programming (NLP) can be a very valuable tool for global businesses.
Whilst NLP encompasses a broad discipline of knowledge, the term essentially refers to how our mind and body communicate with each other (the ‘neuro’ part of the title), and how we use both verbal and non-verbal communication (‘linguistic’). The ‘programming’ part of the title describes how people conduct activities either automatically or mindfully, and the discipline aims to improve our understanding and performance across every aspect of our lives.
The discipline can offer significant benefits for your personal development, and that of your organisation. NLP encompasses communication, personal development and elements of psychotherapy and looks especially at how the language we use interrelates with our mind and behaviour. As a practical therapy, NLP aims to help people understand themselves better and to communicate with others in a more successful way.
NLP is essentially a tool for more effective functioning, as the approach aims to enhance our understanding of ourselves and the way we function. It’s been described as a ‘user manual’ for our minds. As an example, NLP teaches people to watch a person’s eyes when they are speaking to them. If their eyes are moving this is likely to indicate that they are processing information, and they will not be able to listen whilst you carry on speaking. NLP advises that you do not continue to speak whilst the other person is thinking, to improve your communication effectiveness with them and ensure they do not miss vital information.
Proponents of NLP in a business context tend to identify real organisational advantages to NLP, and often refer to the benefits it delivers to them in terms of conflict resolution, more successful communication, and on influencing and motivating others – with huge benefits for organisational performance. People who have been through work-oriented NLP training tend to report that it has benefitted them in areas such as coaching or mentoring colleagues, strengthened their teams and improved their ability to negotiate with and motivate others.
One of NLP’s key theories is that people think and express themselves in different ways, and that the key to effective communication is to understand the ways they do this. NLP identifies that some people tend to think and express themselves visually, and that these types of people may benefit from diagrams when trying to understand a concept. They may reveal themselves as visually-orientated by using speech such as ‘I see what you mean’. It’s also the case that they may tend to be neat in their appearance and tidy in their habits.
But there are also auditory and kinaesthetic individuals who may not share these characteristics. Auditory people may be inclined to use terms such as ‘I hear what you are saying’ in speech and also to process ideas in terms of conversations with themselves. They may tell as story using phrases such as ‘so I said to myself…’. Kinaesthetic types tend to start from an emotional or sensory perspective, and recall memories from a starting point of how they felt physically or emotionally at that time. Their language may use words that portray actions.
NLP suggests that identifying whether a person is more of a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic type can make it easier to communicate with them effectively. This may include using the kind of language they would use themselves, or describing concepts in a useful way. This may include using visual aids to communicate with a visual person.
NLP also describes further types of mindset that individuals fit into, such as whether they are a cool and emotionless ‘thinker’ or a more emotive ‘feeler’. NLP training helps people to identify the different types and how best to deal with them.
Selling using NLP
Good communication is essential to making sales, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that a communication-focused technique such as NLP has been explored in terms of the benefits it may yield to the sales team.
Whilst there are intensive courses that sales-orientated professionals can put themselves through to really master the techniques, some of the lessons NLP offers to sellers are pretty sensible. These include listening to your clients to understand what language they use.
At a basic level, it’s pretty obvious why. If someone walked into a car showroom asking questions about safety and fuel consumption, a salesman shouldn’t need to study NLP in depth to understand that the customer wouldn’t be receptive to them selling a vehicle in terms of how exciting a ride it could offer.
But NLP training would take things a little deeper. Instead of merely understanding the customer’s values (safety, in this case), NLP would help the sales person to use the kind of language that the customer may be most receptive to. The salesperson should listen out to how the customer talks and get an indication of what kind of individual they are.
Mirroring their language approach would help the salesperson effectively communicate with them. So if they got the impression that their sales target was visually orientated, the salesperson might consider using language such as ‘I’ll show you what I mean’ and supporting their sales pitch with visual aids. But a kinaesthic target may benefit from getting a feel for something, so they may be more receptive to a test drive or handling samples of the different seat leather options.
Communicating more widely
So far the approaches to communication we’ve described above suggest that all interactions are one to one, between an NLP trained person and one other individual. Obviously this isn’t always the case. Some grounding in NLP can help people communicate with a broad mix of people in a group situation.
For example, NLP helps people to understand that they themselves might be a visually-orientated person. If asked to address an audience, a visual person may be instinctively inclined to create a lot of visual materials such as diagrams and images to communicate their ideas in a way they themselves would favour.
However, self-awareness gained through NLP may help them understand that some of their audience may benefit from other types of communication. This might include describing the significant points in an image or diagram in an emotional way or describing significant concepts it raises, to enable auditory people and those who tend to think in emotional terms to process ideas.
It’s worth saying that NLP has its detractors, some of whom have even described NLP as a cult. Some critics the foundations of NLP ideas such as whether a person’s words and eye movements really indicate the way they think. It’s also true that some NLP training is of lower quality than others, although this is true of any type of training.
What is interesting about NLP is that it refers to how the brain and nervous system function in relation to communication so is an effective tool across a wide range of individuals and cultures. So an understanding of NLP along with an idea of a person’s cultural background can be very effective in facilitating communication.