Don't think about kangaroos

Kangaroo The audience at a recent YPG event were asked 'not think about a kangaroo'. The result: everyone thought about a kangaroo. This was just one of many fascinating insights into the way the human mind works conveyed by two certified practitioners of neuro linguistic programming (NLP). Portia Tung reports.

The increasing emphasis on effective communication and thinking skills in the IT industry was reflected in the exceptional turnout of over 60 IT professionals at the first YPG SkillCentre event of 2007 in an introduction to neuro linguistic programming (NLP).

Both NLP certified practitioners, Suzanne Hazleton, a senior IT specialist at IBM and her colleague, Jo Babic, who specialises in technical resolution of critical situations, delivered a practical session which stimulated much discussion at the BCS London office held on April 10, 2007.

The session began with a brief history of NLP. Suzanne Hazleton described neuro linguistic programming (NLP) as the study of 'what works'. It began in 1972 with two researchers in the US (John Grindler and Richard Bandler) posing the question: how do some people do what they do excellently? Grindler and Bandler proceeded to study experts in therapy, and expanded their research into areas including communication, influencing and learning.

NLP is a way of developing self-awareness which enables an individual to better understand their own thinking and actions. Being self-aware is a skill that can be extended to an awareness of others and, consequently, lead to an individual's better understanding of others. This, in turn, can lead to more effective relationship management between people through evidence-based empathy.

NLP event, YPG Suzanne emphasised that, while any system based on how the mind works may bring many benefits, as with any sophisticated thinking tool, NLP should be used with caution. It should be used primarily as a way of enabling an individual to develop themselves, effecting change based their own thinking and choice of actions.

The mental map of NLP

NLP compares an individual to an iceberg, made up of two strata. On the visible surface are language, tone and posture, while below the surface are feelings, thinking, beliefs and values. Actions and reactions are the physical manifestations of what lies beneath.

In order to develop a better understanding of our actions and reactions, Suzanne emphasised the need to first acknowledge the fact that people instinctively seek to affirm their own mental model of how the world works. Constantly.

Basic premises of NLP

Firstly, NLP is founded on the belief that we each have all the resources we need. Secondly, it assumes that each of us has a unique mental map of the world which represents our understanding of how things work, based on our individual and observed experiences.

However, our map is not the territory. Thirdly, NLP considers the meaning of any communication as the effect it has rather than the intent in which it was transmitted. Finally, NLP states that there is no failure, only feedback.

At this point in the presentation, the audience was given the opportunity to respond to these premises which led to a healthy debate as to their foundation and validity.

Suzanne responded to the challenges from the audience by reminding them that NLP is developed 'experientially'. She then encouraged everyone to use each premise as a departure point for action or to try something else altogether.

NLP in action

One NLP technique is to acknowledge that problems cannot be solved by the same thinking that created them. It follows then that, to effect change, you need to do things differently, however small the change. This behaviour is known as 'inter-reaction'.

Another NLP technique is 'not thinking'. Suzanne asked the audience to 'not think about a kangaroo'. The result: everyone thought about a kangaroo. Suzanne described the audience's mental reaction as 'seepage through the subconscious'.

The point: the mind always has to process a message in its entirety; consequently, you end up doing what you tell yourself to avoid doing. The solution: turn 'not' statements into positive ones. For instance, instead of saying to yourself, 'don't forget to buy milk', flip it around so it becomes 'remember to buy milk'.

The third NLP technique covered in the presentation was 'outcome thinking'. This technique provides a structured approach to help you achieve what you want to achieve. Firstly, consider what it is you really want to be, do or have. Secondly, visualise what life would be like when you attained your goal. Then consider the goal from four perspectives:

  1. what would happen if you achieved X;
  2. what would happen if you didn't achieve X;
  3. what wouldn't happen if you achieved X;
  4. what wouldn’t happen if you didn't achieve X.

Completing the feedback loop

Many attendees considered the event an interesting introduction to NLP. Most importantly, the presentation was an effective catalyst for striking up conversations during the second networking part of the event.

The evening concluded with IT professionals from a myriad of backgrounds discussing, disputing and elaborating over their new insights into NLP over a well-stocked buffet and refreshments.

Forthcoming YPG events

Places at YPG events are limited and fill up quickly, so sign up for upcoming events as soon as possible, by going to: http://www.ypg.bcs.org/events/.

Recommended reading

Understanding Neuro Linguistic Programming in a week (Mo Shapiro)
NLP for Dummies (Romilla Ready)
NLP at Work (Sue Knight)

August 2007

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