NLP State Management in Business

Do your emotions drive you?
Or do you drive your emotions?

by Jonathan Altfeld

One of the most impressive people I had the pleasure to meet was a consulting project manager at HP (Hewlett Packard).  At the time I was a senior Artificial Intelligence / IT consultant working for an AI consulting firm.  He and I (along with some others from still other companies) were collaborating on a proposal for a huge AI project being considered at a major credit bureau, a few years before I began doing NLP training in 1997.

During the 2 month proposal project, we encountered and brainstormed (an apt word) our way through multiple logistical problems, technical issues, and political storms (due to having so many different 3rd party companies involved in the proposal).  It was a mess – that we somehow eventually navigated from chaos into brilliant order.

Yet through it all, that HP project manager kept his cool.  Things could erupt in emotional turmoil, yet he never lost his cool. When he spoke, calmly, everyone listened.  He wasn't monotonous, but he was measured.  His words were well chosen, on target, and respectful of every view in the room. Everyone in turn respected him. And when he wasn't in the room, people repeatedly commented on how professional he was. We were all glad he was there.

He didn't let anything break his calm, cool demeanor.  He became a natural leader even though we were all roughly equal parties to the proposal.  No matter what was thrown at him, he remained eminently resourceful.  That, to me, to this day, makes up part of my ideal model for state management, and pre-dates my experiences in NLP. That's saying a lot, because I have even higher expectations for what constitutes great state management, today.

NLP State Management in Business
isn't limited to staying calm, though!

Sometimes a circumstance calls for finding and maintaining a certain level of passion for a task that would otherwise be boring. That's another form of state management.

Sometimes a manager irritates an employee (or vice-versa). NLP State Management in this case might mean remembering a circumstance when you appreciated them the most so far, thus allowing you to let the other person indulge their personality glitch without it damaging your relationship with them. Be the bigger person if you can (even better, once they're calm, find good ways to enable them to be an equally bigger person).

Sometimes even if you're not feeling 100% confident, you may need to go on an interview, where you'll need to find your confidence and maintain it. NLP State Management helps enormously here. Science backs you here, as well – Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy studied “Power Postures” and found that if you spend 2 minutes in a bathroom stall just before your interview, standing in a powerful victory posture, you WILL do better in the interview.  Act as if you feel confident, and you start feeling more confident.  True!

What Amy Cuddy did NOT yet study, however, is  how quickly a posture-induced state diminishes back to lower confidence, inside the interview itself, without NLP emotional state management skills.  And that is where NLP helps us excel measurably further than just relying on a 2-minute bathroom-stall victory posture.  It's not just about initiating a great state – it's about maintaining it for as long as you need it.  If you can't maintain confidence on your own even in low-confidence circumstances, for more than a few minutes, I assure you, this is something that a great 10+ day NLP Practitioner course WILL enable you to do, at will. Also, pair this skill with NLP Anchoring, and you'd never need to repeat the two minute victory posture in a stall again.

Sometimes you just don't like a client or vendor, but for whatever reason you continue to do business with them. Perhaps it's because they have the best product, or the best price, or they pay the most, or give you the most business, or the most referrals. In such cases, you may want to check in with your values, decide if maintaining the relationship is a price you're willing to pay, and if it is – then do what it takes to convince yourself you like them – for just the duration of time you need to spend with them.

Fortunately, that doesn't happen to me, except when I occasionally turn down a coaching client before working with them. In my coaching and training, I get to work with people who are ready to make their lives better and deeply value any progress they make, and any insights and techniques that get them closer to what they want. I have the privilege of working with fabulous high-quality people with great personalities, interesting backgrounds, unique skills, and in almost every case, a desire to live more congruently, manage change, or handle an issue. And when I help them do so, we both get to radiate deep gratitude.  It's very rewarding to inspire confidence in the likelihood of change, and to see it happen to good people!

Developing Flexibility, and Radiating Great States

Step One in emotional state management is that you'll want to be able to feel, and radiate great emotional states. I'm referring to states like credibility, openness, warmth, confidence, passion, curiosity, connectedness, and more. You'll want to use these (and others) as needed, developing the flexibility to jump into the most optimal emotional responses for any given situation. This is foundational NLP material – being able to learn to feel these states at will, trigger them in the perfect situations, and maintain them as needed.  One of the most common NLP exercises to develop Step One, is called "the Circle of Excellence."

Step Two in emotional state management is learning to redirect certain emotions (that are often but not always unresourceful), into more optimal emotional responses. Like redirecting “annoyance” into “calm, cool and collected.” Or from “worried” into “focused and passionate.” Or from “fear” into “bring it on!” Or any number of other emotional transitions that would be experienced by others as far more preferable.  Some of the more common NLP Techniques for developing Step Two, include "Swish", "Reframing", "Kinesthetic Squash", Emotional State Chaining (something I train in my "Creating the Automatic Yes" audio program), and more.

Step Three in emotional state management is learning how to maintain a state even with (or in spite of) the onslaught of efforts by others to pollute it.  After all, what good are steps One and Two if the slightest provocation by circumstances or other people derails your good intentions and throws you off your game?  I include this critical step in my courses.  Few do.  I can, because a 10 day certification course allows us the proper time to engage in these critical exercises.   There are some fascinating ways to develop this skill.

Remember that when feeling all of these states, these emotions give us access to (or cause) certain behaviors that might never be available to us in other states. Many behaviors are contextual to our emotional states. We would never yell at someone angrily when we're feeling calm, or generous, or nurturing. We would never congruently and gently smile widely at someone when we were feeling livid, or depressed. We would never give an employee a good review or a big raise or an ex employee a great referral, if we were feeling deep disappointment. We would never hire a new vendor if we felt deep distrust (and other options were available). We wouldn't show up late every day for work when we truly love what we do (unless you intentionally value and have permission for flexible hours!).

Whole areas of behavior can become possible or impossible depending on our emotions.

An Example of State-Based Business Coaching

I worked with a client (a professional insurance company executive) who was worried about his voice.  He said he wanted voice coaching to make his voice more compelling and influential.

Often when a client tells me a desired outcome, they're describing for me just one of the potential ways of solving their issue -- they're telling me just one means (to an implied end), but they may not be telling me the actual desired end.  So I like to investigate and unpack their outcome.  I asked him, "So you want to have a more compelling and influential voice.  What would that enable?"

He said "I'd be taken more seriously."  

So of course, I took him seriously, and asked for more information.  I asked, "Why don't people take you seriously enough, currently?"  (Note:  I could either ask more about being taken seriously, i.e. the solution state, which is one valuable direction.  By asking what I did, I was asking about the problem state, which helped me to build a map of what was actually not going well.)

He replied, "Well, sometimes, when I'm confident, my voice is great, and people take me seriously.  When I'm not confident, my voice gets all tinny and sounds whiny, and no one takes me seriously.  So I need voice coaching."  

If you, like me, were a voice coach AND an NLP Trainer, what you would be hearing in his words are the following:  Emotions are the cause.  The voice is the effect.  The effect causes a result.  He was assuming that because he believes he couldn't change his emotions, and he couldn't change the responses he was getting to a whiny voice, that he had to do voice coaching.

As a voice coach, I'm all for voice coaching!  Yet, my client had a nice voice when he sounded confident.  (It was his confidence that people enjoyed listening to, and charismatic personality that brought people closer).

I knew from experience it would be a difficult if not impossible battle to train him to sound good when feeling low confidence.  So instead, knowing that it's easier to train state-management (which for him was a short-cut to sounding great), I recommended some coaching that would help him manage his emotions more effectively.  And we did just that.  By enabling him to manage his emotions better, he learned to short-circuit the less-confident state, and the whiny, tinny voice, wouldn't be heard from again.

Remember, emotions drive the potential behaviors we can engage in.  Resourceful emotions lead to resourceful behavior.  Unresourceful emotions lead to unresourceful behavior.  This has both positive and negative implications, but all of the implications tell us...

More state management is better than less state management.

After all, you might not want to bark at a customer out of anger from an inappropriate accusation on their part, when you could instead calmly inform them of the facts, tell them you don't appreciate the insult, share with them something generous you're willing to do to make them feel better, and give them a way to save face instead of responding in kind.

On the other hand, if a customer repeatedly demeans people, you might not want to operate out of fear, because it may be that they would only respect or hear someone communicating similarly. This does happen on occasion, that meeting someone where they're at, emotionally, and then dialing it down to feeling calm again, can be brilliantly effective.

All of this speaks to behavioral and emotional state flexibility -- which is ever so valuable and useful!  So I hope you've learned some great ideas above.  Take them into your life and play with them!

Want to go further with NLP State Management in Business?

Great NLP training should provide this (and if it doesn't – it flat-out isn't great NLP training). It definitely takes time and active practicing, ideally with trainer observation and feedback, to develop the requisite reflexive emotional awareness, so this is yet another reason for avoiding short NLP certification courses.

Alternatively, if you took a short certification course already, and you'd like to acquire the depth of skills described above, I'm happy to invite you to take an NLP Business Practitioner course with me.  It won't be "repeating the course" because I assure you, my course won't look, sound or feel anything like a 5 or 7-day Practitioner course.  I focus on enabling students to acquire integrated skills, not book knowledge, and it will be more experiential and applied; less theoretical and academic.


author: Jonathan Altfeld