Developing NLP Calibration Skills - Critical NLP Skill! NLP Article.

NLP "Calibration?" What the heck is that?

      Simply put -- calibrating is another word for measuring. In the context of learning NLP -- how well you "calibrate" to another person, and their state of mind, and what's going on inside their minds -- determines to a significant degree how effective your communication will be with them.

      The quality of your communication, both in terms of your enjoyment and the results of your communication, is dependent at least to some degree on your ability to calibrate to another person's emotional states, behavioral preferences, and patterns.

      Calibration is highly useful. Snap judgments about what specific behaviors "mean" rarely are. In NLP terms, people often make quick generalizations with insufficient information. The fact is, almost no one behaves the same in multiple contexts. So calibration is great for determining someone's present state of mind, but it shouldn't be used to figure out how another person behaves -- all the time.

      Calibration is simply about noticing what's going on with other people.

      So, then, how do we develop these skills? How do we improve our ability to notice things? It's true that some of the best ways to do this are taught in seminars. But I think you would benefit by having some good ideas as to what you can do on your own, at least, to improve your general calibration skills.

      To increase your calibration skills & your results, you must INITIALLY ALWAYS TEST your results with objective data. Without testing, there is no reliable increase in skill, and all your efforts in improving your calibration skills will be little more than a waste of time. There are few areas in NLP where external objective data is more important than it is in measuring the results of your developing calibration skills. Can't point this out enough. If you're presuming your results without backing that up with data, then your results are no better than guesswork. Only after we accept that and get used to seeking empirical data in measuring our calibration results -- do we improve. That's one of the reasons Study Groups are so important!

      Some NLP enthusiasts only learn new language and behavior, but never learn how to more effectively read people with Calibration or by Calibrating. Gathering more precise information on another person's state and mindset can really help amplify your results dramatically.

Visual Calibration skills you can develop on your own:

  1. Turn on a news show with the usual Talking Heads. Turn the sound down. Practice reading lips. You already have all the skills built into your brain to learn how to do this. And in about 20-30 minutes of this, you can go from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence with a surprising amount of what you "see/hear." Do this for 20 minutes 10 times over the course of a month, and your accuracy will reach very respectable levels. And you'd be amazed what you can learn about a person by reading lips across a loud bar or restaurant. :) It helps to do this with videotape, rather than with live broadcast, so that you can go back & test your lip-reading results.
  2. Watch another news show where they pit two people against each other in a debate. Turn the sound down. Calibrate each participant's states. Determine the MOMENT that the interview turns (this is a major outcome of network news shows -- to have the interview twist back on one or more of the guest speakers). Then determine who the winner of the debate is non-verbally. See how early you can detect this, and whether or not you were right, by or at the end.

      Most women, by the way, think men are blind to body-language. They've simply had more time & conditioning to learn about nonverbal communication than most men have. If you men on this list can learn to detect subtle signs in nonverbal behavior, women will be all the more appreciative of your attention. :)

Basic Calibration Skills you can practice on your own

  1. Find OLD video footage of interrogations (like the Clinton grand jury videos). Keep audio playing while you watch. Calibrate with truthful yes/no questions that are asked for background information. Then test whether or not you can determine lies from truth. Using OLD videos is better because you may presently know when they were lying. Clinton's lies in the grand jury were obvious -- you practically only needed to calibrate how he handled his can of coke.
  2. Go to a mirror but close your eyes. Smile. Visualize how wide your smile is based on how it feels. Open your eyes. Most of us will be surprised to see that we aren't smiling as widely as we think we are. When I first did this, I truly thought that when I was smiling, that I was smiling more widely than I was. I was amazed to notice that what I thought was an obvious smile could easily have been mistaken as an almost bland expression. Ouch! So learn to calibrate HOW you want to be perceived, and make sure your expressions come out looking the way you want them to! Well, if you can't calibrate yourself, how can you calibrate others? So, calibrate what the feelings look like with your various smiles, then repeat. Then do this again with a wide variety of different facial expressions, and a wide variety of states. Learn *exactly* how you look when you make certain expressions, and how animated or not your expressions are when you make specific moves with your facial muscles.
  3. Learn to juggle (enough to complete a few cycles, anyway). Most of you only rely on being able to notice ONE thing at a time. Meanwhile so much of your eyes and your brain are idle. You can actually track a LOT more information with your eyes and your brain than you presently probably give yourself credit for. Juggling is one of those GREAT metaphorical skill sets that teaches you how to rely on your unconscious abilities to do more than just one thing at a time. You will find the skills developed while learning juggling will show up in a myriad of other situations when you didn't know you'd need them. :)
  4. Learn to juggle blind. (with blindfold). These are the kinds of skills that will turn you into an elegance machine. People who move like big graceful cats get noticed. When you know how to move your hands, arms, & body with an economy of motion and elegance and precision, you WILL attract more people more often.

      It's useful to learn how to observe a LOT of nonverbal behaviors in people. Here are just a few of the many signals you might wish to learn to notice on a more regular basis. To learn how to do this without a lot of effort, I generally suggest taking this list, and while you're watching television, go through the list and give each listed item 5 minutes of tracking time. In other words, while you're watching TV, also watch for blinking rates/patterns in the shows you're watching, for 5 minutes, then track 5 minutes of head positions, etc. By themselves, NONE of these individual behaviors has any importance. The end-result we want, however, is eventually to be able to notice patterns of these signals, while we flirt, while we communicate, etc. And becoming good at noticing many different things is extraordinarily useful.

  • Blink rate/pattern
  • Head position tilt/lean/changes
  • Breathing rate/pattern/shifts
  • heart rate (can be seen at the base of most people's necks)
  • facial circulation patterns (this one's weird, but useful)
  • pupil dilation/contraction
  • smiling/frowning
  • nostril dilation
  • upper lip movement
  • lip biting
  • eyebrow movement/scrunching/lifting
  • squinting
  • fingertips on face or lips
  • hands facing up
  • body lean...
  • tension in upper body
  • lower lip swelling with blood
  • shoulders raise quickly & unconsciously
  • blinking when answering
  • audio tonal changes during answer
  • time for processing answers
  • .... and the list goes on & on...

Avoiding Attaching "Meanings" to any of these signals.

      Remember that few if any of the above signals "mean" anything in & of themselves. Body Language is not about learning to attach some arbitrary meaning to each of the above. That's hokey. The real gold is in AVOIDING assigning our own meanings to what these signals mean to someone else, and to allow our own calibration skills to determine what each particular set of these & other signals means to someone else.

      By letting our subjects teach us what each "set" of signals means, we avoid inappropriate mind-reading, and we learn how to communicate MOST effectively with each individual.

      The typical example is in watching people who like to cross their arms, and making the mistake that that behavior MUST mean that they're closed to new ideas. Hokey. They might be very open minded, and just be most comfortable in that posture. So, with lots of calibration, we find out what each signal or set of signals means to each unique person. And then we can much more effectively read & understand another person's behavior.

Want to get our take on Calibration Skills?

      Calibration skills are best learned in person, with a trainer showing you, demonstrating, and enabling you to have experiences that help you refine your skills continually.  Learning from home is a challenge by comparison, but if you have a need to practice at home, we do have an MP3-set audio program available on the subject.  If you choose to buy and listen to this 68-minute MP3-set recording, you'll get a sense of the kind of exercise drills we create for students, that enable improved calibration skills.  You'll still need to practice these exercises with friends in order to reap the benefits (just listening to the MP3s, while fascinating, won't transfer any magic wands!).


Author: Jonathan Altfeld

Published: July 3 2002

[ Back to Top ] [ Back to Articles Index ]