What is NLP? Here's how to explain NLP to others. NLP Article.

By Jonathan Altfeld

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Every once in a while I review some of the posts I've made to various mailing lists, and upon re-reading them I decide they're good enough for a wider audience.

Frequently I'm asked the most basic NLP question, and not only from people completely new to NLP, but also from practitioners and beyond.

What is NLP?

When I'm asked this question from people who've had some NLP training and experience, it's not as if they don't know or have a general sense of what NLP is for them, it's simply that they frequently experience a challenge when attempting to explain NLP to the uninitiated.

I well understand the challenge. I have faced it myself, and not always successfully. So if this article helps any of you to more succinctly share some of what interests you with others, in a way that doesn't send them running(!), then I'll be pleased and the article will have done its job. So feel free to share my comments with anyone who 'doesn't quite get' your interest in NLP. It might help shed some light for others on your reasons for your pursuit of NLP knowledge & skill.

Try sending this to one of your skeptical friends:

What is NLP? I believe NLP is one of those topics where, the more we learn, the more we learn there is to learn. It's kind of a bottomless subject, in a way.

So at all times, if you end up deciding you want to learn some NLP, always keep your desired outcomes in mind first -- let those be your guide as to how much of NLP you learn and how much you discard or ignore, and/or what courses or materials to explore and what to leave aside. Nobody needs to learn everything in NLP, and most people just need to make judicious choices from the wealth of trainers & providers out there from whom to learn. Always use your own desired outcomes as excellent criteria. Then get multiple opinions on how best to fulfill those criteria. Everyone's biased, so get lots of opinions.

NLP at it's core is a method for replicating excellence. Excellence in results, and in methodology, and in human cognition. Needless to say, if NLP is what many proponents (including me) say is a better method for learning other things faster, than whatever other methods are out there... then... it's easy to say "Everything is NLP." Which is both true, and false.

Example -- if you were a world-class billiards player, I could use NLP to model what you do, how you do it, and replicate your results significantly more quickly than how long it took you to achieve your level of greatness. That is, IF I had the time available to devote to this, and IF I had unfettered access to watching you perform, interviewing you in unique ways, and then, you also helped with my refinement process (feedback loop)... then I could conceivably take a year or maybe even less to reach what took you a decade to reach. (Yes, seriously). And afterwards, I might even be better skilled than you would be, at teaching your level of excellence, once I'd replicated your results. I could potentially then package observations about your skills (& optimizations to your logic) that you neither could nor would have ever concluded on your own, and then my version of your skill, would arguably then have become, an NLP-based skill.

Now, that said... over time, this modeling process has produced results that -- while they're more the "results" of NLP -- have been included in the NLP skill set. They are often mistaken as NLP when they may have originally just been the results of using NLP.

Most would agree these various NLP skills include:

  • Improved persuasiveness.
  • The ability to rapidly comfort people and make them think they know you (and that you know them) -- for the right reasons
  • The ability to induce trance and evoke imagination, and hit emotional hot buttons more easily.
  • The ability to understand more about how people tick & why.
  • The ability to influence people using their own values and decision strategies.
  • ...and much much more.

I'm leaving out VAST areas of what NLP encompasses, but mentioned just a few bullet points as to why many of you have probably taken at least some NLP training, somewhere. This is intentionally shown as an incomplete list of skills/benefits.

As for the letters, NLP, that's Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Which is about using language more effectively to influence/'program' (or redirect) our own or other minds.

And by programming, we don't mean "mind control," per se, more like, mind influence for self-improvement (& other purposes, like business or social influence, etc).

NLP originated in the early 1970's from developing that basic "cognitive modeling" process, and using it to model the skills of several fast-change wizards from the fields of linguistics, gestalt psychology, & hypnotherapy, etc. So the first efforts of NLP were aimed at rapid therapeutic change. But since the early days (early 70's) NLP has rapidly expanded into other domains of expertise as well.

Also, most would agree that NLP is best done "in person," with a heightened awareness of the specific effects certain verbal techniques will generate, not to mention how certain voice qualities become of paramount importance, let alone how various body language skills can amplify (& speed up) the results we get in communication. Thus NLP is best learned in person from one or more quality trainers (or mentor). Learning what could be described as a "full body sport" from a book is... unrealistic. Books are great supplements to live training, but not good substitutes.

Skeptics or cynics will describe my saying that -- is a financial tactic from a biased source just to get more students in the door. But anyone who's had very high quality NLP training can identify book learners from well trained NLPers in a matter of seconds, if not from the results they can't even identify they're causing, then from observing & listening to their unskilled language or behavior.

What is NLP? Obviously, for each of us, it's what we make of it.

I hope the above helps. It is hard to encompass NLP 'in a nutshell', for reasons I've hopefully explained above.


- Jonathan Altfeld -- http://www.altfeld.com/mastery/index.html