As NLP becomes the latest buzzword in business
jargon I spoke to the man who could tell me what it's all about. One
of the countries most sought after consultants, coaches and trainers
ago Michael Breen and Paul McKenna met at a dinner party. Michael
had his own company doing consultancy and training. Paul was working
as a DJ and making a name for himself as a Stage Hypnotist. "We had
a really great conversation," Michael recalls and he decided to
bring Paul in on some of the motivational and sales training he did
with his corporate clients. Paul was really interested in NLP but he
told Michael he'd never met anybody involved with it "who was close
Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a unique approach to the study of
human behaviour. Rather than try to explain why we are the way we
are, it's focus is on how exceptional results are created
individuals in any field of human endeavour. Then taking these
principles and creating something new. NLP is based on an assumption
that an individuals subjective experience has a structure and that a
practical description can be made of it that allows it to be taught
through the collaboration of two men in California in the early
1970's. Richard Bandler was studying mathematics and computer
programming at the University of Santa Cruz where John Grinder was a
Linguistics Professor. They first met one night while sabotaging
parking meters using spray paint as protest against the introduction
of parking charges on the campus.
Grinder attended the evening class Richard was teaching on
Experimental Hypnosis he watched Richard work with people and
realised that he must be doing something systematic. He impressed
with what Richard was doing and did a deal with him - Richard would
teach John what to do, and John would create a linguistic model of
it. With Richard's background in mathematics this appealed to
Bandler and Grinder started working together they began by studying
some excellent communicators that all happened to be therapists.
These therapists were able get exceptional results and it seemed
like they possessed magical qualities. Rather than concern
themselves with the theory, Bandler and Grinder modelled the
behaviour of these therapists until they could duplicate their
results. These therapists were able to meet people at their "map of
their world" in such a way to influence it and produce lasting
change. Bandler and Grinder made a practical description of the
therapists' "mental maps" and behaviours that could be taught to
The first book they
wrote on the patterns of language used by these outstanding
communicators was entitled "The Structure of Magic" - with a
wizard on the cover and references to sorcery many bookstores
still have difficulty knowing in which section it
group people to take an interest in NLP were therapists and the
original training programme was designed for them. After some
discussion Bandler and Grinder decided on the name 'Practitioner'
for the training, and as more material was developed this became
known as 'Master Practitioner.' Certificates were issued to indicate
that someone had actually attended a course of training. "These were
not intended to represent any hierarchical status - like priests and
bishops, as much as people might like to think. says Michael,
adding, "Once you try to make NLP into an academic subject it is no
longer living NLP."
not a science or theory and we are not looking for 'the Truth.' We
want useful rules of thumb about thinking and doing that get people
to do the things they say they want to do and more."
"rules of thumb" are patterned observations the effect someone's
communication has on themselves and others. By making use of these
patterns you will have better choices around how you communicate
with them. Having a structural perspective to communication allows
you to be more tolerant and less reactive to patterns of behaviour
in others. You can be less judgmental and you don't get caught up in
the content so often. When you have an awareness of how you are
communicating to yourself and how that influences your behaviour you
can use your thinking to create specific results and become more of
who you are.
people still associate NLP purely with therapy, but it is the study
of the human excellence whatever the field. "It is the field about
other fields," explains Michael.
are a variety of popular books and people teaching. At first glance
the newcomer is confronted with a whole new vocabulary of Meta
Programs, Strategies, Well-formed Outcomes, Submodalities etc. It
would seem that what had started out as the study of excellent
communication had lost its way.
terminology is there as a kind of short-hand and an aid to
teaching," Michael clarified. "We always put people through the
experience before we give a name to it. Otherwise they start talking
to other people using meaningless jargon and it sounds like a
therapy session. The distinctions we make are so we can organise and
keep track of our own thinking. As soon as you take the labels that
are in your head and stick them on someone else you stop noticing
what is going on in front of you."
ability to observe is at the heart of how NLP was created. By
knowing what you want, what you hope to see or hear you can keep
your attention on what direction you're heading in and modify your
behaviour until you get there. It also makes a number of assumptions
about communication and behaviour that generate an attitude of
curiosity, flexibility and tenacity in pursuing those results.
and Grinder have since gone their separate way and Richard Bandler
continues today to develop NLP and teach it to 1000's of people each
year. As a methodology it is constantly evolving and each training
session he presents is different as he finds more elegant and
efficient ways to teach the material. To such an extent that what
was regarded as 'state of the art' a few years ago has been
discarded for superior methods, and it would seem that the only
consistent definition of NLP is simply "what Richard Bandler
Paul and Michael have worked very closely with Richard Bandler.
Together the three of them put on public seminars throughout the
year in London giving people the opportunity to experience NLP as it
was originally intended. Paul McKenna is now famous around the world
for his TV shows and anyone who has heard of NLP will have heard of
Richard Bandler. Michael, however, is less often in the public eye.
His communicating style is so elegant and engaging is he often
referred to as "the normal one" - a description that always amuses
corporate environment people do not care about NLP itself," Michael
says, "They do care about results." So, rather than trying to force
a company to fit some generalised model he uses the principles of
NLP to think through situations, analyse them and to create
interventions that will produce the desired result, "I want tools
that I can use," he says.
thing Michael did when he had completed his earlier training was to
ask himself what he was going to need in order to make his life
better. Using his contacts in the business world he sought out the
very best he could find in consultancy, training, marketing,
advertising, and using his modelling skills identified patterns of
behaviour to enhance his own skills and turned those into something
he could pass on to others.
Michael let some of his business clients know that he was interested
in using NLP with them. When he asked them if they would be willing
to incorporate into their programmes, a number of them dismissed it
as "that New Age thing." He was surprised at the response but freely
admits his first reaction when someone suggested he check out NLP
wasn't much different. He had picked up a copy of The Structure of
Magic, taken one look at the cover and thought "Oh no, it'll be
crystals next." Now, however, he started to compare what he had
learned with what other people were doing with NLP, and says, "I
didn't really recognise what they were doing as necessary, essential
or as representative of NLP. These people had been treating NLP as
if it were 'a reality' rather than simply a way of talking about
Michael got in touch with Richard Bandler in 1993 and discovered
that they had some mutual interests. They were all concerned about
what was happening with NLP and the standards that some
organisations demonstrated. Michael himself realised that he had had
a certain amount of indoctrination with his earlier training and a
lot of unlearning to do. "Basically I discovered that I'd gone up
the mountain the hard way," he says. In the way that NLP had
developed, for a long period of time, people basically copied what
Bandler and Grinder did - and in merely duplicating it, dropped bits
off, without knowing what they were for. "What happened of course is
that those who wanted to look like experts and dictate standards
took NLP and tried to turn them into a domain that they could control."
Bandler, McKenna and Breen designed the one-year training program
they brought NLP back to where it should have been had the
principles been applied to its own development. They started with
the latest material first and didn't impose any restrictions on who
could come on the course. "We took apart this myth of Practitioner,
Master Practitioner and Trainer as hierarchical grades - because
that was never the intention." They applied the principles of NLP to
the teaching of it and developed accelerated training courses.
Although some people cling to the notion that Practitioner training
still has to take 22 days, that way of setting standards actually
goes against one of the inherent principles of NLP - as you get
better at something you should be able to do it more efficiently and
effectively. Few people realise that the original 22-day course was
partially designed so that it would fulfil the in service training
requirements of licensed therapists in America. "Not because it took
that long - that's the point."
has expressed some surprise at the way people still go through the
same mistakes that he had made. When the only reason he had done it
that way was because he didn't know any better at the time. However,
it seems that those mistakes have been enshrined. "Some people claim
that if you don't make those mistakes you're not doing it properly,"
explains Michael, laughing, "And they tell Richard this - These
people don't have a sense of humour or a sense of perspective."
people are treating NLP simply as a marketing phenomenon to sell on
to others. Richard's intention is to create opportunities for people
to do things in all kinds of fields.
with an attitude of curiosity about how human-beings learned, and
over the last thirty years has modelled excellence in every possible
field - from therapy, business, the arts, sciences, sport and
entertainment and beyond. As Michael Breen puts it, "If somebody did
something really cool, Richard wanted to know about it - in essence
it is about learning from the best."
accumulated a huge body of knowledge and Richard continually refines
his process of modelling. More recently he has developed two further
fields - Design Human Engineering and Shamanic Human Engineering.
continues to develop his own approach and will be teaching Business
Master Practitioner which concentrates on consultancy and thinking
skills and Paul and he have recently got together with Roger Black
and developed a Sports Success program.
It was ten
years ago while working together in the corporate environment that
Paul and Michael decided to run a public training and commented
"Let's have some fun." Now McKenna Breen is the largest
training organisation offering NLP training in the world.
Since this article was written Paul McKenna
and Michael Breen are now two different training organisations:
For NLP Practitioner and Master Practitioner
For NLP Business Practitioner and High
Performance Coaching see www.mbnlp.com
trademark of John La Valle