INTRODUCTION TO NLP:
Some Basic Concepts in Neuro-Linguistic
by Tad James, M.S., Ph.D.,
Copyright © 1985, 1999
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
is about noticing patterns. So, in
NLP, we are
not so much interested in content as in process. Often this is an
interesting transition for us to make. The first step is to pay attention to
the process of your interaction with others -- listen to the form, watch the
form, feel the form, and not get involved in the content.
Of course, the next question
then, is how specifically do you "listen to the form, watch the form, feel
the form, and not get involved in the content?" The modalities are one way
of categorizing exactly what a person does inside their head as they think.
They are a way or a model for what a person does in their head as they make
up an Internal Representation (I/R). In the process of creating
and Grinder discovered that by looking at someone's eyes, you could tell HOW
they think. Not what they think, but HOW they think. You can tell what
they're doing inside.
(This is how
they look when you're facing them.)
Based on observations by
Bandler and Grinder, when people look up, they're visualizing. When they
look horizontally to the left and right, they're either remembering or
constructing sounds. When they look downward and to our left, they're
accessing their feelings. And when they look downward and to our right,
they're talking to themselves (Auditory Digital). The chard above is for a
"normal" right handed person. Many left-handed people and some ambidextrous
people will have eye movements that are reversed.
- Seeing images from the memory, recalling things you're have seen before.
QUESTION: "What color was the room you grew up in?" "What color is your
bedroom now?" "What does your coat look like?"
Created) - Images of things that you have never seen before. When you are
making it up in their head, you are using Visual Constructed.
would your room at home look like if it were blue?" "What would your dog
look like if it had the head of an elephant?"
some people access visually by defocusing their eyes. When this happens, the
eyes will usually stay in the center.)
Recall) - Is when you remember sounds or voices that you've heard before or
things that you've said to yourself before. When you ask someone, "What was
the very last thing I said, they typically look in that direction.
you remember the sound of your mother's voice?"
Created) - Is making up sounds that you've not heard before. For example
would I sound like if I had Donald Duck's voice?" "What would Swan Lake
sound like if it were played on bagpipes?"
Sense of Touch) - You generally look in this direction when you're accessing
does it feel like to touch that rug?"
Yourself) - This is where your eyes move when you're having internal
you recite the Pledge of Allegiance?"
Typically, every time we access
our brain, we move our eyes in that particular direction which facilitates
our using that part of our neurology. The mind and body are absolutely
interconnected, so each time we access our Visual Memory, for example, we
move our eyes upward and to our left. (If you're watching someone access
Visual Memory, you will see them move their eyes upward and to your right.)
Based on our model of
communication, and how we make an internal representation, you'll remember
that people rely on their 5 senses to make I/R's about the world around
them. Internally, we also generally come to depend on one representational
system or modality more than another as we access information, and also use
that information to create I/R's. So, some people are using their Visual
representational system more, some people use their Auditory
representational system more, and some people use their Kinesthetic more
than the others.
Usually an individual will
prefer to use a certain modality or will use primarily a certain modality as
their primary representational system. Let's go through, the three major
modes of operation so you can notice what mode people are operating in, and
begin to identify them. You can then begin to match the modes by using the
predicates and physiology that match their representational system.
people who are in a visual mode stand, or sit, with their heads and/or
bodies erect with their eyes up, and will be breathing from the top of their
lungs. They often sit forward in the chair or on the edge of the chair. They
tend to be more organized, neat, well-groomed and orderly. More deliberate.
More appearance oriented, and sometimes quieter. Good spellers. Memorize by
seeing pictures, and are less distracted by noise. Often have trouble
remembering verbal instructions, and are bored by long verbal explanations
because their minds tend to wander. They would rather read than be read to.
A visual person will be interested in how someone looks at them, and will
respond to being taken places, and being bought things. They will tend to
use words like: See ya later, I want to look at it, Focus on it, Watch it,
Be clear, Foggy, Picture that, Notice, Appears.
Someone who is
auditory will move their eyes sideways and also down to the right. They
breathe from the middle of the chest. They typically talk to themselves, and
are easily distracted by noise. They often move their lips when they say
words. They can repeat things back to you easily. They may find math and
writing more difficult and spoken language easier. They like music and learn
by listening. They memorize by steps, procedures, and sequence. An auditory
person is often interested in being told how they're doing, and responds to
a certain set of words or tone of voice. They tend to use words and phrases
like: Listen, Talk to, Said, Speak, Hear, and Sounds like, "Good to talk to
typically be breathing from the bottom of their lungs, so you'll see their
stomach go in and out as they breathe. Their posture is often more slumped
over, and they often move and talk verrrry slooowly. They will typically
access their feelings and emotions to "get a feel" for what they're doing.
They respond to physical rewards, and touching. They also stand close to
people and touch them. They are often physically oriented people (athletes).
They may move a lot, and they memorize by doing, or walking through
something. They use words like: Feelings, Get in touch, Hold, Grasp, and
Those are the characteristics
of the three major modes of operation. And so, the question is now, how do
you use them to communicate with people? How do you communicate with someone
who is primarily in one of those modes? This brings us to the subject of
Think of it! If there's
anything that you want to get, or if there's anything you need, then you
will probably need someone's help in getting it. This is true whether you're
a salesperson, a teacher or even a carpenter. No matter what you do, the
ability to develop and maintain rapport with the large numbers of people of
varying backgrounds will allow you to get what you want. Having rapport with
someone will allow you to do anything. So, rapport is probably the most
important skill on the planet.
The basis of rapport is that
when people are like each other, they like each other. When people are not
like each other, they don't like each other. When you like someone, you are
willing to assist them in having whatever they want. Remember that 38% of
all communication is tone of voice, and 55% is physiology (Mehrabian,
A and R. Ferris (1967), 'Inference of attitudes from non-verbal
communication in two channels', The Journal of Counselling Psychology, 31,
pp 248-52). So, most
communication is outside of our conscious awareness. A tremendous
opportunity exists for communication outside of normal channels, and that's
what rapport is all about.
For the sake of contrast please
remember a time when you were accessing your feelings, in a feeling state,
or calm and quiet. Was there a time when you were in this state, and perhaps
you can recall being with another person who was in an excited (visual)
mode. Do you remember the feelings in your body when that happened?
Or can you remember being in a
really excited (Visual) mode, and talking to someone in a real slow
(Kinesthetic) state. Remember how it drove you crazy waiting for the other
person to catch up?
Please, remember that neither
of these modes of operation is wrong, they're just how people operate. To be
a master communicator, you will also need to keep in mind that you will
communicate best with people, when you employ their primary modality.
Too often, however,
communication takes place in a system where people are unconsciously
mismatching modalities. So the first major element of rapport is to
match the modality the person is in.
If you're meeting with someone,
for example, who is in high visual, and you're not quite there, sit up in
your chair, breathe from the top of your lungs, and be excited. Or at least
act in a way that matches what they're doing. On the other hand, if you're
meeting with someone who is auditory, you want to slow down a bit, modulate
your voice more, and "listen, really listen." If you're meeting with someone
who is kinesthetic, slow waaay dooown. And talk to them about feelings.
Actually change your voice tone so that it matches theirs, and really "get a
sense of it."
On the next two pages are lists
of predicates, and predicate phrases. Look at these now, and notice the
words and phrases that people use in each major representational system. In
each major representational system, people are using different words,
different phrases that actually reveal what's going on inside their heads.
The second element of
rapport is physical mirroring of the individual's physiology.
Actually physically copying their posture, facial expressions, hand gestures
and movements, and their eye blinking will cause their body to say
unconsciously to their mind, "Hey, (s)he's like me!" It's undeniable to the
The third element is to
match their voice: The tone, tempo, timbre (quality of the voice),
and the volume. You can also match their key words. Perhaps they often say,
"Actually." You can use it in a sentence several times. Say it back to them.
The fourth element is to
match their breathing. You can actually pace someone's breathing by
breathing at exactly the same time as they do (matching the in and out
breath). By matching their breathing, by pacing their breathing, you can
then begin to lead them out of the representational system they're in, into
The fifth element is to
match the size of the pieces of information (chunk size or level of
abstraction) they deal with. If someone usually deals in the big picture,
they will probably be bored with the details. On the other hand someone who
is into details will find that there's not enough information to deal with,
if you only give them the big picture. So make sure that you are matching
the content chunks that the person deals with.
The sixth element is to
match their common experiences. This is what's usually called
rapport. When people first meet, often their early relationship is about
matching common experiences, common interests, background, beliefs and
values, their ideologies and common associations.
Those are the critical elements
of rapport. Next, how do I establish rapport, and then how do I know when
I'm in rapport?
To establish rapport, the
process is to match and mirror completely, what the other person is doing.
When I'm training people in rapport skills they often ask, "Well how can I
do that, they'll think I'm making fun of them." You do need to be subtle
when doing matching and mirroring, but typically most people are in a trance
when talking anyway. They're so caught up in what they're going to say next
that they are rarely fully aware of what you're doing. And if they do, you
can have a good laugh about it.
Calibration is one way
of testing whether you're in rapport with someone. Simply, that means you
need to develop your sensory acuity to such an extent that you can begin to
see peoples reactions to your communication. Watch their eyes, the muscles
around the eyes, the lower lip, the color of the face and hands, the
breathing. These are all indicators of rapport.
In addition there are some
indicators that happen in your own body that you can notice. As you begin to
go into rapport, there's a certain, specific physiological feeling that
begins to occur in the body. It happens in the area of the legs, and chest,
and could almost be described as a feeling of nervousness or anticipation.
The next thing that happens is that you can feel the color in your own face
begin to change. It's a feeling of warmth in the face that rises up from the
neck. As you notice this, you can also notice, within about one minute, the
color in the other person's face increases. The change in color usually
happens one minute after you notice the internal feelings. Usually within
another minute or so, the person you're talking to will say something like,
"...and (your name), my good friend here..." or "I feel like I've known you
for years..." They may even use the word "rapport" or "trust" to describe
what they're experiencing.
Even if you don't have an
experience of these indicators of rapport, there's another way that you can
tell. This process is pacing and leading the other person. After you've
matched and mirrored a person for say, 5 or 10-minutes, you can then begin
to lead them to lead their behavior. Successful leading is another way you
can tell if you're in rapport with someone.
Establishing rapport is also
important in the case of interpersonal relationships, say with a member of
the opposite sex. What you'd want to do first of all is to establish rapport
with them. Get into rapport. Match and mirror them so that they begin to
trust you, feel good about you, and have good internal representations about
who you are. You may recall times that you've done the opposite, I certainly
have. And I'm sure that the other person thought that I was a totally inept
person (at best). At worst, there's no trust. Rapport is an important
process in both business and in interpersonal relationships.
The following exercises are to
assist you in developing your ability to gain rapport with other people:
- Establish rapport with as
many people as you can in the coming week. For example, practice when you
go into a restaurant, establish rapport with the maitre d', and with your
waiter or waitress.
- Match and mirror someone
near you in a restaurant, or wherever you are. Notice if you're able to
- When you're going up to a
counter to purchase something, practice establishing "instant" rapport
- Watch people's physiology
for a whole week. For example on Monday, watch color; Tuesday, watch lower
To master the skill of rapport,
it's important to learn the ability to gain instant rapport with anyone. I
was staying in Anchorage, Alaska once in the summer, and a series of events
had put me in a situation where I needed to have a hotel room, and I had no
prior reservation. I called several major "name brand" hotels in the phone
book, and found them all booked. So when panic set in, I began to call
blindly, and found a hotel that had space. When I got to the hotel, I
discovered that it wasn't the kind of hotel that I really would stay in. In
fact, I began to feel that staying there was NOT an exercise of my personal
power. I decided that I needed a hotel room, and I needed it now!
So, I went back to a "brand
name" hotel that I had already called and was told there was no room, that
they were 150% booked. I went up to the front desk, and matched and mirrored
the girl behind the font desk. As we started our conversation, I talked as I
imagined she would talk. Almost immediately, I saw her facial color change.
At that point, I knew I had established rapport. She said, "I'm going to do
whatever it takes to get you a room." She spend a half-hour "finding" me a
room. She talked to the manager twice, and I had my room. Not only did I
establish rapport, but two days later when a friend came in to pick me up at
the hotel, she spent several minutes telling him what a wonderful person I
was. And I had only talked to her for ten minutes!
If you practice these skills
you will develop the ability to go into instant rapport with ANYBODY. I had
just finished doing a training on rapport, and I was going to lunch with one
of my students. We were going to a restaurant for lunch and roughly one
1/2-hour before an afternoon appointment. When we got to the restaurant, the
girl behind the desk said, with her head looking down at the schedule,
"It'll be at least 20 minutes." And I said to myself, "Oops, it's time for
rapport!" As I looked to my friend, I saw him matching and mirroring her,
and decided to see what happened. When she looked up at him, she went into
instant rapport„her facial color instantly changed, and she smiled and said,
"Do you mind a table in nonsmoking?" We said, "No." And she had us taken to
our seats immediately!
Here's one more exercise! This
one involves two people. Person "A" begins to tell person "B" about a work
experience or a personal experience. Person B matches and mirrors person A.
Totally establish rapport. Both A and B notice matching and mismatching of
eye cues, predicates, and other elements of rapport. Notice also the
feelings of comfort and discomfort as they occur. Notice what's going on
internally in your body as well as externally as you go through the
exercise. Notice the feelings as you go into rapport. After about 3-5
minutes, you should notice the physiological feelings of rapport. Notice
them. Also look then for the outward signs of rapport.
ACCESSING POSITIVE STATES
Based on the information so
far, we are ready now, to discover how to put people into state. Actually,
if you did the rapport exercise, you already know how to put people into
state. The process of going into rapport with someone does indeed put them
into. In fact, if you're pacing and leading the person, just your going into
a state will put them into that state. (Remember, a state is made up of an
I/R. and a physiology.)
So the first step in putting
people into state is to establish rapport. The second step is to put
yourself into the state you want to establish in them.
The next step is to say, "Can
you remember a time when you were?.. (the state you want them to access)."
For example, "Can you remember a time when you made a decision easily and
quickly, when you were totally decisive?.. (for decisiveness)." Or, "can you
recall a time when you purchased something that you were very happy with?..
(for buying state)."
What will happen is that people
will literally go inside and do a search of their memory to discover that
particular time. If you have them do enough of that (such as happy buying
state), they will connect (or link) you to that state.
The question may come up, what
if they're resistant, or ask you, "Why are you asking me this stuff?" I had
that happen once when I was signing up a new client. And I was asking him to
recall all sorts of outrageous stuff. He said, "I can't believe I'm sitting
here answering all your crazy questions!" I said, "I know! I can't believe
it either! Why are you doing that?" He answered, "You know, I just feel like
I'm very close to you." Bandler and Grinder say, "There are no resistant
patients, only resistant therapists." So before you ask outrageous
questions, establish rapport. Then you can do anything, and they'll forgive
One more thing you can do in
advance is to set the frame about what you're going to do. Here are some
nice frames to put around the process of putting someone into state:
"As we sit here talking about
your business, I'm beginning to wonder if it would be appropriate to ask you
now, to recall a time..."
"That reminds me, can you
remember a time when you were totally decisive, now..."
"You know, I was wondering, can
you recall a time when you made a business decision that was a big win for
you, and made you lots of money?"
"And as I ask you so many
questions, you may wonder what it would be like to be a client, and as you
wonder, if you could just imagine being a client now, you'd probably find
that it would be easier to make the right decision..."
"Your telling me about your
business reminds me of a time when I (pause), well gee, I wonder if you can
recall a time when you totally were satisfied with a purchase you just
And they'll oblige you by going
right into that state.
Remember that a state is made
up of an internal representation and a physiology. So, your asking them to
make an internal representation of a time when they were (for example)
satisfied with something puts them right back into that state. And when you
have access to a state, what you want to do then is to anchor it.
So, when you have access to a
state, the next step is to anchor it. And remember that a spontaneous state
is usually more powerful than one that is induced. When ever you find a
state that you can use (whether it's in you or someone else), you can anchor
What is an anchor? The concept
of anchoring comes from Pavlov. You remember Pavlov's dogs? What Pavlov did
with his dogs, was that he rang a bell, and showed the dogs a steak. Rang
the bell and showed them a steak. Then he rang the bell, and the dogs
salivated just as if they'd just seen a steak. Pavlov deduced his theory of
stimulus-response from this experiment. The bell was actually an anchor.
What he had done is to set up an anchor for the dogs.
An anchor occurs any time a
person is in an intense state, and at the peak of that intense state or that
experience a specific stimulus is consistently applied, the state and the
specific stimulus become linked neurologically so that the state can be
continually produced by setting off the stimulus.
There are four steps in
- The first step is to put the
person in state. You can use a spontaneous state, or an induced state
("Can you remember a time..."). It's important that the state be fully
associated. Which means that the person is in their body, looking through
their own eyes (as opposed to looking at their body from outside it). It's
also important that the state be intense and congruent.
Here is some specific
language to get the person in an intense and congruent state. "Can you
recall a time when you were totally X'd? Can you remember a specific time?
As you go back to that time, can you step into your body and see what you
saw through your own eyes, hear what you heard, and feel the feelings that
you felt when you were totally X'd?"
People go into states at
different rates, so it's important that you calibrate the state, or you
can ask them to tell you when they are fully into the state, at the peak
of the experience. You can have them nod, move their head, or finger, or
foot or whatever.
- The second step, when
they're at the peak is to provide a specific stimulus. Provide a specific
stimulus and apply it consistently. When they are at the peak of that
experience, the anchor should actually be ending:
APPLICATION OF AN ANCHOR:
Notice that as the state
begins to peak, the anchor should be applied. It should start slightly
before, and end right at the peak or slightly before. An anchor should be
applied for from 5 to 15 seconds, so using a physiological (kinesthetic)
anchor you would hold the touch up to 15 seconds. What you may want to do,
in order to get a very intense (positive) state when you're working with
someone, is to literally "stack" anchors. So you can say,
a. "Can you recall a time
when you were totally capable?"
b. "Can you recall a time
when you were totally loved?"
c. "Can you recall a time
when you were totally powerful?"
d. "Can you recall a time
when you laughed hysterically?"
When you have access to that
state, anchor it. Anchor all the states by touching the person in the same
place in exactly the same way.
- The next step is to
change the person's state. Have them get out of the state they were
in. Perhaps have them walk around. At least have them take a deep breath.
- Set off the anchor by
applying it in exactly the same way, and discover if they go back into
There are four keys to
- The first is the
intensity of the response, or the congruity of the state. In
anchoring, we're looking for a fully associated intense state. You may
ask, "Are you seeing yourself or are you in your own body?" We want them
to be in their own body (associated).
- The second element is the
timing of the anchor. The anchor should be applied just before the
peak. If you hold it too long, then you may find that the person has gone
beyond the first experience into a second, into another state, and the two
states may be linked.
- The stimulus should also be
unique. The uniqueness of the stimulus is important because if you
set up an anchor on an area of the body (assuming a kinesthetic anchor)
that is touched a lot, such as a handshake, then the anchor will become
weakened with time (diluted) because it will be set off by other people.
So you will want to provide an anchor that is in a unique area of the
body. Often an NLP
professional will use an ear to set up an anchor or ask you to put a
series of positive anchors in a fist.
How long an anchor lasts
depends specifically upon how unique the location is. If it's not an
intense state that you're anchoring, or if you haven't stacked it, then
the anchor will wear off or dilute itself more quickly. If the location is
not unique it can be fired off so many times that it won't work again,
because it won't be linked to the specific state.
- The last key is the
replication of the stimulus. The way that you apply the anchor in
setting it and in firing it off to test, need to be exactly the same every
time. So if you're snapping your fingers or giving them a certain look,
you need to do it the same way every time. That anchor needs to be fed
back to the person in exactly the same way it was set.
All human change (All? Yes,
all.) is nothing more than an integration of resources or a collapsing of
realities, one into the other. The particular process of collapsing anchors
involves taking a negative state, and integrating or collapsing it into a
positive state. Doing this gives the person we're dealing with more
neurological choice. One of the major premises of
NLP is to
increase the choices a person has.
So, if we find for example that
every time a certain salesperson goes out to make a sale that they become
negative. It may be because they're recalling all the times they've failed.
If the two are linked, we can collapse the association of sales and failure,
with a winning attitude, and give the salesperson the choice of feeling good
about selling, too. The process of collapsing anchors will free the
salesperson from the necessity of having to access the negative state every
time they go out and make a sales call.
The process of collapsing
anchors is extremely powerful, one of the more powerful process in
NLP, and this
next technique for collapsing anchors is one of the most powerful collapsing
anchors that I've seen, and it's also easy to use.
- Ask the person to recall a
series of positive experiences, and anchor each one. Stack the anchors.
For example, when they couldn't lose, when they felt powerful, when they
knew they could have it all, when they knew they could have whatever they
- Have them put all the
experiences, one at a time, into their right hand, while you are firing
off the original anchor that you have set, with each experience.
- Have them look at the right
hand, and describe what those experiences look like. What do they say, or
what do they sound like? What do they feel like? What is the shape, color,
size, sound, smell. Make a fist, now, and hold on to all those positive
- Now have them put the
negative experience into the left hand. (if the negative experience is
particularly strong, you can have the person put the negative experience
into the left hand quickly without looking at it. If it's not very strong,
have them describe it as they did with the positive.) You don't have to
set an anchor for the negative experience other than the hand.
- Go back to the right hand.
Have them notice those experiences again. Ask them again about some of the
SubModalities, the smell, the sound, the color, the brightness, and shape.
- Now, holding the right hand
over the left hand, have them pour the positive experiences from the right
hand, including the feelings and the sounds, into the left hand. Have them
make a "sshhhh" (or any) noise as they do it. And have them continue
pouring until the contents of both hands are the same. When both hands
look, sound, and feel the same, then they can stop.
- Next, have them clap their
hands together once, and then rub them together vigorously.
- Finally, have them look
again and make sure that both hands are the same. If not, go back to #1.
The negative experience in the
left hand and the positive experience in the right hand will be linked in
the neurology, so that the person will have more choice. The person can feel
negative about the negative experience or they can feel positive about them.
The negative will not have the hold over them that it had before. It's a
very powerful process, by the way, and one that you can use on yourself or
others to reduce the effect of negative experiences and to create new
One important caution in this
process is that the person doing
NLP should be
sure that the positive anchors are stronger than the negative anchors. What
you're doing is diluting the negativity with the positivity, neurologically.
So it's a neurological dilution of the negative experience. However, if the
negative experience is stronger than the positive, then the positive
experiences will be diluted into the negative, which is not what you want.
Typically, an NLP
professional will set a number of positive anchors before beginning this
process, so that the negative experiences will be weaker than the positive
ones. In addition, make sure that the person you're working with is
dissociated from the negative experiences. Don't allow them to access the
negative states too long, and make sure to get them out of the negative