NLP: a decades-old technique to enforce good habits and communicate better.
My mom and I have always had our challenges. Like most teens, I felt like she wasn’t listening to me, and those feelings continued when I became an adult. We’d yell and fight, frustrated with each other. Then, when a friend pointed me to the teachings of neurolinguistic programming (NLP), I discovered that she wasn’t hearing me because—in terms of communication styles—we were speaking different languages. By paying attention to subtle cues and using different words to get my message across, over time we were able to discard our old patterns and tune in to each other.
In life, whether with work, school or family, it’s not unusual to feel stuck, unsure of how to get from where we are to where we want to be. One solution, some say, is NLP, a psychotherapy technique that connects language, behavior and the brain’s processes, essentially rewiring how you think. It emerged in the 1970s, spearheaded by academic researchers Richard Bandler and John Grinder. They combined the studies of linguistics and psychology to develop the notion of “reframing,” or using linguistic techniques to change your habits consciously and subconsciously. The system can address both chronic habits, like overeating or smoking, and physical conditions, such as allergies. It can even teach the keys to best-in-class communication, advocates say.
“Anyone can use NLP basics to communicate better and to work more effectively toward what you want,” says Marcia Reese, a psychotherapist from Jericho, Vt., who trained with Bandler and Grinder.
Like many psychotherapies, NLP has its share of detractors, who argue that research doesn’t back up its claims. But people who have found success with NLP—including actors Russell Brand and Gerard Butler, super investor Warren Buffett, tennis ace Andre Agassi, and former talk-show host Oprah Winfrey— beg to differ.
At the heart of NLP is language. Here are two ways you can change how you talk to help you get what you want:
NLP asserts that using positive language can change your behavior. According to NLP, the subconscious—which regulates your automatic functions, like breathing and digestion—doesn’t register negative words or sentiments. So if you tell yourself your goal is to not eat junk food, your subconscious hears that you want to eat junk food. If you focus on not getting nervous during your interview, your subconscious hears that you want to be nervous during your interview. Change the language of those statements to “I will eat nutritious snacks,” and “I will be confident during my interview,” and your subconscious helps you work toward the goal you want. “Move toward what you want, not away from what you don’t want,” Reese says.
Target your talk
Another fundamental NLP tenet is that people process information in one of three ways: auditory (hearing), visual (seeing) or kinesthetic (feeling). By adapting your words to fit a person’s processing style, you’ll get your message across more effectively.
To determine how someone processes information, first listen to them speak. If your boss, potential client or mate says things like, “That sounds good” or “I hear that restaurant is excellent,” he is auditory. A person who makes comments like, “That’s rough,” or who starts a sentence with “I feel,” is kinesthetic. If someone says, “I see what you are saying” or “that’s a bright idea,” they’re visual. When you interact with each type of person, adapt your own language and use the words he prefers to help him hear, feel or see your point.
Also consider how you present the words you choose. Visual people think in pictures, and they tend to think on many planes at once, shuffling information as if they had a giant Pinterest board inside their heads. Visual people respond to smiles, hand gestures and other things they can see, all of which reinforce your point.
Auditory thinkers prefer less information presented in a linear fashion. Auditory thinkers process slowly and more thoroughly, considering one idea at a time. When you’re talking to an auditory thinker, modulate the rate and tone of your voice to punctuate your point.
Kinesthetic thinkers trust their feelings. They’re good at concentrating even amid distractions. They rely on hunches and trust their gut. The best way to engage a kinesthetic thinker is to incorporate games and even experiments into your communication.
Another way to discover how someone thinks: Watch his eyes. If he looks up when he is talking, he is visual. If he looks laterally left or right, he is auditory, and if he looks down, he is kinesthetic.
NLP practitioners also say that if you use the connector “but,” listeners will remember what you said in the second half of your sentence, not the first. Use “and,” and listeners will remember what came before and after.
“By fine-tuning your language, you can use NLP to open doors to opportunities you never knew existed,” says NLP practitioner Michelle Zelli of the United Kingdom. And the best news? Changing the way you speak can be a progression. You can get results even before you’ve mastered the techniques above.