NLP: Those 'Hidden Skills'
Trying to learn NLP from books...
When I first came across it back in 1979, I thought I could learn NLP from books.
After all, that is how we learned at school and college, wasn’t it?
So I got all the early NLP books immediately they arrived in the UK from the US. And I carefully read, analysed, and re-read each one of them. And, as there weren’t many being published at the time, there was plenty of time between books to read them thoroughly. And to practise the techniques,
And after about 4 years I realised there had to be more to it than was in the books... because I was getting results but not the seemingly miraculous results described in the books.
NLP’s Best Kept Secret?
So around 1983 I began attending live courses. Short workshops, initially, and more in-depth NLP Certification Programmes some time later. Yet it was only when I began running my own NLP training programmes that the penny dropped…
The NLP techniques as described in the books (and on websites) are great. They are certainly impressive. And with careful study and practise they do get quite good results.
Quite good results. Some of the time.
The Hidden Skills
But you’re not getting the whole story. Because what is being described or demonstrated is the tip of the iceberg of what’s really happening in NLP change-work.
They don’t explain what really makes NLP techniques really work i.e. the hidden skills. The subtle skills. The 'secret NLP skills' or 'hidden NLP skills' which take longer to learn and to develop skill with.
When they watch that skilful NLP expert leading a course or doing a video demonstration few people are aware of the huge amount of subtle stuff that is being used in addition to following the steps in the technique.
This is NLP’s best kept secret.
It’s not deliberately kept secret – it’s simply happens that way. Why? Because to teach all the other stuff, the really powerful stuff, takes too long.
Most people want to become ‘master practitioners’ in a weekend and think that if they learn the steps in a technique they’ll get the same results as the experts.
This is why a lot of NLP marketing sort of 'forgets' to spell out the reality that there is a difference between knowing the steps in a technique and being able to use it.... with skill.
Good NLP: doing lots of things, simultaneously!
To get the best results from standard NLP techniques we need to be doing lots of things simultaneously!
And we need to be able to do this with unconscious competence i.e. we need to be doing it without consciously knowing we’re doing it. Why? Because to do all of these at the same time with conscious awareness would be far too difficult. And far too clunky.
This ability to ‘do lots at the same time’ explains why some people have amazing results with the NLP techniques – and others have, at best, so-so results. And it is a 'practised' ability; it's not a gift which expert NLPers have been born with.
They invested time and attention in practising each subtle skill till it became a 'natural' part of their way of doing things.
The NLP subtle skills in action
Take, for example, the very simple NLP technique called Different Perspectives. It has traditionally been called Perceptual Positions.
It is an excellent technique with which you can improve how you communicate with a particular person or how you handle a challenging situation. And you can use it for yourself or to coach others.
It works like this.
Let’s say that Jack has difficulty in dealing with a manipulative colleague at work.
His friend Jill has had some NLP training and so he asks her for help. She decides to use Different Perspectives. And the session goes like this:
With Jill’s guidance...
1. Jack first remembers a recent interaction with Manipulative Person (MP). Then he rates it on an ‘effectiveness scale’ of 1-10.
2. Now he mentally relives the interaction from three “perspectives” and he does this spatially i.e. he stands or sits in a different location for each perspective:
His own perspective
That of MP
That of a detached onlooker.
3. Based on the insights achieved from this he now determines how he could have better handled the recent situation.
4. Now he again goes through the three locations only this time he imagines himself handling the situation with MP in this new
5. He now evaluates the results of the new way on the effectiveness scale. If he is happy with the new way he’s done. If not, he goes through steps 2-4 again.
6. Finally he needs to ‘wire-in’ the new skills and insights so that they occur automatically in future. To do this he imagines applying these in three future situations:
The next time he will interact with MP
Dealing with somebody else who tends to be manipulative
Any other forthcoming situation where the skills could be the useful.
And that’s all there is to it, on the surface at least.
Depending on how good Jill has been with the subtle skills, Jack will either have a quite good or a great result.
Remember, this is a technique you can do for yourself without attending a live workshop. And if you are developing this skill on your own I’d recommend doing it for at least 5 different situations in which you’d like to be more skilful. And do this over a few weeks so you get feedback from assessing your results.
Learning Different Perspectives systematically
If Jill has learned Different Perspectives on a live course, such as our own NLP Core Skills, she will have much more information about the technique than she can get from watching an expert or reading a book.
More importantly, she will learn it in a very systematic and carefully designed manner - in which she will:
1. Have a brief overview of the technique
2. Watch a live demonstration
3. Have a practical hands-on experience in using the technique - in which she will experience the technique in two ways – both as the “coach” and as the “client”.
4. Have live coaching and feedback
5. Take part of a group discussion in which members of the course group compare their different experiences in using the technique.
Different Perspectives and the Subtle Skills
While learning the overt steps in the technique Jill will also learn lots of subtle skills. These will include
The Soft Eyes Technique to be able to pick up subtle body language such as posture, gestures, and skin colour changes – so she can recognise as and when Jack’s emotional state changes
Where to stand or sit – so Jack can visualise easily without being distracted
How to listen, really listen, to Jack’s descriptions – what he says, what he does not say, and how he uses his voice
How to coach-through-questions rather than “talking at” Jack
How to modulate her voice to make it easier for Jack to get into the experience – and to detach himself from uncomfortable moments
How to respect Jack’s Model of the World so she doesn’t contaminate his experience with her views or opinions
How to recognise which Representational System and which Thinking Style (see, hear, feel, self-talk) Jack is using at any one moment – and how to respond appropriately to this
How to create rapport so Jack feels quite at ease whilst being coached by Jill
How to enhance rapport using the Pegasus NLP 4R’s - to ensure that her communication with him is respectful, ethical, and authentic
Wiring-in the subtle skills
On her course Jill will have each learned of these ‘subtle skills’. And after the course she will be able to continue to practise these so her new skills become automatic or ‘unconscious’.
Wiring-in is best done ‘little and often’ i.e. by getting into the habit of using one of the skills for a couple of minutes a few times each day.
The Pegasus NLP Newsletter
Most articles on this site originally appeared in The Pegasus NLP Newsletter - which has been published continuously since January 2001.
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