Trivialising NLP (again…)

‘I’ve done NLP – I can tell if you’re lying’

The hoary old myth of the NLP Lie Detector Technique came up again in today’s course – just as it does in just about every NLP Core Skills Course we do. And it again struck me how sad it is that such a valuable body of knowledge as powerful and life enhancing as NLP is can be trivialised in this way.

Not only trivialised but misrepresented in facile and misleading NLP articles, websites, and training courses – to the extent that these trivialised versions of NLP become almost ‘accepted facts’ about NLP…

The NLP ‘Frogs into Princes’ book

The myth is based on an early observation made just a few years after NLP began to be developed in the early 70’s and mentioned in the great little book ‘Frogs into Princes’.

In this book two of the three NLP co-founders, Bandler and Grinder, suggested that some people look up and to their right when they are making up visual fantasies. And that they look up and to their left when they are remembering images from their past. (Note that they said ‘some people’ – not everyone.)

They went on to suggest that if you ask a person about an event that occurred in the past and they will look up to the ‘wrong’ side (i.e. to their right) that this could they are inventing rather than remembering the answer.

Bandler and Grinder then furtjher and cautioned against putting too much faith in this and  pointed out that many people naturally looked up to the ‘wrong’ side to remember things – they simply remembered with slightly less clarity.

That should be clear enough, shouldn’t it?

They were effectively saying here’s something that can occur but is quite unreliable.

Let’s not let reality get in the way of a good (profitable) myth

Sadly, it’s not enough.

It’s simply an inconvenient and easily ignored fact for those who seek to offer a trivialised and sensationalised version of NLP for their own benefits. The type of person who markets NLP to a particular market as a way of seducing women, boosting one’s own ‘personal power’,  or having power over others. (Which ‘particular market’? Well, ask yourself what kind of person would find such promises attract… and why they might find them so.)

And it’s a myth that doesn’t do NLP any favours – any more than do some other dubious applications of NLP.

The real power of NLP

In over 30 years of exploring NLP I have seen it used by people to transform their lives.

I have seen it used by people to release themselves from life-restricting fears, phobias, and behavioural patterns.

I have seen young people re-discover their faith in themselves through it.

I have seen couples and teams use it to discover how to work together happily and creatively.

I have seen individuals stop in their tracks, recognise that they were not living a life that was right for them and then change directions.

And I have seen it used to free people from life debilitating and even life threatening illnesses.

To me that is what NLP was, or certainly should have been, invented for.

Make your voice heard

There is a thoughtful saying, often wrongly attributed to Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, which goes along the lines ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’

Maybe it’s time for real NLP Practitioners and Master Practitioners, the ones who have participated in full-length and full-syllabus 120-hour courses rather than the more commercialised ‘fast-track’ affairs, to make their voices heard – so that their voices balance the ‘lets’s make a killing out of this NLP lark’ clamour.

To paraphrase the above saying: ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of Trivialised NLP is that true NLP users do nothing.’


You’ll find more articles on Rep Systems here:

NLP, eyes and lying – Q&A – published Summer 2000  (from Q&A published Summer 2000)
NLP Representational Systems: Predicates  (September 2001)
Using the famous NLP Eye Accessing Cues  (January 2002)
‘Gimme time to think!’  (January 2006)
The NLP Eye Accessing Cues  (January 2007)
NLP & Representational Systems  (February 2007)
The ‘NLP Lie Detector Technique’  (February 2008)
Trivialising NLP (again…)  (February 2010)
The NLP Lie-Detector Myth (yet again…)  (August 2010)
How to use the NLP ‘Rep Systems’ (March 2012)
‘The Eyes Don’t Have It’ – NLP scientifically disproved?  (July 2012)
Using the NLP Eye Movements  (April 2013)


  1. Simon Roskrow on 6th February 2010 at 10:28 PM

    This is a classic example of people taking shortcuts – finding a snappy little titbit in something, creating what sounds like a useful, practical soundbite, and then repeating it, ad nauseum until it is perceived as received wisdom.

    The other classic example is the “93% of communication is non-verbal) that I wrote about here ( – there is also a wonderful little sketch/cartoon/blog/animation on the subject by Martin Shovel (

    I’m all for simplifying, approaching things with a desire for the clarity that reducing things to their essential parts (or “chunking up”!) can bring, but it is essential not to lose the essence in doing that. There appears to be a complete mis-match between a quality piece of chunking up that simplifies and provides an overview, whilst maintaining the underlying detail, and the approach that picks on (part of) one detail and expands massively from that.

    Enjoyed the rant (yours, and mine!)

  2. Caron King on 6th February 2010 at 10:37 PM

    I’m almost evangelical about how ‘bad’ and ‘fast track’ and ‘self centred’ NLP is so very different from the values driven, treat others with respect, take responsibility for your own actions NLP which I have been so gently and meticulously taught. NLP has changed my life, and I really struggle when people dismiss it as fake, fraud, or psycobabble. Learning NLP in a week cannot be the same as feeling it, experiencing it, internalising and getting NLP into one’s ‘soul’. It is a hugely powerful tool which needs to be treated with respect. And it is a prime example of where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So I am doing all that I can to trumpet the good in good NLP training – and, with respect, to point out the difference between that and fast-fix, fast track ‘book’ learned NLP. They’re two very different animals.

  3. Peter Wright on 7th February 2010 at 1:16 PM

    As passionate NLPers, I believe that we need to demonstrate the difference between the “sheep dipping” type of training being offered by certain companies and the intense, experiential and very personal journeys that we have been though.

    Personally. this has manifested its self in three ways, trying to live by the presuppositions of NLP, referring to it when I have used NLP and being willing to engage in the conversation when asked about the “other uses” of NLP.

    I have on a couple of occasions considered not mentioning NLP. For instance, whist on my practitioner training, I didn’t include it on my CV, thinking that the interviewers might be concerned about “manipulation”. I also wondered about letting my team know about my NLP training and journey.

    In the end, I updated the CV, the conversations with the team have resulted in several of them asking for more information and more recently asking for some sessions, even though several other conversation are still ongoing. ( a consultant colleague who was trained to use NLP to close a deal, a doctor who is convinced I have been programmed )

    It is hard to escape the misrepresentation of NLP, I ran a search on the Apple apps store last night and was again presented with the usual mix of genuine content alongside the usual selection of manipulation and seduction products.

    I agree with Carons comments. I am trying to be an NLP evangelist, whist respecting everyones right to their view and avoiding becoming an NLP bore.

    Keeping quiet, can be a safe and easier route in the short term, it could also result in NLP losing its credibility and all the empowering, life changing knowledge not being shared with as many people as possible

    We all need to act, by doing what we do and being who we are.

    Sorry for the rant…it touched a hot button, not one I want to change.

  4. Iain Menzies on 11th February 2010 at 9:08 AM

    I came to Avon Tyrell this week with very little if any knowledge of NLP despite my partner having completed Part 1 and 2 ( a testement, I guess, to her understanding that NLP should be an experience rather than be represented by a number of quick sound bites).

    I was the culprit who asked the question, on this occasion anyway, of how one may access thought processes et al lie detector. At the time I was unaware of just how trivial and undermining this concept was. A mere four days later I realise that I have been on a spiritual journey that has huge potential to fundamentally change my view of the World and that NLP is for me, a potent tool to enable me to become a more effective human being. Perhaps a little self indulgent but wonderfully exciting.

    I am, at this moment anyway, wholely unqualified to join the debate. However, it’s my intention to continue the process and will in future be diligent in communicating NLP myth free.

    As a footnote, it’s a testament to your teaching skills Reg, that when I first read your above blogg, I took full responsibility for your reaction and that after a few reframing exercises I now take none 🙂

  5. Reg on 11th February 2010 at 9:50 AM

    Hi Iain, great to have a blog comment live from Avon Lodge! Looks like you and the team will have a wondefully sunny final day for Core Skills with Jon.

    Thanks, again, for your original question. It was so typical that it finally spurrred me into commenting – hence the original blog post last Saturday. As for not being qualified to join in the debate… Quite the contrary. Who better than someone qho is right in situ exploring Pegasus-style NLP for the first time :-).

    Have fun putting it into practise over the next few weeks/months!

  6. Simon Roskrow on 11th February 2010 at 11:11 AM

    Great to be getting live commentary, especially for me as a wonderful reminder and prompt about just how great that first week at Avon Tyrell was, and how much my mental state changed…it took around three days for me to be able to turn down the inner voice so I could listen and learn without a running commentary; and just how good did that feel! Have an awesome end to the week everyone!

  7. Jamie O'S on 14th February 2010 at 4:48 PM

    For me this is a more general point and it comes down to the old “map is not the territory” adage. A model is not reality, no matter how sophisticated it is. Almost all of the different psychological models I’ve come across that categorise/label people and behaviours only do so in a time/situational frame.

    People love to label and categorise, that is part of what the brain is good at. In my opinion it is a measure of how well someone really “gets it” if they can see beyond this labelling being a fixed (or even long term) thing.

  8. Sam Salt on 25th March 2010 at 4:11 PM

    I’ve no argument with the objection to trivialising NLP. I’m interested though in lie detection and whether there is a science to it. Paul Ekman’s work suggests that we can learn to read people’s micro-expressions to see emotions which they can’t disguise and learning to do this might help detect liars.

    One of the things that fascinates me about Ekman’s work is that he and a colleague modelled micro-expressions right down to exactly which muscles were used in each part of the face. One of their findings, which surprised them, was that in moving all the muscles that were used to display an emotion such as anger or sadness they actually generated those feelings in themselves. This strikes me as a great piece of NLP modelling (that wasn’t their intent) but also seems to support some commonplace NLP observations about your feelings being reflected by you physiology. Not only that but the reverse seems to be true – if you can adopt the postures and expressions of happiness, positivity etc then you can start to generate those feelings.

  9. Reg on 30th March 2010 at 10:16 AM

    Hi Sam: Lie Detection: I think there is no question about it that we can fine tune our Sensory Acuity to the point where we can detect the incongruence between verbal and non-verbal messages – even in quite accomplished liars such as confidence tricksters. It just takes a ‘lot’ of dedication and practice to achieve this. The above article is more about the myth that merely watching eye movements obviates the need to practice this sensory acuity…

    The work of Paul Ekman and his team certainly would support the mind-body systemic relationship which we subscribe to in NLP. Checked on Google; he’s written a few books – which is best for ‘lay readers’ with not a lot of time to spare? 🙂

  10. Sam Salt on 30th March 2010 at 2:47 PM

    The one I’ve read is Telling Lies. It covers quite a bit of the scientific background but it isn’t necessarily an easy read. It’s also rather boring in places but if you really want the information it’s worth the effort. He has another book Emotions Revealed which concentrates just on facial expressions but I’ve not read it. He also has a lot of academic papers and some magazine articles which a web search will turn up. There are links on his own site.

    If you want to get the pop view then watch a few episodes of “Lie to Me” on Sky – it’s loosely based on his work.

  11. Reg on 30th March 2010 at 8:55 PM

    Thanks, Sam. I’ve opted for a cheap copy of Emotions Revealed via Amazon UK which I hope to get around to reading at some stage during the summer… 🙂 (there’s a long waiting list)

    Amazing how many books people (or is it just Americans?) can produce on the same subject… and get away with it!