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We’re always communicating! – a brief, classic guide to being effective.

   We don’t always get it right…and things can get messy!

 There’s many a slip between the messages we intended to send and thought we had actually sent… and the clearly, ridiculous meanings the receiver made…

We’ve all been there, on both sides too, with more or less hilarious, puzzling or tragic consequences.

So what is effective, successful communication? What are the key principles and skills of such a slippery, complex, interactive, multifaceted art?

In NLP we say ‘You cannot not communicate.’ – which comes originally from the philosophical and experimental  research by Bateson, Watzlawick, Jackson, Beavin Bavelas  et al, as they attempted to describe the indescribable – the interactional patterns, pathologies and paradoxes and what they called the ‘pragmatics’ of human communication.

Because when people are communicating there is a lot going on!

Human interaction is a living, looping feedback system and there are consequences and effects, and reactions to reactions. The question of who started what, when and how is sometimes completely unanswerable – though most of us are usually pretty clear it’s not our fault!

There are absolute gigabytes of data and information being produced and offered on both sides, and  in both the verbal and the non-verbal modes – and its all happening, wonderfully, at the same time.

The weird ambiguities and puzzles of human language are being thrown together into a living human dance of gestures, fleeting facial expressions, postural adjustments, breathing patterns, vocal tonality, volume and rhythm etc

Then there are the implicit cultural rules, family rules, personal quirks and tics about turn-taking, silences, eye contact, proximity, movement, touch, context, relationship  etc. and so forth, which only become experienced consciously when the tacit  ‘being-normal’ rules get violated.

So there are always two kinds of message in the dance too – one is content, data, report and the other is context, relationship, command – our messages and meta-messages about what’s going on at every level in a living system.

Each person is both a sender and receiver and everyone involved is simultaneously patterning, contextualising, reacting, requesting, suggesting and meaning-making in their own way, consciously and unconsciously.

Whereas on a bad day things can just go horribly wrong, if we’re lucky and skilful we’ll have a good time.  Not only will the meaning of my communication be the response you gave it, but it’ll be what I actually intended to elicit from you too. I’ll know my communication mission got accomplished.


The Classic Meta-Rules of Communication are;

  1. Have a goal – know what you want to communicate to the other person so they can get it, know and understand it, in the way you intend.
  2. Know what information you are going to use as evidence of your success – verbal and non-verbal, conscious and unconscious. What will you see, hear and sense in the ‘live’ feedback that will let you know you’re on the right or wrong track, your status either work-in-progress or done deal?
  3. Stay awake so you can fully receive and pattern in real time what is happening – see, hear and sense the messages from the other person – in NLP this is called having ‘sensory acuity’ and being present or in ‘uptime’ . The responses you get to your behaviour are the meanings the other person is making – it’s the ‘live’ interactive, dynamic feedback in the system, direct and real and happening to you.
  4. Have an infinite, trans-cultural range of behavioural choices and the personal behavioural flexibility and skills – vocal, linguistic, relational, emotional, physical – to create what is required to meet your goal,  and be willing and confident to give it a go. Continue to vary your behaviour until your communication  goal is achieved.  Well done, because occasionally, we need a small miracle as well.


A Selection of Key Tools From NLP  Which Support This Highly Skilled Art are;

a)    Perceptual Positions – knowing what you want (1st position), having a felt sense of the other persons experience, concerns and perspectives, being ‘in their shoes’ (2nd position), having an observer’s perspective to see the dance of relationship from the outside and to be able give yourself some effective, realtime coaching (3rd position)

b)   Presupposition‘the map isn’t the territory‘ –  appreciate that we are all only perceiving and patterning our reality and experience subjectively,  according to our habits and biases and blind spots. Communication problems often arise from not realising this – our own ‘maps’ appear to us to be self-evidently real and true and other people therefore are mistaken, idiotic, lying, evasive, crazy etc. Creating shared meanings and reference experiences, synchronising and enriching the ‘maps’  is part of the art of effective communication .

c)     Framing and Language – using the right kind of words in the right kind of way certainly helps. Language is a perceptual tool not just a descriptive one and the words and phrases you choose will play their part to create, destroy, enrich or impoverish the understanding you are seeking and the communication goals you set.

d)    State – self-awareness, emotional intelligence, wakefulness, mindfulness, focus, self- management, self-alignment, congruence, high performance, sense of humour, somatic sensing and tuning to self and others, maybe even a fundamental warm-heartedness  – all these learnable, developmental skills are essential to the best practice in NLP and in being effective at all interpersonal, relational goals.

e)    Meta-Model – the linguistic tool of champions!  Questions explicitly designed by a professional, academic linguist to help people reduce the flaws and limitations in their subjective model of a situation and reconnect the speaker to a more sensory, alive, rich description with more quality, action choices.

Communication is what humans love! We love it and we are always doing it! It’s not always easy and straightforward but when we get it right its the best feeling in the world.

Some people are tremendously more skilled than others and that’s where good NLP training comes in – its one of our main things.

You can actually learn to be better at it – and it’s a profoundly developmental process, taking you to the next level of your personal and professional evolution, enjoyment of life and sense of expansion, meaning and contribution.


 You cannot not communicate – so why not decide to do it artfully and wisely, with skill and heart?

Special One Day Programme September 10th 2013, London –  The Secrets of Effective Communication video

Enjoy Public Speaking with NLP -The 2 Biggest Fears (in 3 parts)*

Part 1. “Making a fool of myself”

Reframing and The Inner Game of Performance

Though at first, this advice may not seem specially super helpful, I think it’s only fair to point out that, depending on what you mean by “making” and “fool” ,  it happens.   We can sometimes actually get it wrong, we can…

  • – forget our main points,
  • – mumble incoherently,
  • – shout out over-effusively,
  • – go on too long,
  • – go on too short,
  • – offer confusing, possibly life-threatening advice,
  • – make inappropriate comments and jokes,
  • – trip over the equipment,
  • – turn up three hours late,-
  • – forget our lines,
  • – forget the bride’s mother’s/ chief exec’s name,
  • – forget our own name…

And worse…(feel free to imagine!)

Basically, public speaking is a nightmare waiting to happen.

Then there are …

  • undone zips,
  • popped buttons,
  • huge front-facing coffee stains,
  • hiccoughs and farts,
  • snot storms,
  • unplanned profanities in front of dignitaries and children,
  • unrequested songs..


In-the-moment recovery from the smaller, short term mishaps is possible and a learnable skill.

Deep learning and life-wisdom is the potential transformational gift of the bigger screw ups

. All speakers and performers have messed up at some points in their career. It’s pretty much unavoidable, it’s pretty much life.

The good news is that you can develop the experts’ protocols for dealing with it, refining your ability to learn and reducing errors over time.

In the ‘Preparation – Presentation – Review & Learning’*  model there are specific templates, checklists and processes to manage this.

Knowing that bad things can happen to good speakers is just one of the frames that can redirect  the focus of your attention towards achievement and success.

Public speaking is an art form and can even for some people become a profound, evolutionary  pathway of personal learning.

The very best anyone, even the best of us, can ever hope for is  successive approximations to perfection and lots of laughter, tears, panics, excitement and artistic flowering along the way.

With possibly a few dark nights of the soul thrown in.

This is all part of the ‘inner game’ and ‘hero’s journey’ of public speaking – managing yourself and how you feel,  and developing persistence and resilience along the way.

In Nate Silver’s recent book ‘The Signal and the Noise’ which is about  finding meaningful patterns in information overload, he comments,  in one chapter, on the new ‘Moneyball’ type stats approaches in baseball, and he identifies from John Sanders, a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the 5 key ‘ mental toolbox’  attributes of successful players.

  • Preparedness and Work Ethic
  • Concentration and Focus
  • Competitiveness and Self-Confidence
  • Stress Management and Humility
  • Adaptiveness and Learning Ability

He knows that the players have to deal with a lot of psychological doubts and difficulties and they need to somehow come through the inevitable periods of underperformance. After all even the best hitters fail a majority of the time.

It’s  attitude, sense of humour, flexibility of approach – that are, as we say in NLP,   ‘the differences that makes the difference’ in the success stats between top performers and the average.

So, making a fool of yourself? In public speaking?

Surely isn’t it already too late to worry?  We’ve all ‘made fools’ of ourselves over and over, things go wrong, stuff happens, and so long as there’s breath in our bodies it’s probably going to happen again!

 Don’t take it so personally. Relax. Tomorrow is another day. Etc.

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Mark Twain

“Sh*t happens” Wisdom of the Ages, on a T shirt near you.

*Enjoy Public Speaking with NLP – Special One Day Masterclass, London, 9th July

(see Part 2. “Making a fool of myself “ – Logical Errors, That Way Madness Lies )

Is there Life and Learning after Master Practitioner?

Especially if you don’t want to be a trainer or therapist?Do we, as a field, have any plans for this?*

Maybe you’ve done your training, you’re still excited about learning NLP, but somehow never get round to really challenging yourself to take your learning to the next level?

Or you’ve done a couple of the shorter courses and you believe, and in some cases have been told, that you are pretty much ready to call yourself an expert? (yikes!)

Maybe you just don’t know there’s anywhere else to go?

This is just a little 8 point, incomplete ‘manifesto’ of thoughts and hopes for more and better continuous personal and professional development in NLP.

It’s about proposing that successful NLP  requires a bit of elegance, subtly, agility, sensitivity and flair and this tends to take more than a few days, weeks even months of training to acquire for most people… not a rocket science position I know and also shared by many in the field.

I want to get  Practitioners interested and excited about their achievements in NLP and to be able to perceive and want what’s longer term, further up the road in terms of developing their creativity with NLP and  starting to acquire a kind of simplicity, spontaneity and light touch born of skill and knowledge.

Working from skills and first principles.

Think Picasso, think Ella Fitzgerald…

Advanced NLP  – Mastery and Artistry – is primarily based in further skills development and refined practice – a quality approach to growth and learning.

(This is in contrast to accumulation of techniques, or merely number of training days.. a quantity approach!)

1. We can debunk the myths of ‘instant’, effortless learning and create a description of the  scope and range of advanced NLP which aligns with its history and intentions – drawing on work from Bateson, Grinder, DeLozier, Dilts et al.

2. We can encourage practitioners to identify, experience and leverage distinct areas for development in their NLP skills – using a basic model of the core Practitioner curriculum as a shared reference for an ongoing guided self assessment.

3. We can intentionally enthuse and inspire practitioners to want to commit to high-quality, continuous professional development in the field.

4. We can more precisely situate NLP as the unique field which is historically part of, currently contributing to and draws together in a practical applied form, much of the leading research in applied psychology, – i.e. not a cult or ‘pseudo-science’ (!) – and give practitioners confidence and pride in the intellectual foundations of their training and expertise relative to other approaches.

5.We can interest practitioners in related skill sets i.e. from acting and theatre, from Alexander Technique and body work, from Zen and mindfulness etc. and offer some ways into a more sophisticated somatic as well as emotional intelligence.

6.We can place warm-heartedness at the core of our practice – following Satir and others.

7.We can bring out a fundamental good humour in our work, joy in life and contribution and service to others.

8. We can create a shared ‘road map’ for future practice and generative, creative development in the field.


At the moment we don’t really even have a shared ‘map’ of key skills.. certainly not the essential EQ type stuff –  relational, self aware, sensitive to feelings, tuned into self and other etc.

And if you say ‘somatic’ actually even many trainers don’t have much of a reference – we don’t as a field emphasise  being/ having a body, developing skill and distinctions with movement and expression, sensing and experiencing information and communication in the body.

NLP is often conceptualised and taught as primarily a cognitive series of techniques… that you do to yourself and others. The term ‘programming’ has always been a bit of a problematic one which sometimes leads to this error.

We have the skills-label ‘calibration’ and yet the biggest complaint you hear about NLP from a client-type perspective is basically that the NLP person didn’t notice they weren’t enjoying themselves, or just got it wrong for them somehow… not intentionally just clunky, unskilled, unrapportful, annoying.

I think at least one of the things thats happened is there’s a kind of weird muddle somehow in our field.

Because there really are some things we can do,  which are relatively quick and don’t take much training to learn, and which still look like magic to outsiders who don’t share our models of the structure of inner-world representations, this has been generalised by some people that everything we do requires virtually zero training.

Our claim to ‘quick and easy and instant’ can so quickly, easily and instantly rebound on us when we come up against a more complex, multi-level, systemic type of issue.

Bizarrely we’ve set ourselves up as the field for which you don’t really need any training.

As I often say more in sorrow etc – we must be the only field that actively denigrates the acquisition of it’s own skill base.

Just look at all the marketing which basically says ‘Why waste your time actually learning NLP?’

Read more…

Mad As A Snake – Frames Trump Facts

In our new ‘post-truth’ world being heralded in triumphantly by Mitt Romney, the unloved and unloveable Republican candidate in the U.S Election, I have been practising my new spiritual discipline of staying calm and centred while egregious lies rain from the heavens.

Mitt’s campaign is so full of outright sh*te I can barely believe my eyes ands ears.

It’s not just the blatant racism, the total lack of vision, the hideous misogyny, the utter meanness etc – it’s also  that the mainstream media in the States appear not to care that the central planks of their aspiring president’s arguments are based on seriously massive lies and distortions.

This man might be the most powerful man in the world in a couple of months time. Yikes!

As you may have already guessed, the  new spiritual discipline? not going so well…

Janet Suzman’s brilliant article on the ‘Birtherism’ at the Globe challenges Mark Rylance and others who have made their living and reputation from Shakespeare and yet choose, against the mountainous evidence, both historical and textual, to believe that the plays were written by someone else.. an Elizabethan aristocrat of course.

A Warwickshire glover’s son?! Good grief we can’t have an ordinary but super-super-gifted boy from the sticks be a world-class genius.. fie upon it!

Mad as a snake, indeed.

I fall off the wagon again…

Apparently  research shows that sometimes the more you are shown evidence that what you believe is untrue, the deeper you dig in to your ‘untenable’ position.

Since everything is just perception and all perception is distortion and lies why get annoyed? After all I’m just running my own self-serving version of reality too aren’t I? No need to get all huffy about others surely?

Except that  sometimes it matters doesn’t it, that gross distortions are repeated as solid facts, despite high-quality evidences to the contrary?

I realise all these terms – ‘fact’ ‘lie’ ‘evidence’ etc –  are slippery terms indeed and  require at least a PhD  in philosophy and science  to define them and even then it’s a tricky business.

However, whereas no-one probably will die over the Bard’s identity, won’t Mitt Romney’s lies/ frames take the world more towards war, more towards an extreme hyper-capitalism , more towards ecological devastation and global poverty for the 99%?

And even with Shakespeare doesn’t it matter at all that a young man from Stratford, without a university education or rich parents miraculously became one of the world’s greatest artists?

So ‘Frames Trump Facts’ – George Lakoff’s wonderful aphorism.

No matter that the Paralympic opening is celebrating the Enlightment as I write. What really influences and sticks in the maps of the mind are the frames.

And so too with NLP…

‘Pseudoscience’, ‘debunk’, – these frames  situate NLP as risible, flimsy, unworthy of serious consideration, maybe dangerous, deceptive, unethical, cultish, lightweight.

Richard Wiseman’s latest  – the so-called ‘radically new approach to changing your life’ is.. yawn, yawn, based on the ‘As If’ Frame… at the heart of  NLP  for 40 years and key to how we get the results we get.

Oh and did I mention he is currently spearheading the latest ‘isn’t NLP so over.. and pseudo and  nonsense’ campaign?

So let me get this straight. When Richard Wiseman uses the ‘As If’ frame it’s radical and new and will change your life. But if it’s a  core part of NLP it’s pseudoscience…ridiculous etc.

See also my previous account of other utterly non-controversial aspects of NLP

Okay.. so probably no-one will die..

But wouldn’t be a shame if one of the genuinely most integrated and radical fields in applied psychology just got so contemptuously framed in the public discourse that it could no longer thrive and contribute?

We Are Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On…

Well, how wonderful was that?!

Of course the map ain’t the territory and every version of the past, present and future is just a story and always a biased and distorted one too. Maybe even more so when it’s our national myth and we’re going through such a huge sea change?

Lots left out, much bad not said… but hey, the isle was certainly full of noises.

And what an amazing celebration of our creativity, innovation, community, political activism, multiculturalism, joy in, dance and generally having a good time it was.

Really a vision of the very best of us, wry and witty and cheeky too… as Dizzy says ‘Some people think I’m bonkers but I just think I’m free!”

Loved the opening sequence – the run up the river with the laughing children in the water and the “God Save the Queen!” from the Sex Pistols to which many Brits will instantly add, under their breath, “The Fascist  Re-gime!” and snort at the humour of including it at the start of our international showcase.

I especially loved the way all the set-piece anthems of national pomp and circumstance, usually with their big rolling drums, were simply drained down of power.

The children in their pastel jim-jams singing unaccompanied and deaf-signing ‘God Save Our Gracious…” transformed it into a sweet nursery rhyme.

All the tropes of empire and colonialism were utterly neutralised and the Queen herself parachuting to us out of a helicopter really captured this new British tone… and we were amused!

‘Abide With Me’ sung so sparingly by beautiful, composed  Emeli Sande was a real revelation.. and so touching and true, no roaring triumphal certainties but a quiet, inner grace.

Bateson was fascinated by messages and meta-messages. ”Is this play?”  he asked of two young mammals chasing each other and rolling about. How do they signal to each other that the fighting is only ‘pretend’?

He wrote about art too and the meta-messages of certain art forms and structures and  how they created the ‘hard’ culture of a national and ethnic identity and world view.

What would it be like if the giant lions in Trafalgar Square were made of wood for example? How would that completely revolutionise their meaning as symbols of a world-dominating empire?

So seeing, hearing and feeling the re-inflected and re-contextualised symbols, songs and tunes of our culture in transition created something new, something rich and strange even.

There go our brave Suffragettes, our  determined Jarrow hunger marchers, our groovy Beatles, our jiving doctors, our silly Mr Bean, our gorgeous Mr Beckham, our sweet teenagers and the sad, dear, joyous, funny, mix of history and achievements and sorrows and delights.

I know, I know there’s lots of bad things to say about the past and in the present our unelected government is actually dismantling the NHS and selling it off to their friends  just as we were all globally celebrating it , and yes, don’t mention the  war and yes, we don’t really seem to care about our young people or we would provide better for them… I know, I know.

And I know we’re in a completely avoidable double-dip recession and we can’t afford to partay on this scale.. and Voldemort did turn up too.

But just for one night Danny Boyle, and his amateur cast of thousands of our dear friends and families, created some new possibilities for our world.. and not the cloud-capped towers or the gorgeous palaces as per usual but as an inclusive, many-petalled fire of connection, as that stupendous torch, so rightly cheered, balletically moved into it’s final, radiant form.

Generous, exuberant, quirky,  eccentric … artistic, hopeful..heartfelt.

Bateson writes “Art is a part of man’s quest for grace” and I think we got some of that.

Robert Dilts says his favourite definition of NLP is “Tools for Dreamers”. 

Great show..

“And when I woke, I cried to dream again.”



NLP Eye Accessing, The Pseudo-Science Stuff.. with the Olympics thrown in.

I’m somewhat wearily engaging in the current  Richard Wiseman NLP Eye Cues  research debate.

Ridiculous really, as his position that he has ‘debunked’ a major claim of NLP is based on zero reality. In fact his research on lying is, somewhat ironically , itself based on a lie!

No-one of any credibility in the field makes this claim… terrifically good blogs from Andy Smith and Reg Connolly.

Since then a bit of same-old, same-old … is NLP a science or a scam? Shock horror etc.

Here’s  one of my contributions….

So much of all the debate over whether or not NLP is a science or not has been actually overtaken by modern scientific research.

There’s overwhelming, scientific evidence that we construct and reconstruct our reality.

There’s no doubt whatsoever that we have perceptual biases and that they determine our choices and actions. The research is in from cognitive linguistics for decades about the perceptual impact of language and framing.

A lot of the Meta-model patterns of logic are covered in the research from CBT for example. All the EQ and mindfulness research confirms the scientific basis for learning to change state and the positive benefits of doing so. Mirror-neurones appear to validate matching, mirroring for rapport, modelling etc

The fields of heuristics, behavioural economics, learning, memory, perception, biofeedback and other contemporary approaches to patterning human behaviour all seem to be in accord with the principles of how we work in NLP.

In NLP we are not offering magical thinking and using social persuasion for people to believe dodgy stuff. There isn’t really an argument to be had – it’s a non-controversy.

NLP uses what is provable and credible to create tools and a skills training, to apply in practical ways, what are now known as reasonable and tested theories of learning and change.

Eye accessing cues is probably the only contentious area as it takes time and training to know what sort of patterns someone is offering you and what to make of them. It’s not a button-pushing ‘read-the-robot’ kind of thing.

It’s always so strange to me that anyone still thinks NLP is controversial in any way. The practical tools are everywhere being used.

No-one would ask the Olympic athletes not to explore the structure of high performance – focus on their goals, transform limiting beliefs, optimise their state etc. Yet somehow if it’s part of NLP it’s some kind of weird scam.

NLP tools and approaches are widely used because actually they are entirely sane and reasonable ways of enhancing communication, learning, creativity, relationship and performance .

The issues in our field are more about the quality of the training and the skills development of people who have only attended the very short taster courses and/or the people who are using patterns of persuasion for egoistic, commercial reasons. But hey, so do some politicians, preachers, entertainers etc NLP didn’t invent this.

I appreciate that there are people with NLP training who make some wild claims and do some unpleasant things. This does not invalidate NLP itself as a respectable and innovative field of study.

NLP has brought into the world an exceptionally elegant approach to being able to acquire learning and skill.

It’s such a shame that we continue to get bogged down in all these ridiculous non-arguments about being a cult, a scam, a pseudo-science etc

If Someone’s P*ssing You Off With Their NLP (and didn’t mean to) – is it NLP?

(And can anyone hear you cry…..?!)

The foundation of NLP in practice is surely a fundamental emotional intelligence.

This tends to be coded at its simplest, in basic NLP terms, as rapport, calibration and state.

However, sometimes this seems to denote only a purely technical and instrumental procedure prior to committing NLP on someone!

In quantitative approaches to NLP training – i.e. training self-defined as excellent by the number of new models per day – I guess it is  efficient to consign the more self-aware, somatic, relational, interactive, collaborative and generative NLP skills to a kind of luxury category, as optional extras even.

Insert, as they say, a Victoria Wood-type foreplay joke here…

It’s (sort of) funny how often I hear that someone’s manager/ friend/ colleague/ partner etc has been on an NLP course and now they are unbearable… oh dear,…oops.

So, my point.. can you actually call what you are doing ‘NLP’, even if it is an actual NLP technique, if you personally aren’t fully awake, skilfully calibrating and experientially learning in the moment how to communicate effectively with the other person?

If you are not truly looking, listening, patterning and responding to ongoing feedback appropriately and with a sense of creating a unique, living human connection …  then, with the best intentions and the sexiest NLP technique in the universe… what is that?

Of course we can all p*ss people off and get it wrong, and it wouldn’t be any fun if we couldn’t … but then what?

Only your NLP emotional intelligence skills will get you back on track – subtle, somatic, self-aware.. attention in the present moment, connection to self and other.

“If it aint rapportfulleee… then it aint no NLPeee”