NLP a controversial tool?

I had made my mind up on the content of this month’s blog, when whilst reading the Sunday paper this morning, all that changed.  I was drawn to the centre pages and an article ‘How to tackle Town Hall excess’. Within this article, were the very words you dread to read as both a Leadership & Management development trainer & an NLPer.

‘WASTE: The council spent £400,000 on training courses involving controversial Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques popularised by television hypnotist Paul McKenna’.

Over my many years of involvement with the NLP community, with individuals on a journey to better understand themselves and with organisations wishing to improve their communication, leadership, customer service etc., I have not heard anyone say that their learning was a waste of either time or money or was in any way controversial. What I have experienced following training that may have elements on NLP or NLP practitioner trainings, is individuals expressing a greater understanding of why and how people do what they do, understanding they have more choices personally, more ways they can encourage others to examine the choices they have and improved communication & leadership skills.  In what way can that be a waste? Why would such a well-respected organisation as CIPD recognise NLP? In fact they describe it as ’significant and important in business today’.

Here is the downside; I have witnessed people and organisations having a cautious approach whenever those 3 letters come up…’NLP’! Why?  Well we all come to our own conclusions and have our own beliefs, what is certain, is that we all reach conclusions and establish beliefs based upon our own experience.  So where are these experiences of what NLP may be coming from?  What is the personal experience of NLP of the 3 journalists who wrote the article referred to above?  In truth, I don’t know, but I have my suspicions.  I am, and have been for some time, worried that the only limited exposure that many people have to so called NLP techniques has been through television programmes made for entertainment purposes & featuring celebrity psychological entertainers.  They, in my opinion, have chosen to seek personal gratification and celebrity status from their knowledge, rather than to use their keen understanding and skill to help others.  A prerequisite presupposition for me is to ‘do with not to’!  And always to test the ecology of any intervention.

The way NLP is referenced in these programmes and the size of the audience that they have is the issue for me. Personally, I think that these celebrities have the opportunity and the influence to show people the very positive aspects of the collective study known as NLP, not just use it to enhance how it makes them look and how they feel!

It may be that when John Grinder and Richard Bandler were discovering what they were discovering back in the 1970’s at Santa Cruz in California, an alternative name other than Neuro Linguistic Programming might have been more useful.  So many people take a mental step back and possibly the name congers up thoughts of a ‘cult’ or ‘mind meddling’ etc in peoples minds, which I think is a pity.

What we can do as trainers and educators, is to ensure that we are open minded, seek the opportunities to link science to the techniques, encourage and participate in studies so that the scientifically-compiled data is produced to support what Bandler, Grinder and others since have noticed in how humans code, order and give meaning to their subjective experiences.  Neuroscience is producing more information, which is informing our understanding  on how the connections in the brain work, MRI scanners were not around 40 years ago!

Research into NLP techniques in education is starting to show teaching techniques incorporating NLP knowledge helps more pupils learn successfully.

We might also wish to remember that there were others around before Bandler & Grinder with more than a passing interest in behaviour & conditioning





The significance for me of this, is that NLP is not an invention, it’s a discovery, a blend of what people notice in others.  It’s not exclusive and it links well to other tools and frameworks such as MBTI, Spiral Dynamics, the enneagram and understanding personality Type & Trait, brain science, etc. NLP is not manipulative, those who are manipulative by nature, who put personal need or gain before respect for others, will be running patterns that support their beliefs and values anyway.

A hammer in the hands of a craftsman can produce great works of beauty, it is merely the tool to externalise the values and beliefs of the holder. In the hands of another with contrasting values and beliefs it can be used to wreak havoc, break and destruct whatever is in its path.

Do we pass judgement on the hammer or the holder?

Research into NLP

Association of NLP

Coaching with NLP O’Connor J & Lages A.  Harper Collins 2004 ISBN 0-00-715122-5