An Introduction To Neuro-linguistic Programming

Recently, I have been studying neuro-linguistic programming to gleam insights for marketing strategy and satisfy my own curiosity on the subject.  I thought it would be interesting to share a brief introduction of it with you today without getting too complex.  The articles around the web and books about this are lengthy and use a ton of technical jargon, so I’ll try to share just the useful bits of information on the subject in plain English so you’re aware of the concept.

Definition of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)

Neuro-linguistic programming is defined as a model of interpersonal communication concerned with the relationship between patterns of behavior and the subjective experiences behind them.  There is a system of therapy based on this which educates people in self-awareness and effective communication, and then seeks to change their patterns of mental and emotional behavior.

A disclaimer:  no empirical evidence

Before I go further, I’ve learned that this is a subjective model, as there is a lack of empirical data for the results.  With that said, we can treat it as it is – an interesting theory – and ponder what we see as true from our own communications and marketing experiences.

Frogs Into Princes – a popularization of NLP application in therapy, business and sales

Richard Bandler and John Grinder helped popularize the idea of NLP in a book published in 1979 titled Frogs Into Princes. Bandler and Grinder believe that all theorists/experts in human communication (whether therapists, marketers, bloggers, salespeople, etc. )  share common traits:

  • Everything they do in their work was in active pursuit of a clearly held goal or objective, rather than reacting to change.
  • They are exceedingly flexible in approach and refuse to be tied down to using their skills in any one fixed way of thinking or working.
  • They have a strong awareness of the non-verbal feedback (unconscious communication and metaphor) they are getting, and actively respond to it – usually in kind rather than by analyzing it
  • They enjoy the challenges of difficult clients, and see them as a chance to learn rather than an intractable “problem”
  • They respect the client as someone doing the best they know how (rather than judging them as “broken” or “working”)
  • They have certain common skills and things they are aware of and noticed, that are intuitively “wired in”
  • They work with precision, purpose and skill
  • They keep trying different approaches until they learn enough about the structure holding a problem in place to change it

As a result, Bandler and Grinder claim that there are only three behavior patterns underlying successful communication in therapy, business and sales:

1.  To know what outcome you want, to be flexible in your behavior,
2.  To generate different kinds of behavior to find out what response you get, and
3.  To have enough sensory experience to notice when you get the responses that you want.


Basic Techniques of NLP

These techiniques are described in great detail in texts on NLP, but I’m going to oversimplify them on purpose for you (if you’re a pro in NLP, certainly you can add in the comments, I’m not going to go into great detail because I want to keep this as an introduction).


Simply put, rapport is attained by mimicking the body language or vocal inflections of someone else to put yourself on the same level as them.  It’s a mix of copying the conscious and subconscious cues of the words and actions of someone else so they feel at ease.


Anchoring is similar to classical conditioning, wherein a conditioned response is assigned to a stimulus.


Swish is the disruption of a normal pattern of conditioned behavior by switching it with a new, desired response.


Reframing involves changing the way a stimulus is perceived, thus changing the the elicited response.

6 step reframe:

  1. Identifying the context where the unwanted behavior pattern occurred,
  2. Establishing unconscious yes/no signals,
  3. Confirming that the behavior has a positive intent,
  4. Finding a number of ways of fulfilling the positive intent,
  5. Selecting the best of the possible alternatives generated in step 4,
  6. Checking that the selection is ecological, that is, it is acceptable to the individual and in relationships to others.


After my initial studying of NLP, I can already see there are ideas here not just for therapists and those interested in personal development, but there is also much to gain for marketing and PR professionals.  Whether the ideas are proven or not scientifically, it is fascinating to read through the studies which have been done as there are always  interesting insights to gain from subjective material.  Many of these techniques are actually being used at scale if you stop and think about it – whether we consider them NLP or not.

As a marketing pro and also a blogger, I have found studying psychology and sociology books, case studies and theories as invaluable learning tools to help inspire sticky ideas and successful strategies – perhaps more so than business books, which encourage more of a traditional line of thinking.  The understanding of how our minds work and process ideas, as well as how we interact with each other is just as valuable as knowing what is happening in the business world today.  The more we learn the how and why of communication, influence and interpretation of ideas the better we get at marketing.

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