As soon as you meet someone for the first time, you’ll automatically begin to sound them out. You’ll try to gauge the other person’s values, beliefs and social status in relation to your own. Much of your judgement will be based on the other person’s general appearance, their accent, vocabulary, style of clothes, their job etc. And, as the conversation progresses, you’ll build up a picture of who you think this person really is – as he or she also does with you. Sometimes it’s less obvious though, and the first impressions you make about a person are much more difficult to pin on such obvious characteristics. I’m sure you, like me, have taken an instant liking, or indeed a dislike to someone you have just met, and the reasons were, well – let’s just say that they were hard to put your finger on.
We already know that people like people who are like themselves, but two people dressed similarly, with the same accent and general vocabulary, coming from the same background and education is no guarantee of instant rapport. No, there are a few hidden factors, which, when you know about them, will give you the edge in establishing rapport with whoever you meet, no matter what their appearance or demeanour.
One of the main factors in rapport, or just plain old communication, is speaking the same language as the other person, but at a more subtle level than the grammar you learned at school. Allow me to let you into a secret – one of the most common reasons that people don’t get onto the same wavelength, or see eye to eye, or get a feel for each other is that we all have our own ways of encoding reality. The good news is that you can tell in a matter of seconds how someone’s mind works from their language, and use this to your advantage. Once you understand how someone represents the world internally, you can phrase your message in a way that fits with that, and be sure that it’s more easily accepted. In fact, you can almost guarantee that what you say will be accepted, processed and internalised even before the other person is consciously aware of it. In short, use this technique and you’ll build rapport very quickly with whomever you speak to.
So what’s the technique? The next time you speak with someone, just listen to the words they use to find out what type of sensory representation they use most. Or listen to your own language. Are you a mainly visual person, who thinks in pictures? Or are you more of an auditory person, who thinks in terms of conversations and sounds? Or maybe you’re a kinaesthetic type, who thinks primarily in terms of their emotions and feelings? Whatever the type, all you need to do is be aware of these preferences, and you’ll be able to talk the same language, or hit it off or even see eye to eye with the other person.
For instance, if you were a mainly visual type of person the types of things you might say would run along the lines of:
“Let’s see, how does that look to you?”
“Can we just focus on this now?”
“See you later”
Or maybe you’re an auditory type, and you use phrases like:
“Sounds good to me”
“Are we working in harmony here?”
“Give me a shout later”
Or perhaps you’re a kinaesthetic type of person who says:
“How do you feel about this?”
“Let’s get a handle on things”
“Let’s get in touch”
Because people will always favour the language of their own most-used representational system, you can use this knowledge to boost communication and thus enhance rapport. So, if they’ve used more kinaesthetic phrases than visual ones, be sure to use kinaesthetic types of phrases when you talk. Ask them how they feel about things rather than how they see the project developing, and they won’t be ‘grasping for your meaning’, and while you ‘just don’t see what they’re saying’, at least you’ll know why.
Now, these types are not hard and fast, as most people don’t stick to one favoured system for every situation, and many people mix and match depending on circumstances. For example, you might see that the project is a good idea and that the way ahead is clear, but you still might need to get the right feeling from the people you are working with before you fully commit to it. In this case, you are primarily visual, but need kinaesthetic reassurance before going forward. Imagine your boss is auditory, and she needs to hear all the right things, ensure that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet and be on the same wavelength with the main players. Others on the project may be in for some tough times, but now that you are aware of this basic concept of NLP, the way ahead should be plain sailing.
So where did all this NLP stuff come from? Now that I’ve introduced you to just one of the basics, I’m sure you’ll want to know more. It’s certainly a fascinating area, as it’s about you – or to be more precise, it’s about how your mind works, and how you can use this information to your advantage.
NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and many authors will tell you that it stands for the way we use language and the brain to program or control our lives. Actually, the man who invented the system, a Dr. Richard Bandler tells it a little differently. He along with partner, Dr. John Grinder were working on some systems of psychology / therapy in the early 1970’s and kept coming up against the establishment. For example, they had figured out a way to cure phobias in a matter of minutes (around 20, usually), and could train anyone to do this in a couple of hours, but the psychologists of the day were adamant that it couldn’t be done. They were so full of their own theories and presuppositions that they were sure that Bandler and Grinder were charlatans. The answer was to come up with their very own area of psychology – that way, no one could criticise them. They called it NLP, because on the day they decided to create their new branch, they had 3 books on the table in front of them: a book on neuropathology, a book on linguistics and one on computer programming. So that’s where the name came from.
The practice of NLP itself is eclectic – it borrows from a range of disciplines, but in a nutshell it’s usually explained as ‘the study of the structure of excellence’. The idea being that, if you want to be an excellent skier/golfer/lecturer etc. all you do is to go out and find out how the best in the area think and act. You then take those actions and thoughts and model them – modelling is a big area in NLP – and you will automatically become one of the best. One example of this is illustrated by the following story from Bandler himself…
A famous baseball team in the USA was uncharacteristically trailing in the league tables. They had tried various approaches to remedy the situation – extra training, motivational talks, monetary incentives – even a team psychologist. When Bandler was called, he immediately called in the 3 best baseball players he could find, and questioned them about how they think when playing the game. He found out that they all thought and acted similarly when batting. As they prepared themselves for the strike, their perception of time changed – things seemed to slow right down, in much the same way that time seems to stretch when you find yourself in an emergency situation. The next thing that happened was that the ball seemed to expand in size so that it looked so much easier to hit, and the third thing was the bat – it also seemed to get bigger. The players also commented about being in the ‘flow’ or ‘the zone’ – nothing could have distracted them as they were totally concentrating on the game.
Bandler then constructed some visualisation exercises using these principles, took the players through them and left them to practice. The results were immediate, the team quickly regained their place at the top of the league and have stayed there or thereabouts ever since.
So, if anyone asks you what NLP is all about, just tell them it’s all about using your brain for a change.