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NLP: Discovering excellence


Sue Knight discusses the power of NLP and how 'modelling' can help us learn.

I sit in God’s Own Country as it is known – Kerala, in Southern India – looking out over the Arabian Sea thinking about how this natural and tropically beautiful land might very soon be spoilt with the commercialism that seems to accompany most tourism. I watch the local fishermen throw their nets into the sea and the women lay out their washing on the rocks that bridge the beach and the small road that brings an increasing number of visitors to the region every year. What has this to do with NLP and indeed what is NLP?

The study of excellence

NLP is the study of excellence. By learning how to recognise the (mostly unconscious) choices we make in our thinking and behaviour especially non-verbal behaviour (Neuro), the language that we speak to ourselves and others (Linguistic) and how we combine these intuitive choices to create programmes (Programming) by which we live our lives, we can become increasingly aware of what is working for us and what is not. But more especially we can learn from difference, in particular the difference between how we react when we are at our best compared to when we sabotage ourselves. We can learn from the difference between the way that we think and others think so that we can make the best choices in how we might communicate with them.

The applications are infinite – negotiating, conflict management, team building, state management, public speaking, call and email handling, sports performance, release of creativity… We can learn from ourselves and we can learn from others – our models of excellence. And we can learn how to incorporate the best of one culture into another. However to do this we need to put aside our customary ways of being.
"You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew."

You experience a beautiful sunny day – you believe that life is good. Your partner speaks to you in a harsh tone of voice – you assume you have done something wrong. In microseconds you have put a meaning to these events. You will have deleted some of the details, put a name to others and as such distorted them and generalised what you saw and heard and felt to make your personal ‘map’ of what has happened. And this is how we relate to the world – through our maps. This is the difference between what we refer to as deep structure (the truth and richness of our original experience) and surface structure (the result of how we distort that experience – our perception.)

The opportunity offered to us is to continually challenge and develop that map so that we accelerate our learning and our flexibility to cope with the changes in the world that seem to be coming faster and more globally threatening than ever before. This process of re-connecting with the truth of what lies behind our own map or that of an individual, team, company, culture or indeed ourselves is a process known as modelling.

Modelling our lives

We can model the charisma that defines some speakers over others. We can model the thinking that enables some people to achieve mutually compelling outcomes where once there might have been conflict. We can model how it is that some people keep their cool and composure when all about them are losing theirs. The beauty is that you can choose anywhere and anything what you model. The world becomes a sea of resources.

We can model on a small scale – for example how someone chooses to stop eating at a time that is just right for their body and health and we can choose to model on a cultural scale.

I have just returned from a short trip to the southern most tip of India where we stayed at an Ayurverdic resort perched on the hilltop above an expanse of beach known as Coconut Bay. The views of the miles of sand backed by palm trees, the rows and rows of fishermen’s boats and the infinite horizon of the Arabian Sea are breathtaking. And yet as we approached this resort in the taxi from the station alarm bells started to ring as we saw the line of expensive tourist shops lining the road to the entrance. Not many but enough to know that the environment in this immediate vicinity was not designed for locals but for visitors with a much higher income than the local villagers.

"The ‘I’ness of the facilitator should virtually cease to exist." David Grove                   (source of Clean Language)

Once inside the resort our fears were compounded as we watched non-Indian tourists stroll around the grounds in what would be considered extremely revealing and disrespectful clothing in any of the native towns and country in this southern part of India.

These visitors were most likely getting a wonderful holiday and superb Ayurverdic health care but they were not getting an experience of the truth of the Indian people and their way of life. And I accept that this is probably not what they came for. What concerns me is that our desire to be fussy with our bodies, fussy with material things, fussy with notions about others keeps us at the surface structure of life and removed from the rich deeper truth. To truly model others experience and the gifts that they have to offer we need to be able to let go of our addiction to our existing way of being - to be cleanly open.
The drink bearer cannot fill our cup if it is already brimming over with water … to be filled we need first to empty that cup so that we can receive what others have to offer. Modelling is not just an NLP technique it is a way of learning to embrace the differences that exist in the world and to live as one.
Sue Knight is author of NLP at Work (new 3rd edition just released) and international NLP trainer and consultant and coach. You can find out more about her work and the courses she offers on

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