The Problem

I recently asked a number of NLP trainers in Hong Kong, Egypt, Tokyo, Malaysia, and Australia, “What is the biggest challenge that you face in your NLP practice and business?”  And the answer was not only surprisingly similar, but it highlights a common theme that seems to be echoed around the world by so many people who care about the future of this field, “The low quality of NLP training and practice.”

I then ask about the evidence.  “What is the evidence that there is a low problem of low quality NLP knowledge and skill?”  And that brought a wide range of problems.  Most frequently the trainers spoke about people being certified as practitioners who never study the Meta-Model as a communication model (the first model in this field), who experience no training in strategies or modeling (the very heart of NLP), and who experience various new age practices that may be a lot of fun, but which has nothing to do with NLP and in fact, confuse them about what NLP really is.

My discussions with trainers and leaders also indicate that the low quality of NLP shows up in when people learn NLP from a correspondence course or in distance learning and have no follow up of intense personal supervision that assesses whether the person has any actual competency with such basic skills as state elicitation, anchoring, calibrating, pacing, precision questioning, strategy elicitation, meta-program detection, etc.  This seems to be a growing problem in this field that is inherent experiential in nature.

The low quality of NLP also shows up in other ways.  It shows up in the lack of congruency in the trainers who operate from scarcity and competition rather than abundance and cooperation, who put anyone in the field down who isn’t part of their camp, who presents themselves as the only ones doing “real” NLP, and who don’t live NLP in an authentic way.  It shows up in those who present NLP and who are out-of-touch with the new developments during the past fifteen years, and who fail to give credit to sources.  In this and many other ways, the quality of NLP training seems to be suffering everywhere in the world.

Without an commonly recognized international body governing the field and so without an international set of standards, NLP has been fragmenting over the past three decades and seems to be increasing in the fragmentation rather than decreasing.

The Solution

So what are we to do?  What can we who care about the quality of NLP in NLP practitioners, trainers, and leaders do?

First and foremost, we ourselves can practice and demonstrate higher quality NLP in our trainings and in our lives.

This is first and most critical.  The best way to make all of the low quality NLP redundant is by contrasting it to NLP of high quality.  And what does that mean?  It means, beyond all the talk and hype, actually knowing the models and patterns and being skilled enough to effectively use them.  Two things are required for quality NLP: a knowledge of the field that is both broad and thorough and a competency to be able to carry out the skills.

For the knowledge part, this means that trainers and leaders ought to be continually learning, reading, researching, and taking additional training.  It should strike us as a complete contradiction of terms that a NLP trainer is not still learning and developing.  And that means keeping current with the field, attending Conferences, reading journals, staying up with the books published in this field.  To not do so implies a know-it-all arrogance that contradicts the true spirit of NLP.

In terms of the knowledge of thefield, trainers should know where NLP came from.  They should know that it emerged in the early 1970s from two movements, the Cognitive Psychology movement and the Human Potential movement.  The immediate models of NLP came from George Miller and his associates as they launched the Cognitive Psychology movement, dated 1956.  This includes Noam Chomsky, Karl Pribram, etc.  Out of this came the language model of NLP, the Meta-MOdel as a version of Transformational Grammar, thanks to John Grinder.  Out of this developed the Strategy model from Miller’s TOTE model.

It also developed from the Human Potential movement (HPM) of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers— as Bateson, Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir worked together at Esalen in the 1960s as key pioneers of the HPM.  They took their revolutionary ideas from Maslow and Rogers — the very ideas that today we call “the NLP Presuppositions.”1 To not know our history and roots is to not know what we are about and to confuse the true heart and focus of NLP. If we do not know our history, we are doomed to repeat its worst mistakes.

The paradigm shift that Maslow made from “the dark side of human nature” that is sick, unhealthy, distorted, and wounded to the “bright side of human nature” —the side that is healthy, whole, and seeking its highest and best— that paradigm shift lies at the very heart of the HPM and hence NLP.  The “theory” of NLP that Bandler and Grinder kept discounting and pooh-poohing is actually the theoretical foundations of both Cognitive Psychology and Self-Actualization Psychology.  That’s the uniqueness of NLP.

As trainers and practitioners of NLP develop a more thorough and comprehensive understanding of what we have in our hands, the next task is learning to develop the skills that fall out from these models.   Knowing without doing is a form of incompetence.  Knowing can be deceptive.  It can deceive a person into assuming skills he or she does not have.  The test, of course, is reality.  Can you actually do what you know to do?  In this, we have to close the knowing-doing gap with true competence and skill.  And today research has abundantly demonstrated that true competency is a ten-year process.2

Many so-called NLP Trainers and practitioners hate this.  They want everything to be easy and quick.  But everything is not easy and quick.  With skills that have been developed to the level of expertise, this requires discipline and what Ericsson Anders’ calls “deliberate practice.”

Second, to raise the quality of NLP around the world we need to collaboratively practice what we are preaching.

If we believe in abundance, we have to stop practicing scarcity.  If we believe in cooperation, we have to stop practicing competition.  If we believe in positive intentions behind actions, we have to stop cutting others down and criticizing them.  These are but a few of the “thought viruses” among us that we have to address.  And these viruses have created within NLP so much incongruency that no wonder people question our motives and our competence.

As long as making money is the first and biggest, and sometimes only, motive for trainers and leaders— NLP will be seen as manipulative.  We have to raise our motives and intentions above merely making money.  And we have to get our ego out of the way in terms pride.  There’s too many striving to create a guru-kingdom or cult in NLP, building followers after them, instead of freeing people to discover and actualize their highest potentials.

As a child of the Human Potential Movement, NLP is part of “humanistic psychology” and as such we should proudly recognize this as our heritage —raising the awareness and skills of people everywhere so that they can reach their highest values and visions and actualize their best skills.  Unless we do this we will not be able to get away from the current problems of competition and conflict.

Third, the quality of NLP practice and experience requires trainings that can build and measure true competence.

A problem that seems inherent in NLP is the idea of speed.  It’s the idea that we can do things quickly.  And while this is true for some things, it is not true for everything.  It is true of the Phobia Cure pattern that cut the time for healing a phobic response from six months to ten minutes.  But there’s a problem.  The problem is that every “problem” is not like the stimulus-response structure of a phobia.  In fact, the majority of problems are not.  And because they are not, there won’t be “ten minute cures.”

Many NLP trainers and practitioners have jumped to the conclusion that because we have found the structure of one experience that allows us to radically shorten the time, everything in human nature is like this.  This is the fallacious thinking that creates this delusion.  Simple states and experiences that are stimulus–response in structure have be done quickly, but not so the complex states and experiences.  There will never be a “Ten Minute Health Cure,” “Ten Minute Get-Rich-Quick Pattern,” “Ten Minutes to Leadership Competency.”  Complex states and experience require time, learning, practice, deliberate focus over the long-term.

The Bottom Line

Can we raise the quality of NLP around the world?  I believe we can and that we must!  Yet it will not happen quickly or easily.  It will take the concerted effort of a critical mass of NLP practitioners to turn the tide and make the negative P.R. about NLP redundant.  Many are already working to do this —we need many, many more to catch this vision and join in the effort.  Together we can do so much more than apart or alone.

** Announcements



Beginning in 2011 we plan to launch an annual International Neuro-Semantic Conference and we will begin from Grand Junction Colorado where Dr. Hall conducted his original NLP Training Center and discovered the Meta-States Model.

Dates:              July 1-3, 2011 — Country Inn Conference Center

Theme:            Actualizing Excellence

Content:          15 workshops — two tracks: Personal Excellence — Business Excellence

The Schedule of events and workshops will be sent out in the 4 to 6 weeks as we develop that.  Immediately following the Conference will be a Module III training of Meta-Coaching for the ACMC credentials (July 6-13, 2011).   Mark in your calendar for 2011 and then … Come and enjoy.