Releasing The Greatness of NLP

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

In 2009, NLP (founded in 1975) is 34 years old and yet it is still one of the world’s best kept secrets for personal growth and self-actualization, for leadership and business excellence, and for coaching and therapy. Why is that? What explains that? How has the field of NLP been able to keep itself hidden from attention for more than three decades, and why?

NLP is truly a cutting-edge Communication Model that can facilitate precision and clarity like no other model that I am aware of— and for a world where communication misunderstandings, distortions, vagueness, and lack of clarity is rampant— this is really, really needed. Isn’t it? When I watch the nightly news about politicians, business leaders, educators, everyday people in all walks of life—miscommunication is everywhere and worse than any swine flu epidemic.

  • So what’s wrong?
  • Why is not there a voracious appetite and demand for NLP from all around the world?
  • Why are we having so much difficulty marketing and selling a model that is so powerful and effective?
  • Is there something wrong with picture?

I don’t know about you, but for me, there are some truly wonderful things about NLP. Great things! When I first found the NLP model, I was thrilled by the realization that structure explains experiences—that instead of wading through months and even years of content, I could solve many problems by going straight to the governing structure of the experience. That if I change the patterning— the information patterning—I could change the experience of the problem. I don’t need to know how a problem or challenge got started; I don’t need to know what your mother did to you, or your teachers, or your ex-spouses. I just need to know how an experience works. Then if I change that, presto! things will change. Transformation occurs.

Even after more than two decades for me— 23 years to be exact— I still find these facets of NLP as absolutely fascinating, exciting, and containing fabulous possibilities. And I would love to see NLP as a regular subject on Larry King, Oprah and other shows exploring the structure of problems and solutions. Wouldn’t that be great?

In fact, come to think of it, with a model as powerful and effective as the NLP Communication Model about humans functioning and communicating at their best — wouldn’t it just naturally spread from person to person by word of mouth— wouldn’t it reach a tipping point to make it a world-wide phenomena? I think it would, it should … unless there’s some international conspiracy to hold it back — to dilute its influence. Maybe that’s it. Maybe there’s an international conspiracy against NLPers! Or maybe the problem is with us—maybe the problem lies in how we have understood, presented, experienced, and used NLP. That would be great because then we could do something about this.

What I want to accomplish here today at this 20th anniversary of the CANLP (Canadian Association of NLP) is to raise our visioning to a global level so that together we begin to imagine the possibility of releasing the greatness of NLP.1 To that end, I want to do two things:

1) First, identify what NLP is and its greatness. That will identify the potentials which are available for us to release. I will mention 5 great things regarding what NLPis— 5 items that make up the Vision of what we have to offer.

2) Second, recommend five things for how we can release this greatness and invite you to be a part of the solution.

NLP is — NLP is Great for — Resulting Benefits

1) A highly refined Communication Model Professional and precise communications Understanding, clarity 2) Meta-Structures for Modeling Modeling the highest and best in people Replicating excellence

Increasing competence 3) Pragmatism at its best Practical success in everyday life Reaching one’s goals 4) Critical Success Distinctions Identifying the details of mastery to replicate Developing mastery 5) Self-Actualization Identifying and unleashing potentials Being the best version

of you; more joy

NLP is—

1) A Cutting-Edge Highly Refined Communication Model

Meta-Model of Language — 21 linguistic distinctions
Representational Model — the sensory movie “The meaning of your communication is the response you get.” “You cannot not communicate.” “People respond (and communicates) from their maps of reality, not reality.”
What are you communicating?
How are you communicating?

2) Meta-Structures for Modeling

“The map is not the territory.”
“People don’t deal with the world as it is but through their maps about the
“To create rapport, meet people at their map of the world, rather than yours.”

4 Meta-Models about structure
The invisible framework enabling us to see beyond appearance.
Change map —> change experience.
The person is not the problem; the frame is the problem.

3) Pragmatism at its best for everyday success

“If it does not work, try something else.”
“If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”

Find an expert and model his or her success.
Patterns for operating brain/ life as human technology for making things happen.

4) Critical Success Distinctions for excellence

“There is no failure, only feedback.”
“There is no failure, there are only responses and we always get responses.”
“The person with the most flexibility will have the most influence in a system.”

NLP is about strengths, success, excellence
Difference that makes a difference
Mastery is in the details.

5) Self-actualizing Human Potential Model

People are not broken, but work perfectly well.
There are plenty of resources to achieve our goals.
The world is rich enough for a wide range of experiences, if there are limitations,
they are in the way we have mapped the world.

The Secret History of NLP— the Human Potential Movement (1960s)
Esalen: Perls, Satir, and Bateson worked there together: 1963-1970.
First modeler: Abraham Maslow of self-actualizing people


So what is so great about NLP? What greatness or excellence is there in Neuro-Linguistic Programming? NLP is great for several highly important things for our lives. For more than 30 years, if you want to shut a NLPer up or induce a case of stuttering, there was one question to ask. It is a version of Peter Druckers’ question for businesses, “What business are you in?” Ask,

So what is NLP? What is it really?

1) As a Communication Model, NLP is Great for Clear and Professional Communication

NLP is fundamentally a communication model. It is a highly refined communication model for getting through to people in a way that can transform relationships and experiences. Discovered in the repertoire of some world-class communicators (Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, Milton Erickson)—people who could use their powers of communication to create therapeutic and healing magic, NLP is first and foremost a model of communication, first self-communication and second, inter-personal communication with others.

language our realities—how our linguistic maps enable us to create experience at deeper neurological levels. And that means that as we can change our mapping, so our experiencing changes. We create and live a new life.

NLP also mapped out the non-linguistic or neurological factors of our communicating: eye accessing cues, use of space, representational systems. In fact, the genius of Bandler and Grinder was in specifying the components of “thought” in terms of the sensory systems, the VAK distinctions. This insight astonished Bateson as he noted in his preface of the first volume of The Structure of Magic.

NLP then included some of the key concepts that support excellence in communication. John and Richard felt this was too theoretical so they snuck it into the model calling it the “NLP presuppositions.” These are the sayings that we have in NLP that facilitates communication excellence:

“The meaning of your communication is the response you get.”
“You cannot not communicate.”
“People respond (and communicates) from their maps of reality, not reality.”

NLP also identified that our inner experiences of both excellence and dysfunction arise from our self-communications. And how we communicate with ourselves sets the frames for our experiences. So the questioning model of NLP facilitates a listener to become aware of his or her maps and then re-map an experience in a much more empowering way so that it provides direction rather than limitation.

2) As Meta-Structures, NLP is Great for Modeling Human Excellence

In a sense, NLP is about nothing in particular and everything in general. It has no

content except the processes that comprise the context and structure. That’s because NLP is a model that centrally explores the structure and form of experiences at a higher or meta level. As such, it applies to anything and everything human. It explores pattern and frame. It is about human functioning in our neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic bodies.

This is why NLP is all about framing. If there’s a problem, the problem is the frame, not the person. So while people are not broken, their frames often are. Our frames often are broken, sick, toxic, pathological, distorted, and full of non-sense which create all kinds of problems for us. As a technology of excellence, NLP is about the structure of excellence regarding how we communicate and frame our experience that makes them what they are. Among the sayings we have in NLP about this are:

“The map is not the territory.”
“People don’t deal with the world as it is but through their maps about the world.”
“To create rapport, meet people at their map of the world, rather than yours.”

NLP makes explicit this framing structure through the four meta-models to give us four

meta-structures— 1) Language — the Meta-Model. 2) Representational thoughts— the Sub-Modality or Meta-Modalities Model

The cinematic features by which we edit our movies.

3) Thinking and perceptual patterns — the Meta-Programs Model.

4) Self-reflexive consciousness of our psycho-logical levels —the Meta-States


These meta-models of NLP gives us many powerful tools— meta-frames of questions, structures, and processes so that we can look beyond the appearances of things to the form and structure that actually govern how things work. This is what I like saying in elevators, “NLP is the invisible form that explains the appearance of the things we see.”

One example is “the Phobia Cure.” Communicate a feared experience as if it is happening now in your representations—and that frame will fill your body full of fright. Change that coding by using the metaphor of the fear as a movie up on a screen which you can sit back and watch for the last time from the projection booth. Then, watching it to the end and past the end to a scene of comfort, you can then step into that comfort and re-experience only to then rewind it while you’re inside it.

3) As Pragmatism at its best, NLP is Great for Everyday Success and Happiness. This arises from the fact that it is eminently practical, relevant, and pragmatic. Unlike many psychological models, NLP centrally focuses on the practical. You can see this in some of our NLP sayings: “If it does not work, try something else.” “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”

Pre-eminently NLP takes a down-to-earth approach as it focuses on modeling what works rather than theorizing about concepts and abstractions of what could, should, or might work. NLP focuses on how an expert does what he or she does, the expert’s language patterns, and the expert’s belief frames.

The backside of this focus is that NLP does not use Greek myths (as does Psychoanalysis) to explain human experiences. It focuses on what works and the causal relationship between stimulus and response. If something doesn’t work, we try something else. In fact, with NLP we ferociously experiment. Some of our NLP sayings that supports this explorative approach are:

“There is no failure, only feedback.”
“There is no failure, there are only responses and we always get responses.”
“The person with the most flexibility will have the most influence in a system.”

All of this leads to our practical bottom line. NLP, as a Cognitive Behavioral model, operates primarily as a set of life-changing patterns. Patterns—specific step-by-step processes that detail the strategy of success in a given area of excellence. These patterns make up our technology—the technology of excellence by which we can do things and which enables us to assume responsibility. And that’s another thing great about NLP; it enables us to truly become response-able persons who take ownership of our personal powers as well as our mental mapping about things.

So no wonder NLP focuses on excellence. Because it is about modeling and the patterning of excellence, NLP concentrates on finding the best practices of human experiences. It focuses on human strengths, possibilities, and potentials. It looks at the bright-side of human nature and psychology.

4) As Critical Success Distinctions, NLP is Great for Effective Expertise and Mastery. NLP, as a refined communication model of the framing that results in human excellence by modeling the step-by-step strategies that work in the real world, is a model of critical distinctions. It is a model of detailed distinctions that facilitate precision and clarity. In modeling excellence, NLP highlights critical success factors in specific domains to make them available for anyone who wants to replicate them.

You can see this focus on critical distinctions in the NLP communication model which distinguishes between description and evaluation. Here NLP operationalizes terms for specificity and it especially does so by denominalizing vague noun-like terms, and it searches out “the difference that makes a difference” (Bateson) in a given experience. The excellence of mastery lies in the details.

You can see this also in the structure of rapport. Rapport emerges when we use our behaviors and words to match those of another person. By matching the other person’s movements, gestures, breathing, words, values, beliefs, etc. we can create almost instant connections with them. This secret of rapport enables us to use the critical factors for successfully connecting.

5) As Self-Actualization, NLP is Great for Actualizing your Highest and best Potentials. Given all of this, NLP results in empowering people to be their best, unleash their highest and best potentials. Historically we speak of this “self-actualization” in NLP as “personal power,” as increasing one’s range of choices (adding choices), as “states of excellence,” as accessing personal genius, as emotional intelligence, and so on.

What is generally unknown in NLP is its own history—NLP arose from the Human Potential Movement. I discovered this in 2003 when I began exploring the background of Fritz and Virginia and wondering if they knew each other, ever met each other, or ever worked together. That’s when I discovered the secret history of NLP.2 The NLP Presuppositions that we have always thought originated with the three world-class therapists actually came from Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.

The secret is now out! NLP is part of a larger movement, the movement that it arose from— The Human Potential Movement. The premises of NLP— what we call the “NLP Presuppositions” that we find in the language and writings of Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls were previous to them. You can find them in the language and writings of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. These include such paradigm shifting ideas as:

People are not broken, but work perfectly well.
There are plenty of resources to achieve our goals.
The world is rich enough for a wide range of experiences, if there are limitations,
they are in the way we have mapped the world.



  • Now that you know what it is, how can we release it?
  • What’s holding NLP down?
  • If NLP is so great, what’s diluting its influence?
  • What’s preventing NLP from reaching a tipping point for world-wide recognition?

We used to blame the lack of success of NLP on two key things:

1) We blamed it on NLP’s therapy connection.

We blamed it on how NLP originated in the context of therapy and became married to therapy for many years that we thought NLP was a therapy model. Yet it is so much more. During the past 34 years, NLP has evolved far beyond its origins in therapy. It has evolved into business, leadership, coaching, medicine, education, sports, and so on.

2) We also blamed it on the founders.

We blamed it on Richard Bandler and John Grinder. We blamed it on the negative PR that NLP got from being so iconoclastic when it started and then on the lawsuits, murder trial, incongruencies, lack of leadership, and rugged individualism, all which prevented them from creating a community. We blamed it on the Wars of the Magicians that divided this field into several competing kingdoms. But again, NLP has not depended on either of the founders. And further, a whole new group of leaders has arisen all around the world taking NLP into new places and applications.

Current Problems

  • So what continues to hold us back?
  • What continues to prevent us from turning loose the powerful and wonderful things we have in NLP?

Several things. We still lack the kind and quality of leaders who have a world-wide vision and a practical business model that pulls together those trained in NLP into a community who cooperates for a collaborative approach. We still do not tend to operate from a sense of abundance rather than scarcity and competition. And there are still a lot of key people in NLP who are not walking the talk congruently with the key premises and values of NLP.

So how then can we set about to release the greatness of NLP so it can have a much greater and wider influence in the world? What do you and I need to do? We need to live the greatness of NLP in how we communication with each other, manage our states, run our businesses, and influence the world.

Releasing the Greatness of NLP

1) Clear Communicate NLP without apology or contamination.

  • Refuse to dilute it with other models.
  • Demonstrate the excellence of the NLP model.

2) Collaborate as a community as never before.

Refuse the divisiveness of the individualistic parties, transcend self-promotion
Give up sectarian attitude about who does the “real” or “pure” NLP.
Collaborate through associations and projects to support each other.

3) Abundantly use and apply NLP in our lives.

Live by abundance rather than scarcity.
Live the transformation.

4) Create solid credibility for NLP.

* More professionalism, giving credit to sources.

5) Groom next generation leaders.

* Encourage fresh creative thinking and visionary leaders.

1) Define and Communicate NLP Clearly without Contaminating it. We will release NLP when we more clearly define what it is and what it can do. To the question, “What is NLP?” how do we define it? We need to release NLP from its own identity crisis. It is not therapy, not hypnosis, not sales, not manipulation, not even modeling, so what is it?

It is a communication model!
It is the invisible structure of experience in four meta-structures.
It is pragmatism at its best with practical patterns.
It is critical success distinctions for effectiveness.
It is the actualizing of human potential.

For years we have said that NLP is about generative change and not remedial but we never did not develop or make explicit the actual Psychology behind NLP which informs what we do in NLP. We have not gone back to the theory and the psychology of the Bright-Side of Psychology—that is, to the Self-Actualization Psychology of Abraham Maslow which launched the Human Potential Movement.

While we can use NLP to re-model and understand other models, we need to release NLP from all of the other models that we have attempted to integrate with NLP (e.g., Reiki, EFT, Eye Desensitization; Myers-Briggs; Annegram, Shamanism, etc.). Doing that essentially contaminates NLP, rather than enriches it. It dilutes NLP from its original focus. Until we truly know what it is, we will continue to misrepresent NLP, fail to develop the requires skills of NLP excellence, and be incapable of benefits of NLP.

2) Collaborate as a Community as never before. I’m convinced that we will not release NLP until we learn how to collaborate as a community. We can’t do it alone. We need each other. We have to work with each other and get along with each other. This is another major problem, we have been far too individualistic and have had too little team spirit. We probably got that from the founders—Bandler and Grinder who set the pace originally with their own personal incongruencies and ideosyncrasies and their own a lack of vision for the community.

Robert Dilts described the situation in this way, “Bandler and Grinder conceived NLP but didn’t stay around to father the community.” So there has not been a strong business model for how to get NLP out into the world. As far as I know, there’s been no unified plan. But now many are beginning to think in these terms— how to establish research for NLP, how to get NLP into Universities, and how to create an association to govern the field.

We need to shift from exclusive to inclusive; shift from scarcity to abundance; and shift from individualism to collaboration and community. Now it is time for us to learn how to contain and manage our individualism and refuse to allow it to undermine the vision of unleashing the greatness of NLP. We need to build a vision that gives us a sense of team spirit, that we are all in this together.

I’m ready to do this, are you? Will you? Let’s write about collaboration as a community; let’s do workshops on it. Let’s get on the forums and challenge all of the inter-community fighting. Let’s infuse a new spirit of collaboration into the Associations of NLP around the world and begin to demonstrate the leadership skill of collaborating.

3) Abundantly Use and apply NLP to ourselves! We need to become much more congruent in our practice of NLP and set an example that will counter-act the negative PR of NLP as being manipulative. We need to apply the premises and patterns of NLP to ourselves and live the changes that we want to see spread out around the world. We need to walk our talk, develop a high level of integrity, and practice NLP in a way that makes it attractive. We need to give up any and all manipulative uses of NLP and do our best to reel in those who do.

Are we ready to respect, honor, and care for each other in a way that demonstrates all of our powerful models about communication? Are we ready to be a part of something bigger than ourselves? Will you?

NLP is itself a creative model, arising from the creative genius of Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who modeled the creativity of Perls and Satir. NLP also models creativity as an experience as Robert Dilts did with Walt Disney and others. Consequently, the field of NLP ought to be one of the most creative fields and communities anywhere. Shouldn’t it? Yet it is not. In fact, given how little new development there’s been in this field during the past 15 years, NLP has surprisingly not been a very creative field. Neither Bander nor Grinder have created anything new in two decades; only the Social Panorama by Derks, Clean Language by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins, and Meta-States, Matrix model, Axes of Change, and Self-Actualization Quadrants by myself are new in NLP.

4) Create solid Credibility for NLP. As we apply NLP to ourselves, we need to give ourselves to research and modeling as never before so that we can create the kind of patterns and processes that make a big difference in our lives and the lives of those we touch. Being credible means acting more professional, giving credit to sources, collaborating, succeeding in our businesses, and supporting each other to succeed. We see this in the new “NLP Research and Recognition” website and community that grew from an initiative in IASH in 2007. And there are other efforts to introduce NLP at the University in numerous places.

Let’s stop hiding NLP. Are you willing to let people know the model that informs your work. If you write articles or books, are you willing to name NLP in the book and acknowledge sources?

5) Groom Leaders and Support Thinkers and Developers. We should not treat NLP, as a meta-discipline about the way human realities work, as if it was a faith or creed to believe in. It is not. Instead, we should recognize it as it is— as a growing, evolving discipline. If we give up a “denominational” attitude of seeing who is a “true believer,” then we can realize that there’s no such thing as “pure NLP,” or “true NLP,” but that NLP itself is a living and growing discipline— Sufficient within itself without needing to integrate it in every other psychological model or new age model.

And as we do, we need to be grooming new leaders and thinkers. So while Richard and John never learned how to validate the contributions of others, not Robert Dilts, not any of the other original co-developers, not myself, we now need to learn how to do that with each other and with those who are now coming into this field. We need to learn how to groom leaders among us, mentor them, and stay in association with them so that new ideas on the front-line of encountering human realities, individually and socially.

In my little part of the world of NLP, in Neuro-Semantics we have been recognizing developers among us, we have developed a leadership team who functions as a board of examiners to hold people accountable, and we have been creating a more united front internationally. Yet this is but just a small beginning.


Will these five recommendations work to release the greatness of NLP? Will they be enough? I don’t know. What I do know is that change in a movement comes from the bottom up— that when enough persons have caught a vision and enough people live a change— it activates a tipping phenomenon, an epidemic begins to spread and then a critical mass is reached. Then transformation occurs.

I acknowledge and congratulate you here at the Canadian Association of NLP for what you have done in working together for 20 years! That’s a great example! So let a new epidemic begin here and let a spirit of collaboration and respect carry us forward in this century to put NLP on the world stage!


L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. took his original trainings in NLP with Richard Bandler and worked with Richard for a few years, writing several books for him and working on the NLP Society at the time. A Cognitive-Behavioral Psychologist by education, Michael has focused on modeling excellence since 1990 and creating books and trainings from numerous modeling projects. He began by modeling resilience, then self-reflexivity, women in leadership, selling, fitness, wealth creation, coaching, and self-actualization. In 1996 he launched Neuro-Semantics and in 2002 co-created Meta-Coaching with Michelle Duval.

End Notes:

  1. Given April 24, 2009, at the Canadian Association NLP (CANLP), Toronto Canada, Vahalla Inn.
  2. See Self-Actualization Psychology (2008), Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Concepts and Applications (2008) edited by Kunal Gaurav, India, (Icfai University Press); chapter 4 is titled “The Secret History of NLP.” Resource Magazine, London, Caroline Miller, Ed. Issues published in 2007-2008.