The Elder Columns, Part 1
Using Expert Validation to Define the Boundaries of NLP
Jaap Hollander, Lucas Derks, Bruce Grimley and Lisa de Rijk
Is it part of the Torah or merely a commentary?
What is NLP and what is not? Not a simple discussion
There has been no central authority regulating NLP since 1980, when John Grinder and Richard Bandler broke up their partnership (Time, 1988). This has left NLP practitioners free to develop NLP in whatever direction they liked. In our day and age, about 35 years later, there are hundreds of different models, formats and techniques that are claimed to be NLP. Which ones of them belong to NLP? And which ones don't? And does it matter? These questions often result in lengthy discussions, hardly ever reaching a shared conclusion. Charvet has called it ‘A discussion of biblical proportions', likening it to ‘… trying to determine which texts are part of the Torah and which ones are merely commentaries’ (2016).
What is NLP and what is not?’ Many answers have been proposed. Bandler, for instance, has defined NLP as: ‘What I f***ing say it is!’ (Bandler, 2011). Grinder has stressed that to be NLP, a format requires to be modelled in the appropriate manner (Bostic StClair & Grinder, 2001, Grinder, Pucelik & Bostic StClair, 2013). Dilts and DeLozier catalogued an impressive number of NLP formats in their 1662 page Encyclopedia of NLP (2000).
Several authors have commented on these attempts to define NLP’s contours (Andreas, 2006, Hall, 2013, Derks, 2006 and 2013, Wake, Gray and Bourke, 2013, Grimley, 2015). Their comments demonstrate that in the last 35 years, NLP has expanded beyond a single expert’s definition, no matter how revered the expert or how extensive the definition.
A pragmatic position holds that ’When it works it is NLP’ or that ‘NLP … explores how people … attain what they want’ (Janes, 2013). But definitions like these won’t get us out of the woods. If we accepted them, we would need to include even a five year long psychoanalysis as NLP, because sometimes it works. And we would have to wait for the effect after every single NLP-intervention to see if it worked and therefore really was NLP…
‘A key example of pseudoscience’
NLP has severe recognition problems
Why is defining the boundaries of NLP important in the first place? As we see it, there are five interests at stake here:
Scientific criticism of NLP has been harsh. Wikipedia sums much of it up: 'Failed to show evidence of … effectiveness as a therapeutic method’, 'Has been used … in education … as a key example of pseudoscience’, 'New age psycho-religion’ and ‘Narcissistic, self-centered and divorced from notions of moral responsibility' (about the presupposition that there is no failure, only feedback). Looking at evaluations like these, it is safe to say that NLP has severe recognition problems. Although these problems may be mitigated to some extent by promising studies into Visual-Kinesthetic Dissociation (Gray and Bourke, 2015) and more generalised psychotherapy studies by the European Association for NLPt, a solid evidence base for NLP is not yet available.
If we want recognition for the possibilities and effectiveness of NLP, we will need to define what it is precisely, that we want recognition for. If anybody can keep calling anything NLP, it is unlikely that the scientific opinion - and as an indirect effect, the opinion of much of society - will ever change. The same goes for further development, research, teaching and branding. If we want to develop new NLP formats, it is useful to describe their relationship to existing formats, so we need to know what the existing formats are. If we want to do research, we will have to define what it is that we are studying. Tosey and Mathison (2007) proposed, for instance, that NLP 'emerge from its self-referencing closet and position itself alongside’…. neuroscience and cognitive linguistics … ‘and embrace the fact that it can be evidenced through … neuroscience’. If we want to evidence NLP', we will need to define what it is exactly, that we want to evidence. And in teaching NLP, we need standards as to what we are teaching. Different contents being taught under the NLP flag, result in confusion amongst trainees and potential trainees. And last but not least, when the public hires an NLP-practitioner, we need some consistency in what is being delivered. When consistency is lacking, NLP is weakened as a brand. Brands of soap, for instance, are cautious to always use the same formula. If different soap factories would use different ingredients and package them in the same wrapper, the public would no longer buy that brand of soap. They would never know what they would find inside the wrapper.
We conclude that, given these five interests, it is crucial for the future of NLP to clearly delineate what it is. The next question is: how do we do that?
Is a three wheeled car a motorcycle?
Defining criteria can be complicated, even for physical objects
The first solution that comes to mind, is to define criteria. If only we had a clear set of criteria, we could then look at any proposed NLP element and confidently determine whether or not it was NLP.
This is the way the law sets boundaries. In the Netherlands for instance, the law defines a car as a vehicle that has four wheels and an engine. If it has four wheels but no engine, it is not a car but a cart. If the vehicle has two wheels and an engine, it is not a car but a motorcycle. Clever manufacturers have produced three wheeled cars, which count as motorcycles and can be driven by people who have no license to drive a car but who do have a license to drive a motorcycle. This example shows that even in the area of tangible objects it can be difficult to formulate criteria for what something is.
If, however, we would consult a hundred automobile mechanics who have been in the car business for at least 15 years, the overwhelming majority of them would define the three wheeled vehicle as a car rather than a motorcycle. By the way, this is in fact our proposed solution for the boundary problem, but we will get to that later.
Is it accelerated learning or helping people get what they want?’
Couldn’t we use the definitions of NLP as criteria?
Can definitions of NLP provide us with boundary criteria? Let’s have a look at four frequently cited NLP definitions:
When we look at these four definitions, it becomes apparent that, by themselves, each one is too general to define the boundaries of NLP. Let's take Dilts' definition for instance. We can say that NLP is the study of the structure of subjective experience, but to be NLP, something needs to be several other things as well. Advertising professionals for example, focus just as much on subjective experience as NLP-ers do. When they repeatedly show us a beautiful person in a certain car, they hope to anchor a physiological response to the image of that car. And this is something they did long before NLP existed. But this advertising tactic, even though it may be consistent with NLP, obviously is not part of NLP. We can say that NLP is the the study of the structure of subjective experience, but we cannot turn that around. We cannot say that anything that studies the structure of subjective experience is NLP. An orange is a fruit, but not all fruits are oranges.
Something similar can be said about Bandler's definition that NLP is 'an attitude and methodology that leaves behind a trail of techniques'. If this were our only criterion, then something like book printing would be NLP par excellence. When it first started, book printing was a new attitude towards producing books. As a field it has been developing new techniques for centuries, ranging all the way from wooden block letters to digital imaging.
So how about combining different definitions?
Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem
What if we combined these four definitions? What if we said that element X was NLP when - and only when - all the criteria we can derive from those four definitions were met?
Using these four criteria in addition to each other certainly narrows it down. The number of phenomena that can be called NLP, now becomes much smaller. But even this combination is nowhere near water tight. Advertising is still a good candidate, according to this set of criteria. Or we could take improvised jazz music for instance; it fits all four criteria.
And yet, most people would agree that improvised jazz music is not NLP.
Can we solve the problem with categories like ‘Core NLP’ and ‘Incorporated into NLP’?
So if we can’t determine the boundaries of NLP with the authority argument (‘It is NLP because I say it is’), if simple generalisations fall short (’When it works it is NLP’), if single definitions are not sufficient ('NLP is the study of the structure of subjective experience’) and if even a combination of definitions doesn’t hold water, how are we going to define the boundaries of NLP? One solution is to break up the single nominalisation ‘NLP' into several sub-categories (Hall and Charvet, 2011). Rather than using ‘NLP' as one broad category, we could define several narrower categories:
This subdivision makes it easier to give certain elements a place. On the other hand, it also poses new complications. Let us contrast, for instance, the parts model, modelled by Bandler and Grinder (1983) from Fritz Perls in the 1970’s with the clean language model, modelled by Lawley and Tompkins (2003) from David Grove in the 1990’s. The parts model is considered core NLP and the clean language model is considered NLP related. Why? Is it because one was modelled by Bandler and Grinder and the other by Lawley and Tompkins? If we limited NLP to patterns modelled by Bandler and Grinder, we would need to throw out hundreds of valued NLP elements developed by people like Dilts, Hall, or Bolstad. Or is it because the parts model was modelled in the 1970’s and the clean language model in the 1990’s? If we would recognise only models and techniques from before 1980, NLP could never develop beyond its first origins.
If we look at the distinction between core NLP and NLP applications, we run into similar classification problems. For instance, the parts model is considered core NLP and anchoring is ‘incorporated in NLP’. But most elements in the core NLP list have a history that begins before NLP. The concept of parts existed long before NLP began, so shouldn’t that be in the ‘incorporated’ category? Or take goal orientation. That existed long before NLP and is therefore in the 'incorporated’ category. But on the other hand, in NLP goal orientation is combined with the structure of subjective experience and the wellformedness conditions. Does that not transform it into something new? When we combine eggs with butter and flour to bake cake, we call it ‘cake’, not ‘eggs plus some other things’. Shouldn’t this combined structure of goal orientation plus the structure of subjective experience plus the wellformedness conditions therefore be in the core NLP list? Questions like ‘Related how, precisely?’ show that the subcategories are not as easy to define as we had hoped. We conclude that the subdivision, although it somewhat mitigates our boundary problem, doesn’t really solve it.
Enter the NLP Leadership Summit
Finally we have a group we can use as an expert panel to delineate NLP
We hope we have demonstrated that it is a daunting task to formulate criteria for what NLP is and what it is not. Derks (2016) has proposed a creative solution for this delineation impasse. What if, he wondered, we would vote on what is NLP? He proposed this novel solution in a meeting of the NLP Leadership Summit (2016). The Summit is a group that has over a hundred members, each of whom is an NLP trainer or author with a minimum of 15 years of experience. This means that - for the first time in the history of NLP - a group exists that consists of a large number of NLP-ers who are highly experienced. Also, they have been trained by a wide variety of NLP trainers and they work in many different countries, applying NLP in a broad range of different contexts. With a group like that, voting to delineate NLP becomes a viable solution, which it would not be for other NLP groups, for instance a national NLP association or an international group with fewer members, less rigorous membership criteria or less diverse training background.
The Elder Columns Program
A plan for delineating NLP through voting
Derks’ proposal will hopefully result in what we have named the ‘Elder Columns’. This is a listing of potential NLP elements that have been placed by the ‘Elders’ (NLP Leadership Summit members) through a simple voting process into one of three ‘Columns’ ('This is NLP’, 'I don’t know / I’m not sure' and 'This is not NLP’).
Having been endorsed for this task by the Summit, Hollander, Derks, Grimley and de Rijk proceeded to undertake the following program:
More than 1500 years of NLP experience
Why voting is a good mechanism for delineating NLP
Why would this be a good idea? How can we justify voting as a mechanism for defining the boundaries of NLP? There are three justifications for the Elder Columns Program:
The first justification for our plan lies in the obstacles described thus far, which are by no means trivial. If we could easily define criteria for what NLP is, we would not need this discussion. Unfortunately, as we have indicated above, this looks like a dead end. It feels like defining the exact boundaries of a cloud of smoke. This justifies considering some other process of delineating NLP.
A procedure psychologist use to evaluate psychological tests
If we should adopt the voting mechanism, we would connect to what in psychological testing is called ‘expert validation’ or 'expert panel review’. This is one of the simplest methods in psychological test construction. It means that potential questions for a new test are discussed by a panel of experts. Do they believe that a given question adequately represents the concept it is supposed to measure? A set percentage of the experts, 75% for instance, needs to agree for the question to be included in the test. It is interesting to note that there are no strict criteria for the selection of the experts. The expert validation process is seen as a first step, presuming that the resulting psychological test will be evaluated later with other validation methods.
We propose that the membership of the NLP Leadership Summit is qualified - both in numbers (more than a hundred) and in experience (more than 15 years) - as an expert panel for the validation of NLP elements. Together they have more than 1500 years of experience teaching and/or writing about NLP. We understand that no expert panel, however carefully composed, will meet with the approval of every single person involved in NLP. But, strange as this may sound, this need not be an obstacle. At this juncture in the development op NLP it seems more important to have any expert panel at all than to eventually, after decades of discussion, have the perfect panel. The NLP Leadership Summit group is - as of 2016 - the largest, most experienced and most diverse group of experts available. And should other groups of comparable size and diversity and with comparable experience become available, they may be incorporated easily into the voting procedure we are about to describe.
The question that experts in a panel evaluating a psychological test ask themselves is: "Is this question an adequate expression of the concept we want to measure?" Please note, that these experts use their understanding of the concept as a criterion. For the NLP expert panel, the question can be quite similar: "Is this element (skill, technique, format, model) an adequate expression of NLP as I understand it?"
Using the wisdom of crowds
Another phenomenon our voting procedure is linked to, is ‘collective’ or ‘aggregate’ intelligence. You may have heard of ‘the wisdom of crowds’ (Surowiecki, 2005). This refers to the fact that groups of people often arrive at decisions - and estimations - that are better than those that individuals would make.
A famous example is described by Francis Galton, titled ‘Vox Populi’ (the Voice of the People, 1907). ‘In these democratic days’, Galton says, ‘any investigation in the trustworthiness and peculiarities of popular judgments is of interest. … A weight-judging competition was carried out at the annual show of the West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition recently held at Plymouth. A fat ox having been selected, competitors bought stamped and numbered cards … on which to inscribe … estimates of what the ox would weigh after it had been slaughtered and dressed… Those who guessed most successfully received prizes. About 800 tickets were issued … The middle most estimate was 1207 lb, and the weight of the dressed ox proved to be 1198 lb.’
When are crowds wise, and when are they not?
Crowds are not always wiser than individuals. Surowiecki (2005) describes three conditions that are necessary to harness collective wisdom:
And then of course some mechanism is needed by which the judgements are aggregated, like the cards in Galtons example or a computer form in our times.
Entertaining many different perspectives and having many different sources of information and background knowledge, contributes to the wisdom of a collective. Each voter should have their own special information, no matter how inaccurate or eccentric it may seem to others in the group.
Voters’ opinions should not be determined directly by the group members around them. If individuals can make their decisions at the same time and blind to everyone else’s votes, phenomena like group think and peer pressure are avoided. In fact, failures of crowd intelligence - like the failure of the US intelligence community to predict 9-11, might be attributed to a lack of this independence. When members of a crowd imitate each other or conform, the wisdom of the crowd is lost. Too much communication can make the group as a whole less intelligent.
People are able to specialise and draw on local knowledge. Opinions are not dictated by a central authority.
If we look at the NLP Leadership Summit group through the filter of these three conditions, the group seems well poised for collective wisdom.
We conclude that the practice of expert validation in psychological testing as well as the information on collective intelligence, support the value of voting as a mechanism for defining the boundaries of NLP.
So what are we going to do, exactly, to erect the Elder columns?
Next question: voting, how precisely? We intend to implement the following procedure:
The first list
The list of NLP elements that we will start with
For the ‘first list’ we started with the International Association for Neuro Linguistic Programming standards, as displayed on their website. To this we added any other NLP elements we found on other websites and in our own practitioners and masters programs (IEP, 1984-2016). We looked at any lists we could find in the web. We noticed,that after the first three or four, the next lists didn’t add many new elements. Finally we added any elements from the Encyclopaedia of NLP (Dilts and Delozier, 2000) that we thought relevant.
We left out elements that we found either
This resulted in a list of 78 elements. Our aim was to provide experts with a list they might add elements to, in order to arrive at the second (extended) list that would then be voted on. We wanted the extended list to be as complete as possible. On the one hand there was no need to remove too many elements a priori, since any element could, in a next phase, be ‘voted out’. On the other hand we expected the list to be evaluated more thoroughly if it had fewer items.
The First List of NLP elements
Building rapport through pacing, then using it for leading
through verbal and non-verbal pacing
Recognising, matching and translating representational systems
through predicates and non-verbal accessing cues like eye movements
Maintaining an outcome orientation
(Setting and maintaining focus on a goal)
Checking wellformedness conditions for outcomes
and helping to rephrase outcomes until they fulfil the conditions
Working from a sponsoring attitude
(Accepting the other person's model of the world and visualising their potential)
Working from a COACH state
(Centered, Open, Attentive, Connected and Holding)
Using the SCORE model to define problems and design interventions
(Symptoms, Causes, Outcomes, Resources, Effects)
Calibrating internal states and processes
(Focussing on sensory experience and recognising patterns)
Using meta-model questions
to specify information and stimulate change
Using Milton-model language patterns
to suggest beneficial processes
Using verbal reframing
to give new meaning to experiences
Using verbal sleight-of-mouth patterns
to give new meaning to experiences
Determining the structure of subjective experience
(Context, external behaviour, internal processes, internal state, criteria and beliefs)
with V, A and K anchors
Shifting consciousness between external and internal focus
Giving instructions for dissociation and association
Registering and responding to incongruence
Using perceptual positions
(1st, 2nd, 3rd and - sometimes - 4th position)
Working with submodalities
Identifying logical levels of communication and change
Eliciting resources in general
Eliciting a resource through reference experience
Eliciting a resource through communicating with the older self
Eliciting a resource through a role model
Eliciting a resource through physiology
Working with inner strategies
(Detecting, eliciting, utilising and installing of strategies)
Using spatial sorting
(Placing states, beliefs, processes or parts in separate locations)
Working with timelines
as a spatial sorting format
Working with personal timelines
to identify and change the subjective experience time
Being aware of the TOTE model for goal directed change
(Test - Operate - Test - Exit)
Working from the presuppositions of NLP
The map is not the territory
People have the resources for the change they desire
There is no failure, only feedback
Resistance is a signal of insufficient rapport (pacing).
The meaning of your communication is the response you get
All behaviour has a positive intention, was once the best available choice
If one can do it, others can learn to do it
Body and mind are an interconnected system
The element with the greatest flexibility determines the direction of the system
Using the circle of excellence technique
to build a multiple resource
Using the change personal history technique
to change a recurring problematic emotional state
Using the six step reframing technique
to change unwanted behaviour
Using the collapse anchors technique
to change a problematic emotional state
Using the swish pattern
to change unproductive representations
Using the negotiating between parts technique
to solve an inner conflict
Using the Disney strategy format
for creative thinking and developing new behaviours
Using the Bateson strategy format
to map over a strategy from one context to the other
Using the trauma process
to overcome post-traumatic stress (a.k.a. the ‘Rewind technique')
Using the compulsion blow out format
to help overcome compulsions
to induce solution oriented unconscious processes
Modelling exceptional abilities
with the intent to teach the abilities to others
Working with meta programs
(Identifying, matching and changing meta programs)
Using the core finding engine
to identify important limiting beliefs
Using the belief audit to identify limiting beliefs
(Is it possible, is impossible for me, do I deserve it)
Using the lifeline reframing format
to change limiting beliefs
Using the belief outframing format
to change limiting beliefs
Using the reimprinting format
to change limiting beliefs
Using the integrating conflicting beliefs format
to overcome conflicting beliefs
Using the forgiveness model
to help someone forgive
Using the allergy process
to help someone overcome a physical allergy
Using the aligning logical levels format
to foster congruence
Using the aligning perceptual positions format
to help someone take congruent perceptual positions
Using the generative NLP format
to enrich, strengthen and elaborate resources
Using the identity matrix
to sponsor and integrate different aspects of identity
Using the resonance pattern
to activate and integrate inner mentors
Using the meta mirror format
to handle challenging relationships
Using symbolic modelling
to promote change through developing spontaneous metaphors
Using the core transformation technique
to help with change on an identity and spiritual level
Detecting and utilising meta-states
to solve emotional issues
Working with the social panorama
to solve social issues
Working with enneagram distinctions
to understand personality
Working with Graves drives (spiral dynamics)
to understand criteria
Working with family constellations
to transform systemic problems
Working with the wholeness proces
to stimulate enlightenment
(Multiple Brain Integration Techniques)
Using provocative coaching
(A combination of humor, warmth and challenges)
Psycholoog, NLP-trainer, Trainer provocatief coachen, schrijver (11 boeken), directeur IEP --- Geeft NLP- en provocatieve workshops en -opleidingen. --- Stond vijf jaar achtereen in de top-500 professionals van ‘Quote’. --- Ontwikkelde MindSonar.
The Elder Columns, Part 3 – The Results of the Survey (Preliminary Findings)
The Elder Columns, Part 2 – Creating an Overview of Possible Elements of NLP
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