Modelling is the spirit of NLP and learning through exploring is the hallmark of an NLPer

Each one of us are natural modellers – i.e. we all have the ability to learn, discover and make sense of the world.  Back in the 70s Richard Bandler and John Grinder asked the question “what is the difference that makes the difference?”.  The psychologist and professor of linguistics were curious about the human experience and how some people excelled in their field of expertise – specifically, how they got great outcomes, most of the time.  This curiosity led to finding ways to elicit “How” people do what they do.  NLP tools, techniques and findings were subsequently realised through various modelling projects. This is one of the reasons NLP continues to develop new tools and techniques- all through the gift of modelling.

And it is a gift.  Modelling can be seen as a genuine want to find out what is the glue that is holding the pieces together.  In the first instance it is wonderful to feed back to someone that you see something they do with grace – specific recognition is so powerful.  Yet it is even more than feedback – it’s the ability to take one giant leap further and truly learn from that person how they do what they do.  Imitation being the highest form of flattery.  Modelling is an art form, eliciting key information elegantly, eloquently, effectively and efficiently, whilst holding space for the person to explore themselves.  We all do something with grace, yet probably don’t even realise it – because it is subconscious, we do not have to think about it.

My son, at the age of 5, challenged me on modelling.  He said, “that sounds like copying and copying is not good mummy”.  Just to reassure you, it’s very different to copying although bad attempts at modelling can look like copying – you’d know as it would be superficial, at the intellectual level only and look highly unnatural.  Modelling is the ability to truly learn, discover, develop and try things on for size rather than copying.

Whilst on the subject of children, they learn at a startling rate, don’t they? Learning to speak, to walk, to read.  Its natural modelling, then later in school we are taught by learning theory rather than experience and that can have a profound effect on how we learn as adults.  As a child, when we model, we aren’t hindered by our unhelpful filters, our biases, our memories and our identity hasn’t yet evolved.  So, great adult modellers have the ability to “by-pass” themselves in order to learn and access a deeply respectful, non-judgemental base of enquiry. There’s much more to it than asking a set of questions!

How has it helped me?  2 quick stories I’d like to share:

10 years ago, I was a very different person to who I am now. Not just because of the age thing Jbut because I almost don’t recognise who I was back then in certain situations.  I had (dramatic drumroll) the worst case of anxiety around public speaking.  It got so bad that it developed from public speaking (which I just avoided like the plague) to any “eyes on me”.  The strategy I would run in meetings would be horrendous – panic, sweaty palms, redness, not being able to catch my breath or find my voice.  Modelling was one of the things that really helped.  I started modelling people that I saw had an ease at speaking up in meetings, were good presenters and could get up on stage.  Every day I am grateful to those people. I remember being in Malta last year delivering a talk and thinking how I have absolutely updated my identity since those “headier” days.  For me, it has been like bricking up an old doorway, I know that anxiety pathway is there somewhere, but the entrance point has been bricked up and plastered over. Even if I wanted to I couldn’t now find that doorway. Thankfully, modelling (and other tools) had helped me create a completely new strategy which serves me and those around me so much better, which leads into story number 2:

The Dordogne is beautiful in the summer and this was the place I was joining a number of experienced NLPers for a week of further development. (Sue Knight’s NLP intensive is highly recommended for any experienced NLPers out there).  Mid-week, one of the course attendees brought a friend along to join us for dinner.  He came with a warning – that he could be very opinionated, pointed and not everyone’s “cup of tea”.  Oh my goodness, fireworks flew round the table that night.  His point that he raised particularly sharply during starters was that “coaching and NLP is elitist”.  I could see my fellow NLP coaches becoming more and more irritated, frustrated and disgruntled.  However, it turns out I took a completely different approach.  I was intrigued by what lie behind his views and so decided to join him in his “map of the world”, to understand how he felt.  It was such a great conversation that in the end he was open to trying out some coaching tools to help build a better relationship with his son-in-law.  The next day the team commended me on my “resolve” and this naturally led to a modelling session. Being modelled, I learned so much about myself, values, beliefs, etc that I never even knew.  The metaphorical representation of what I learned is that most interactions I have include a playground in the space between us.  The playground is a shared and safe space where we are all equals and in which we both (or all) get to explore and play.  This has been really powerful to understand as it plays out in coaching sessions, meetings, trainings I deliver and going back to the first story, in public speaking.  It’s been the difference that makes the difference.

I truly believe that we are not our finished product.