No.5 – “Using Anchoring”

One of the most ‘popularised’ areas of NLP is that of Anchoring – yet paradoxically it is often one that is least recognised as being applicable or appropriate for use in a business context.

This may be because it is sometimes presented as a technique that mostly lends itself to individual counselling interventions, and indeed it can be hard to imagine how you might use it during an average business meeting, presentation or coaching session. So this month, I would like to offer some thoughts on the practical uses of anchoring, across a variety of situations, and in a way that ensures it is effective yet ‘invisible’ to others.

No matter what level of NLP you have explored, you will undoubtedly have encountered one or more anchoring tools – chaining, stacking, collapsing or simply anchoring a so-called resourceful state.

Each approach has a number of steps, and on a training course is usually demonstrated using some form of physical movement or touch. And there lies part of the problem in considering how to use it in a conversational manner or in a ‘non-NLP’ environment. I can’t really imagine participants in a business presentation or board meeting being willing to step into an imaginary circle, or physically walk through a series of associated ‘states’! However, if you think about the principles involved in anchoring, rather than the text book steps of an exercise, there are several effective and practical ways to apply the theory.

1. Setting a mood in a business meeting
You may often noticed changes in mood during the course of a meeting, depending on what is being discussed or the level of interest for a particular topic – sometimes there is a high level of energy, or a ripple of humour, or maybe a period of reflection or thought. If you are the person leading the meeting it’s wise to be aware of these changes and to develop the skill of setting an anchor for a particularly positive or useful state, in order that you can re-create it
when necessary. For example, during a highly energetic phase in the proceedings, you may use a particular word or tone of voice to anchor that state. Then, later in the meeting if you find the energy level has dropped, using the same anchor, if accurately set, will automatically raise the participants’ energy and enthusiasm again.

2. Using spatial anchoring in a presentation
In much the same way you can enhance the impact and influence of your presentations by effective use of anchoring. Here, the skill is to use the presentation space to create an anchor for a desired state. One example of this would be if you want to focus attention on a particular time sequence or perhaps influence the audience to consider future possibilities if they are currently ‘stuck’ with past problems or difficulties. So try this… set up ‘time’ anchors in your presentation space – past to the right (to the left as the audience are looking at you), present in the middle and future to the left. Then, if you want to influence the discussion to move from past problems or challenges, you can move from right, to middle, to left, changing the time period to which you are referring at the same time. For example (from the right) “So there have been some challenges to face in the past”…(moving to the middle)…” what have
we learned from that experience that is helping us now?”…(moving to the left)…”and how can we build on that and take it forward even more successfully?”.

3. One-to-one executive coaching
In a business coaching session it may not be appropriate to get someone to physically walk through an anchoring process, but it can be done conversationally instead. For example, suppose your coachee is facing a difficult business relationship or having to deal with someone they find personally challenging. The other party is likely to carry on doing exactly what they are doing, so the only control the coachee may have is over their own reaction to the situation. In this case, it can be useful to help them set up an alternative, empowering response to the person that will kick-in automatically whenever they are with them.

Rather than taking the coachee through a full ‘chained anchoring’ process, where they physically walk through the steps, the coach can replicate the same effect by using hand gestures. So, when talking about the problem state, you may use a gesture with your left hand. Then you can ask the coachee how they would like to respond (ideally) to this person.

As they associate into each alternative, positive state, mark out each spatially with a different hand gesture – e.g. moving your hand on in stages from left to right. When 5 or 6 alternative states have been identified, you can begin to take the coachee through the anchoring process as follows…

“So, instead of the response you have had to this person (left hand gesture), you can instead choose to feel confident (position 1 gesture), relaxed (position 2 gesture), humorous (position 3 gesture), mischievous (position 4 gesture), in control (position 5 gesture)… each time you are with them”

You will probably need to repeat this sequence several times for the anchor to be fully set – remembering to ‘break state’ at the end of each chain to ensure it only runs in one direction (just a brief distraction, change of tone, or shift of position will do). The final test of success is then for the chain to run automatically when the coachee thinks about the previously ‘difficult’ relationship.

The key to using anchoring techniques ‘invisibly’ is to understand how they do what they do, and what are the core principles involved. Obviously it’s somewhat tricky to outline all the potential approaches in this relatively short piece, so if you have any specific questions or situations that you would like to
talk through in more detail, do let me know and I’ll be happy to help. Alternatively, if you have your own examples of using anchoring in a business context, which you’d like to share – I’d love to hear from you.

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