TOP Tips No. 15 – The 'State' is Key

One of the most important factors in determining a successful outcome for yourself, or when working with others, is the extent to which you are managing your own state of mind and how you are able to influence (positively) the state of others.

A state can be defined as a “unique combination of posture, physiology, emotions, and feelings that someone experiences at any one time”.  In other words, any significant emotional state will have its own ‘signature’ – and the ability to recognise the external changes that are indicative of an internal state change will be invaluable – both in choosing and/or managing your own state, or in situations such as coaching, negotiating, selling and leading teams.

In NLP there are several formats that focus specifically on state awareness and management.

Some that are particularly helpful in bringing about internal state change are…

Anchoring a resourceful state

Despite being one of the most basic NLP formats this pattern serves as a metaphor for what can be possible using appropriate NLP tools and techniques. It shows the power of choice (selecting the emotional state to which you wish to have access), the possible speed of intervention (most resourceful state exercises do not take any longer than about 15 minutes to be successful) and the sustainability of the intervention over time (one anchor that was originally set for me around 16 years ago still works consistently).

Chaining anchors to alter a response to an adverse stimulus that is likely to continue

Again, this is a format that is quite basic in its structure but which, when demonstrated to its full potential, does require a high degree of calibration skill in the coach. An experienced facilitator will notice changes in breathing patterns, skin colour and tone (related to blood flow) and brightness in the eyes (increased or decreased moisture content).

Causing a state change by using driver sub-modalities

When you identify the so-called ‘driver’ sub-modalities it becomes possible to create an almost instant state and behavioural change. Examples include the ‘mapping across’ process to move yourself from one state to another…

… From unmotivated to fully motivated

… From procrastination to action

… From confusion to understanding

(If you’re not familiar with any of these NLP formats and would like further details, do get in touch and we’ll be happy to help)

Calibrating and influencing another’s emotional state

When influencing the states of others it’s important to remember…

  • That tension is contagious
  • To consider what state is most appropriate for the intervention
  • To set your own state first … choose to let go of tension rather than “relax”
  • To be congruent
  • To pay attention to ideomotor signals (i.e. small, physical movements which are outside of conscious awareness – e.g. an ‘odd looking’ sideways twitch of a finger)

There are certain key things to pay attention to when noticing (or calibrating) changes in someone’s state…

Breathing changes Deep sighs Pupil dilation / restriction
Changes in blink rate Eyelid changes / closure Skin colour differences
Changes in muscle tension Moisture in eyes Vocal tonality or speed changes

 

One thing to bear in mind is that noticing changes in state will not necessarily tell you ‘what’ someone is thinking but it will certainly let you know that something is different.  For example, if you have accurately calibrated someone in a relaxed or calm state, and something happens to change that – you then have a set of criteria from which you can assess their return to that state in response to some kind of intervention from you.

No. 14 – NLP Tools for Common Issues

A question was put to us recently, asking if it would be possible to produce an NLP matrix, showing how all the various NLP tools and formats relate to each other and which is best to use under what circumstances.

It’s a request that has been made before, and indeed we have made valiant attempts to put something together, but it has always proved to be far too complex a thing to do in any meaningful way.

However, it did get me thinking about common issues or scenarios which people have discussed with us over the years, and how some tips for dealing with these recurring themes might be useful.  So here are a few situations which many people seem to be faced with to some degree, or at some time, followed by some ideas on NLP tools which can be helpful…

Scenario 1:

You are trying to motivate someone to action and/or encourage them to consider future options and possibilities.  But they are firmly entrenched in the present (or problem) state – constantly pointing out the glitches in your plan, what won’t work and why.

NLP Options:

  • Match and pace their ‘moving away from’ language before beginning to lead them into ‘future’ thinking.
  •  Covertly test their willingness to do this by first checking the level of rapport that exists between you – for example after matching and pacing their key verbal and non-verbal patterns, check that they then give indications of following you if you attempt to ‘lead’ some aspect of that.
  • If they have a very strong ‘moving away’ from motivation (and if there is sufficient rapport) play that strategy back to them by creating an even worse scenario that may occur if they stay where they are.  The key insight in this instance is that they must be getting something of significant benefit to them out of maintaining what would otherwise seem like an untenable position.
  • Analyse what hidden Value is driving their current behaviour and see if you can create another mechanism for them to get that need met but without the old attitude or behaviour. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

Scenario 2:

There is someone in your life that you find particularly challenging.  Perhaps there is a ‘personality clash’ within the team, or a person whose behaviour is ‘difficult’ and constantly causes problems.  Nevertheless, they will continue to be in your life and you have to find a way of working with them in order that the necessary outcomes can be achieved.

NLP Options:

  • Create a chained anchor in yourself to create an alternative response that is positive for you.
  • Apply the idea of ‘unconscious positive intention’ to the situation. In simple language “What learning is available to me in being exposed to this particular characteristic in this way?” Remember that this insight does not have to be true but must fit all the facts. If it does, and you then act as if it is true, you should get a major positive shift in the relationship.
  • The leverage point in this situation is that the only part of the system over which you have total control is you, so …
    • What is the characteristic(s) of the other person you find most ‘difficult’?  Apply the presupposition – “What I experience in others is, in some way, an expression of me”.  Reconcile this inside yourself first to accept (or at least manage) it in others.

Scenario 3:

You (or perhaps a member of your team) often talk about something you would like to achieve or a goal or target that you would like to accomplish.  However, despite seeming to be fully engaged with the idea, time goes by and no steps are taken to make it happen.

NLP Options:

This is potentially the most straightforward example so far. The key is that the benefits of not achieving it are currently felt to be greater than would be gained through achievement of the goal. This is often at an unconscious level, so ..

  • Using the Outcome Thinking model, consider –
    • What are the higher level interests of doing X – i.e. what will achieving this outcome do for you?
    • What are the positive by-products of the present state?  – i.e. what do you get (positively) from not doing X?  These benefits must then be present in the desired state to make it truly compelling

Scenario 4:

You have asked someone to do something – a request that you think is perfectly reasonable, logical and straightforward.  Even when you repeat the request, or ask it a different way, it’s to no avail.  The other person either gives you a direct “no” or an implied no, by finding ways to defer or ignore the issue.

Our usual response is to feel frustration so we need a way of moving beyond that feeling as soon as possible.

NLP Options:

  • People’s odd or unusual behaviour is ‘normal’ for them so there must be something in it that is important to them in what they are doing. This ‘something’ will usually be to do with their values.
  • Before your next encounter with them, use the concept of ‘Perceptual Positions Thinking’ to run a Currently Perceived Choice (CPC)* exercise.  This works in the following way…
    • Identify the question he/she thinks they are being asked (their Currently Perceived Choice) – this will be significantly different from the one you are actually asking
    • Stepping into the other person’s shoes.
      • Define all the consequences of saying “yes” to the question they are hearing
      • Define all the consequences of saying “no” to the question they are hearing
    • Rate the consequences as positive or negative – for them
    • It should then be apparent that saying “no” is the obvious choice from their perspective
    • Identify the values that are likely to drive the “yes” and “no” consequences
    • Create a new question, which will stimulate or meet these values and make it more likely that you will get a “yes”
    • The important thing is not to judge this as being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – it’s about understanding the situation the way it is and dealing with it on that basis

* For those of you not familiar with it, the CPC is a very simple model created at the Harvard Negotiation Project to deal with any situation where you are getting “No” when you believe you should get “Yes”.

These are just a few ideas of situations you may encounter, and some of the NLP formats you could consider in the circumstances. If you have any other challenging situations for which you would like some suggestions, do let us know.

No.13 – Survival of the Fittest?

“Survival” seems to be an all too familiar theme for many businesses (small or large) these days, and for me the interesting thing is the different strategies people are adopting to deal with the issue.

Obviously the most natural (and sometimes necessary) thing to do in challenging times is to look at ways of reducing costs and eliminating unnecessary expenditure. However, there is also a danger of falling into a pattern of saving and cost cutting which is ultimately counter-productive.

A few days ago I was watching a programme – Undercover Boss USA. This episode followed Steve Joyce, President and CEO of Choice Hotels International one of America‟s largest franchise hotel chains. He spent some time in the largest hotel in the Choice system – a huge complex with 675 rooms. The buildings are 25 years old and until a few years ago were well maintained, and had high occupancy rates. However, in recent years a range of cost cutting measures have been introduced and many public areas have been neglected. The rooms still have the same TV‟s as in 1994, the roof leaks, the pool area needs to be re-surfaced – and they have cut personnel, meaning that there‟s now only one maintenance man to service the whole complex. Not surprisingly business has also dropped off, with customers choosing a newer and more modern alternative. Of course, some renovations would require quite a large investment, but many small, relatively low-cost things were identified, which could make a big difference, and had they have been done earlier, would most probably have reduced the high cost expenditure now needed. Two particular examples were highlighted. The first was the fact that locks on the bedroom doors were so old that guests were often unable to get into their rooms without calling maintenance (not helpful when you get back to the hotel late at night and reception is a 10 minute walk away!). The second was the simple fact that the maintenance golf cart, used to move quickly around the complex, had broken down and not been replaced – meaning that the maintenance man had to go everywhere on foot and service was therefore two or three times slower than it needed to be.

Closer to home, we hear of many organisations that are cutting jobs, meaning that remaining personnel are required to fill the gaps, taking on more responsibility and working longer hours. This may be OK in the short-term, but if it continues (or even escalates) it‟s a situation that leads to increased stress levels, decreased productivity and therefore decreased profits – potentially leading to more cost cutting. It‟s a vicious circle, which can creep up unawares until the tipping point is reached and it all starts to fall apart.

That may all sound a bit depressing, and potentially has an air of inevitability about it. However, there are things that can break the downward spiral. The question is, how can NLP, and so-called „soft-skills‟ in general, help in these situations?

As I’m sure you’re aware soft skills are often perceived as a “nice to have” when time (and money) permit. However, with the pressures of today’s business environment, our experience is that increased attention to these areas (especially those related to Emotional Intelligence), can improve motivation and productivity, and ultimately save time and money.

There are two aspects to consider – what you can do individually (either for yourself or for the people within whom you come into contact) and more broadly within an organisation as a whole.

Individual Actions

The focus here is on increased attention to people, more effective communication (making sure the message is received first time) and resolving disputes and conflicts – or avoiding them in the first place. Strategies for achieving this include…

  • Realising that people do what they do for a reason – once the real issue is defined it may be possible to help them find an alternative way of achieving their undeclared aim.
  • Asking (rather than telling) the staff most directly concerned what to do about a particular problem.
  • Linked with the previous point, being open with teams about your concerns and the possible risks they create and inviting their involvement in resolving them more creatively. This approach is sometimes thought of as being risky but this feeling is usually due to a lack of confidence in the manager him or herself.
  • Paying increased attention to the small non-verbal signals we all give off when we are not fully engaged in, or motivated by, a particular idea … For example, averted gaze, unconscious hand movements around the mouth and face, shifting in one‟s seat etc. By drawing someone‟s attention to their unconscious feedback it becomes possible to address the underlying issue while everyone is still in the room.

One cautionary note here – accurate calibration without interpretation or projection is crucial in avoiding misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

Organisational Strategies

From this perspective the key is to work towards higher levels of engagement and motivation and consider the savings available through short-term investment for longer term gain. For example…

  • Being rigorous with continually asking what purpose a particular process or procedure fulfils and removing those that add little or nothing to the outputs.
  • Where reworking occurs, check what it is that causes it to be necessary.
  • Examining any proposed budget cut within the frame of “is cutting this ultimately going to cost us more in the long term?” (As with the decision not to replace the maintenance golf cart in the example above).
    • An alternative challenge is “What other possible consequences could there be as a result of doing this?”
  • Increasing the investment in apparently unnecessary training and development programmes that focus on enhancing interpersonal and relationship skills (that‟s the sales pitch!).

I know most companies, large and small, are actively seeking ways to survive through creativity, diversification and innovation. There is also much evidence to show that businesses who expend time and energy in ensuring that staff at all levels feel valued, listened to and involved, are the ones who are most likely to emerge at the top when things improve.

No.12 – “I’ll do it later…”

How many times in the last month have you heard someone say (or maybe said yourself) “I don‟t have time to do that now” or “I need more time before I can start that” or “I’ll do it later”?

Time is certainly a valuable commodity these days – so is there a secret to having the time you need to meet the deadlines, complete the tasks as well as fitting in leisure time, family time and/or “me” time?

How is it that we find time for some things and not others – what‟s driving that decision? Despite knowing all the theories/good practise with regard to good time management…

‐ Buying a daily planner or a to-do list application for your phone.
‐ Writing yourself notes
‐ Filling out schedules.
‐ Surrounding yourself with instruments to make life more efficient

…these tools alone will not help, because the problem isn’t that you are a bad manager of your time – the key is in understanding the beliefs, values and attitudes of mind which are driving the so-called “unwanted” behaviours.

One of the issues that often gets in the way is procrastination – such a pervasive element of the human experience that there are over 600 books for sale promising to snap you out of your bad habits, and this year alone 120 new books on the topic were published.

It’s a problem many people admit to, but why is it so hard to defeat? Why is it that we have a tendency to put off what we should or need to do now, in favour of the immediate (short-term) reward of doing something else?

You may tell yourself “I need to start that report – the deadline is next week”… “I should phone that client, it‟s while since I spoke to them”… “I ought to prepare the presentation – it‟s probably going to take longer than I think”

…And yet you decide that before you get started maybe you should check your email, just to get it out of the way… Perhaps you could get the small “easy” tasks done first, so you have clear space to get the big task done… A cup of coffee would probably get you going and get you in the right frame of – it won‟t take a minute to go and get one!

Procrastination is the thief of time, and core to our ability to deal with this is the issue of delayed gratification.

I am not sure this is directly connected, but I am reminded of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (1972) This was designed to test the theory of a person‟s ability to delay gratification, and was conducted by Prof. Walter Mischel, at Stanford University, California. He studied a group of four-year-old children, each of whom was given one marshmallow, but promised two on condition that he or she wait twenty minutes, before eating the first marshmallow. Some children were able to wait the twenty minutes, and others were not.

Furthermore, Mischel and his team then studied the developmental progress of each participant child into adolescence, through high-school, college and into adulthood where they accumulated children, mortgages and jobs. They reported that children able to delay gratification (wait) were psychologically better adjusted, more dependable persons, and, as high school students, scored significantly greater grades.

A key learning from this research is that children who were able to overcome their desire for short-term reward in favour of a better outcome later were not more clever than the other children, nor were they less gluttonous. They just had a better grasp of how to trick themselves into doing what was best for them.
They watched the wall instead of looking at the food. They tapped their feet instead of smelling the confection. The wait was torture for all, but some knew it was going to be impossible to just sit there and stare at the delicious, gigantic marshmallow without giving in. Some were better at devising schemes for avoiding their own weak wills, and years later, as adults, they seemed to be able to use that power to their advantage.

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment indicates that good impulse control might be psychologically important for academic achievement and for success in adult life. Research also indicates that animals do not defer gratification but instead apply something called “hyperbolic discounting”. So, the intellectual problem of delayed gratification is philosophically fundamental to human nature. What started as an experiment about delayed gratification has now, decades later, yielded a far more interesting set of revelations about meta-cognition – thinking about thinking.

Procrastination is all about choosing want over should. Given two similar rewards, humans show a preference for one that arrives sooner rather than later. We are said to discount the value of the later reward, by a factor that increases with the length of the delay.

For instance, when offered the choice between £500 now and £1000 a year from now, many people will choose the immediate £500. However, given the choice between £500 in five years or £1000 in six years almost everyone will choose £1000 in six years, even though that is the same choice seen at five years’ greater distance.

A being of pure logic would think “more is more” and pick the higher amount every time, but we aren’t beings of pure logic. Faced with two possible rewards, we are more likely to take the one which we can enjoy now over one we will enjoy later – even if the later reward is far greater.

So what is the key to developing the skill of “deferred gratification” – doing the “should” first and the “want” later?

The first thing is to become aware of what you‟re doing as you‟re doing it – particularly in terms of your inner dialogue and the nature of the internal negotiation you are having with yourself. Next time you hear yourself say something like “I really should get “X” done, but maybe I’ll just do “Y” first”… ask yourself…

“What stops me doing X right now?”
“What would I get (positively) from doing X?”
“What do I get out of doing Y first?”
“What reward can I give myself for doing X first which is even more appealing than choosing to do Y first?”

There are many positive effects of adopting the concept of deferred gratification – you’ll get more done, faster, more effectively – and get much more satisfaction from the “reward”…..Enjoy!

No.11 – “NLP – but not NLP!”

Something a bit different this month…

A year or two ago, I was introduced to TEDTalks (well worth a look at www.ted.com if you haven‟t already come across them).

TED is a non-profit site dedicated to the concept of „ideas worth spreading‟. It started in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader and now the entire TED website has been re-engineered around TEDTalks, with the goal of giving everyone on-demand access to the world’s most inspiring voices. Each one is no longer than 18 minutes in length and they cover an immense variety and range of topics, including science, global issues, music/the arts, technology and business.

In particular I was sent a link recently for a TEDTalk by Simon Sinek (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html) which I found of great interest. Of course, there is no specific mention of NLP in the presentation, but in watching it and reading some of the comments about it, it struck me once again how NLP thinking is around us all the time, because, at its best, it represents the behaviours, skills, thinking and attitudes that drive success (however you define that!).

The key insights for me from Sinek’s presentation are…

‐ His core message of “start with the “Why” has direct parallels with NLP concepts…

  • From Robert Dilts Logical Levels Model – the importance of starting with “Identity”. In other words, recognising your true purpose or mission (whether that’s as an organisation, team and/or individual), and the values/beliefs which underpin that – and from there aligning the skills, competencies and behaviours which demonstrate them.
  • From Bernice McCarthy‟s 4-Mat Model – Whether you are doing a presentation, preparing a proposal or writing marketing material, here the “why” is from the perspective of your audience (Quadrant One). The crucial thing is stating what‟s likely to be in the mind of your readers or listeners – giving them a reason to be engaged and interested in what you have to say The words you use are usually best gleaned from a “second position” perspective and should include both “moving towards” and “moving away from” aspects. This is different to the usual statements of purpose that virtually every speaker or writer incorporates.

‐ Some of the comments on the talk provide excellent opportunities to practise recognising the Graves‟ Values System in operation. It seems to me that the comments and responses come from a mixture of Graves Levels 4, 6 and 7 – I‟ll leave you to decide which you think is which! (and if you‟re not familiar with the Graves‟ Model and would like more information – do let me know).

I believe Sinek’s presentation is useful from whatever perspective and degree of detail you watch it, so I hope you find it interesting too!

No.10 – “Your Stories”

In addition to a couple of Vievolve contributions, this edition offers examples sent by some of you in response to my request last month. I think the scenarios below illustrate very well just how broadly NLP can be applied on a day-to-day basis.


1. What else could this mean?

“A colleague was giving a presentation to the data processing team, with the aim of demonstrating the end result of a project from the client’s perspective. During a break, he remarked angrily to me that one member of the team “wasn’t listening, just staring out of the window or looking anywhere else but at him”. However, at the end of the presentation, the same team member asked questions which clearly demonstrate he was listening. I know from talking to this guy he is highly auditory, his eyes flick from side to side quite obviously when you talk to him and when he is talking to you. A bit off putting unless you realise this is his processing system.

So, I talked to my colleague about this, and gave him some tips about what to listen and watch out for in order to avoid “this-means-that” judgements which could put him off his stride when making presentations.

Of course what you have to remember as well is that direct eye contact in some cultures is challenging, just another complication to throw into the mix.

2. NLP with children

“One area in which NLP has been an unexpected benefit to me is with the kids. Anchoring is an especially great technique to use with kids because they respond to it so rapidly and effectively. You can anchor a laugh, giggle, or any other positive or happy state. The anchor can be anything from a touch on the arm or shoulder, a unique facial expression, or a particular word/tone of voice, and can be triggered later on when you want to create a positive state change”

“The impact of language is also particularly evident with children. Recently I was relaxing in a local park, and sitting near to me was a mother watching her two young children playing a ball game with tennis rackets. As boredom set in the young boy began to get a bit boisterous, waving the racket wildly over his head, perilously close to his sister! I then heard the mother say “now don’t wave it about like that, you’ll hit your sister” … I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what happened next!! Suffice to say I was very tempted to suggest that in future the mother might say something like… “now be careful with the racket, make sure there’s plenty of space around you”

3. Surprising yourself!

“I was assisting a colleague with testing out a new recovery tool with some of our patients this week. As I was fairly new to the organisation, I observed and noted responses in the first session, while my colleague led the discussion. He had pre-warned me that the group was “likely to be difficult and unresponsive”, and this certainly seemed to be the case. But then I began to pay attention to the nature of the questions my colleague was asking, and noticed how many of them were closed, or leading in some way – often starting with “Do you think that…”, “Obviously you’re aware that…” or “Would you prefer X or Y to happen…”
For the next session, the group was split into two and I took one group while my colleague worked with the other, and although a little nervous I recalled the point that was made very frequently on your courses – A question pre-supposes the structure of its answer. So I paid great attention to the structure of my questions and the outcome I was going for, and when we compared notes at the end of the session I was pleasantly surprised (and pleased) to realise that my questions were getting more out of the group than my colleague, who is clinically trained, and that I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

4. Going with the “flow”

“A colleague recently asked me if she could have a chat regarding a serious problem she was experiencing at work. It was a sensitive issue, and one that she preferred to talk about outside of the office environment. She was experiencing difficulties with a very dominating and strong-willed member of staff and constantly felt intimidated and “bullied” by this person. During an initial conversation a couple of important thing became evident. One, that she had experienced this same type of reaction to domineering personalities at several times in her life, and the other that she was highly sceptical about NLP and somewhat nervous about being “done-to” by me. I had decided that a version of the Time-line exercise(*) which I did on my Practitioner course could be very useful, and also that it needed to be done in as relaxed and conversational way as possible – avoiding all NLP jargon. I therefore suggested a walk along the canal which backs on to our office complex – walking in one direction to whilst chatting briefly about times in her life when she’d had this same feeling, sitting on a convenient bench to explore her earliest recollection and putting new resources for dealing with it in place, and then walking back towards the office, revisiting the other experiences with these new resources in place.

When I saw her again a few days later, she reported feeling much more in control of the situation with her colleague and thanked me for the “great friendly chat” we’d had!”

(*) If you’re not familiar with this NLP format, do get in touch and I’ll be happy to talk it through with you and describe some of its applications.

5. And now for something completely different…

“On a horsemanship course I met a German woman who could not understand the sequence of cues to ask her horse to make a forequarter yield!! (For the „non-horsey‟ amongst you don‟t worry about the technical term – it‟s not crucial to the story!).
The instructor was very visual, painting pictures and describing movies of the various actions and movements. What became clear to me was that the German woman was not operating in a visual mode, but predominantly an auditory one, and she was a musician to boot. What I was able to do for her in very quick time was apply musical notes to all the places of the horse so she could then understand the movement as a tune… Worked like a charm!!”


My sincere thanks to those of you who contributed to this month’s Top Tips, if these stories have reminded you of any of your own success stories, do pass them on and I’ll be happy to include them in future editions.

No.9 – “The Fine Art of Coaching”

This month I would like to offer some thoughts on a topic which is probably one of the most written about and “fashionable” subjects of the moment – Coaching. There are umpteen books, courses and qualifications on offer – many offering excellent advice and producing first-class coaches, and others less so.

So, over some 20 years of meeting coaches in all walks of life, and operating as a coach myself, it seems to me there are one or two important (and fundamental) areas of coaching skills which can be easily overlooked or forgotten. No matter how many coaching sessions I undertake, I find it really useful to remind myself of some of these core skills from time to time…

Rapport

We all know that the ability to establish and maintain rapport with a coachee is vital in building an effective coaching relationship, and we are familiar with the fact that rapport can be established through one or more of the following channels…

  • Matching or mirroring the coachee’s body language, gestures, posture etc.
  • Paying attention to the structure of their language and using similar phrases and expressions
  • Matching the characteristics of their voice in terms of tonality, volume, speed, rhythm etc.

…all the while listening intently to what they are saying, formulating the desired outcome(s) for the session and constructing the most appropriate questioning strategies to get you there!!

That’s a lot to pay attention to and keep track of, so here are a few tips to make it a little easier on yourself as the coach…

  • When you first meet the coachee, invite them to sit down first. That way you can make a quick assessment of their overall posture and position in the chair and ensure you adopt a similar body position from the start.
  • Instead of listening only to the actual words they are using in order to get an understanding of their thinking style, begin to watch and listen for some of the non-verbal clues they may be giving, for example:
    • The pitch and rate of their speech will indicate whether they are processing information visually (higher pitch, fast rate), auditorally (medium pitch, medium rate) or kinaesthetically (lower pitch, slower rate).
    • Similarly, the position of their gestures can also be a useful marker for these areas
  • High level, rapid hand movements (visual)
  • Mid-chest, even paced gestures (auditory)
  • Low down, often towards the abdomen (kinaesthetic)
  • By following the overall rhythm of their speech you will automatically be matching their breathing rate (one of the strongest indicators of deep rapport) – we take a breath at the end of sentence or train of thought, creating a pause in the flow of words. We only speak when breathing out.

Matching, Pacing, Leading

The ideas above focus on the skills of matching and pacing (following) what your coachee is doing in order to establish rapport at a deeper (or faster) level than may otherwise have happened.

“Leading” may initially feel counter-intuitive in terms of so-called non-directive coaching. However, there are two very important reasons for developing skill in this area…

  • In the most sensitive (often values-based) coaching sessions it is vital to know that sufficient rapport exists between you and the coachee before you ask the more contentious or potentially “difficult” questions. In these situations Leading is a useful strategy to test the level of rapport…
    • Instead of continuing to follow what the coachee is doing, try making some small change in your body language (e.g. hand gesture, angle of the head, sitting position) or in your voice (talk faster or slower, change the volume or pitch), and notice if your coachee makes a similar adjustment within 45 seconds. If they do, this indicates that you have established a sufficient level of rapport and trust to make it most likely that the coachee will be willing to answer your questions. If there is no matching response, merely go back to pacing them for while and then try it again.
  • Leading can also be used to elicit a state change in your coachee. For example…
    • Suppose you meet someone in the corridor who has just come out of a difficult meeting with their boss, which has left them angry and frustrated. They stop to talk to you and “have a moan” about what has just happened. You know they are on their way to another meeting, for which they need to arrive in a calm and relaxed state. So you only have 2 or 3 minutes to conduct a mini coaching session to help them achieve that. The temptation is to immediately adopt the desired calm and relaxed state (soft voice, low volume, slow rate), in the belief that this will influence them to do the same. In fact the opposite is likely to be the case. Even if you are using calming words, if the rest of your behaviour is not initially matching their state (lots of energy in the voice, rapid speech, staccato rhythm) they will unconsciously sense “you’re not listening to me, you don’t understand”. Instead begin by matching their level of energy, rate of speech etc., (but not the content of what they are saying), pace it for a sentence or two, and then begin to lead them to a more relaxed state by lowering your voice, speaking more calmly and quietening your body language. You can still use the same “I understand” words, but now your whole communication is also saying the same thing, and you will notice how in just a couple of minutes (or even less) you can lead them into a much more resourceful state for their next meeting.
Getting to the “Real” Issue

As we’ve discussed in previous top tips, one of the most effective ways to lasting and sustainable change is through an understanding of the values which are driving behaviour. Therefore the more quickly you as a coach can understand the values which are driving your coachee to do (or not do) something, the more effective the coaching session is likely to be.

So, rather than spending a lot of time establishing a detailed background – who did what to who, where and why, etc. – listen to what your coachee is saying with the question “what has to be true for that to be true?” in your mind – in other words “what are the unspoken values that would have to be in place for that behaviour to make sense?”.

Answering that question for yourself will provide valuable information on what is truly important to your coachee, and which values need to be met in order for them to be willing to change.

No.8 – “Avoiding the Traps”

In any situation of this kind, there are a number of so-called psychological traps to watch out for. I‟ve outlined some of the most common below, along with illustrations of how they present themselves and tips on what to do to avoid them.

From the examples shown, it will be evident that these Traps can appear in a wide range of situations, whether you‟re negotiating a major deal, deciding on a new purchase, or implementing some form of change…

1. The Status Quo Trap – keeping on keeping on

Symptoms

  • Any bias towards comfort with the status quo, or defaulting to what already “is”
  • Catching yourself saying “Leave it the way it is” or, “Maybe I’ll rethink it later”
  • Even stronger when you‟re faced with multiple alternatives , because it requires more effort

Examples

Imagine you have just inherited 100 shares that you would never have bought yourself in a blue-chip company. Do you sell, or keep them? Most people will, even if there is an immediate opportunity to sell them with minimal commission charges, hold on to those shares, often saying something like “I‟ll consider that later.”

In 1989 J L Knetsch described a simple experiment in the American Economic Review 79, entitled “The Endowment Effect and Evidence of Nonreversible ndifference Curves…

A group of people were randomly given either a decorated mug or a large bar of Swiss chocolate. They were then offered the effortless opportunity to swap their gift for the opposite gift … We might reasonably predict that around half would make the exchange but, in fact, only 10% did so.

What to do about it

  • Remind yourself of your objectives/desired outcomes
  • Identify other options or counterbalances that are available to you
  • Ask yourself whether you would choose the status quo if it were not the status quo
  • Avoid exaggerating the effort and/or cost of change
  • Subject the status quo to rigorous testing

2. The Sunk-Cost Trap – protecting earlier (now irrelevant) choices

Symptoms

  • Justifying previous choices even when the previous choice is no longer valid
  • Unwillingness to face a mistake

Example

Three months ago you replaced the engine on your eight year-old car for about £2000. Unfortunately there is now a very unpleasant noise coming from the transmission and your garage estimates the repairs at around £850. If you sell the vehicle as it is, you will get approximately £650. What do you do now? Would you make the same choice if the earlier engine replacement had been done free of charge?

What matters is the current condition and value of the car, not what has already been spent.

What to do about it

  • Remember choices only affect the future
  • Take advice from those not involved in the earlier decision
  • Ask “What is the effect of admitting an error?”
  • Consider how you will explain your choice to someone else

3. The Overconfidence Trap – being too sure of yourself

Symptoms

  • Focusing on too narrow a range
  • Focusing on mid-range possibilities to the exclusion of the extremes

Example

Imagine you are the Chief Executive of a company about to launch a new product into the market place. Your Brand Manager says that there is only a 1% chance that you will sell less than 35,000 units in the first year. You then ask “What would have to have happened for us to only sell 20,000 units?” The reply is that the major competitor could have launched an upgrade of its equivalent product. “What are the chances of that happening?” you ask. “About 10%” is the reply.

If there is a 10% chance of only selling 20,000 units then there is certainly a greater chance than 1% of selling less than 35,000!

What to do about it

  • Avoid being anchored by any initial estimate
  • Consider the extremes when making a forecast or judging probabilities
  • Challenge your own extreme figures
  • Challenge any advisor‟s estimates

4. The Wrong Question Trap –a question presupposes the structure of its answer!

Symptoms

  • Recognising what is presupposed or assumed in the question
  • Framing as gains vs. losses
  • Framing with different reference points which influence the decision


Examples

A novice monk asks the Abbott “Can I smoke while praying?” “Absolutely not!” comes the immediate reply. Later that day the novice spots one of the older monks praying and smoking. When asked why he was allowed to do this when permission had been refused to the novice, the older monk says “Ah, I asked the Abbott if I could pray while smoking and he told me it was fine to pray at any time.

In 1993 E J Johnson, J Meszaros and H Kunreuther described a case involving state car insurance in the US in the “Journal of Risk and Uncertainty”…

With the objective of reducing car insurance costs, two neighbouring states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, made apparently similar changes to their laws. Each state gave drivers an opportunity to take a limited right to sue in exchange for reduced premiums. In New Jersey, you automatically got a reduced right to sue unless you specified otherwise. In Pennsylvania however, the choice was framed such that you automatically received the full right to sue unless you specified the limited right to sue. In New Jersey c 80% chose the new option whereas in Pennsylvania only c 25% did so. The difference was that Pennsylvania failed to gain $200 million in expected insurance and litigation savings.

What to do about it

  • Remember your fundamental objectives
  • Avoid automatically accepting the initial frame – ask yourself “what else could this mean?”
  • Look for distortions created by frames
  • Pose problems in a neutral way combining gains and losses or with different reference points
  • Ask yourself how your thinking might change if the framing changed and challenge the way people frame a problem or solution

5. The Memorability Trap – focusing on dramatic events

Symptoms

  • Any dramatic or memorable event that may be distorting thinking
  • Effect of recency

Example

In a 1974 study by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman published in “Science 185”, lists of well-known men and women were read to different groups of people. The actual numbers of men and women were always equal in the lists. However, where the male names in the list were better known than the women, results consistently showed that people believed there were more men than women on the list. Equally, when the women‟s names were more famous, the reverse was found.

What to do about it

  • Examine your assumptions
  • Get actual statistics where possible
  • Build your own assessment based on known figures

6. The Base-Rate Trap – neglecting relevant information

Symptoms

  • Generalisations made that affect the decision or strategy

Example

Donald Jones is either a salesman or a librarian. His persona can best be described as ‟retiring‟. What are the odds that he is a librarian? This question was posed in „Money Magazine‟ (1990) by Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler. A typical response would conclude that it must be nearly 90% certain that he will be a librarian because of the behavioural description. However, if you consider that salespeople outnumber librarians at least 100 to 1, then this will shift the actual odds significantly. The 1 in 100 is the real base rate.

What to do about it

  • Identify any hidden assumptions made
  • Keep different types of probability statements separate
Conclusions

From these examples it becomes obvious that awareness is the single most important form of protection against psychological traps in all forms of negotiation and conflict resolution. If you are alert to the possibility that a certain statistic, measure or framework may be being used for a less than helpful purpose then you are forewarned and have some choice in your response.

Equally, if you are seeking to increase your own influence in certain circumstances, attention to these anchoring and framing techniques can increase the options available to you

Sources: The examples above are drawn from two excellent books covering this topic and much more:

“Smart Choices” by John S Hammond, Ralph L Keeney and Howard Raiffa; HBS Press, 1999
“Age of Propaganda” by Anthony Pratkanis and Elliott Aronson; W H Freeman and Co, 2001

No.7 – “Setting the frame”

A particularly useful communication concept of NLP is called framing. Framing is about the focus being set by the choice of words used in any type of communication. Whether it’s in a presentation, a meeting, a coaching session or a written report, every sentence and question has the potential to set
a certain frame. You might notice a very strong connection to an earlier edition of Top Tips (No. 1 – ‘What’s your real question?’) which discussed the idea that “a question presupposes the structure of its answer.”

When two or more people have a similar frame of reference, the likelihood is that understanding and rapport are enhanced. Familiarity with the process of ‘framing’ will enable you to influence what your audience pays attention to, the likely direction of a conversation, and the usefulness and relevance of
their responses or outputs.

The concept of framing can be used to get the best results and to cause people to pay attention to the things you want them to pay attention to – as opposed to what you don’t want.

For example, a manager who explains a task to a team member as ‘a task that never seems to get done’ has (albeit unintentionally) framed the task as potentially difficult or unimportant. The recipient of this message may take those words, process them, and perhaps put the task at the bottom of their
list – never to get done.

The problem frame

In general, our business culture is more biased towards problem-solving, especially in the context of change initiatives. The problem frame concentrates on the past – what went wrong and why, who did what, and so on. This usually results in focusing on the negative. Within a problem frame, the typical questions asked will be:

· What is the problem?
· How long have we had the problem?
· Why are we in this state and whose fault is it?
· Why hasn’t it been solved yet?

Apart from the potential learning available from identifying past mistakes, most of these questions do not fundamentally help in resolving the issue. Indeed, another, more subtle, type of ‘problem frame’ is where you inadvertently create a misplaced focus of attention or deliver the opposite message to the
one you intended

Remember Richard Nixon? He found that out the hard way when he stood before the nation said, “I am not a crook” – and everybody thought about him as a crook!
So, when faced with a ‘problem frame’ we need a strategy to turn it round. The first and simplest way to do this is to ask “So what do we want instead (of the problem)?” One of the skills of leaders and facilitators is to keep a meeting focused, despite whatever may be the natural patterns of the
participants.

The outcome frame

The outcome frame, also known as the solutions frame, focuses on the future. It concentrates on achieving the desired outcome and the attention is on what is wanted and how to get there. This usually leads to a more positive focus, and questions such as:

· What do we want?
· How will we know when we have got it?
· What is the purpose?
· How can we make it happen?
· What resources do we have and need?

To establish a frame, you need to understand what the other party’s values are, and what’s important to them. For example…

When a Toyota executive asked employees to brainstorm “ways to increase their productivity”, all he got back were blank stares. When he rephrased his request as “ways to make their jobs easier”, he could barely keep up with the amount of suggestions.

Words carry strong implicit meaning and, as such, play a major role in how we perceive a problem. In the example above, ‘be productive’ might seem like a sacrifice you’re making for the company, while ‘make your job easier’ may be more like something you’re doing for your own benefit, but from which the company also benefits. In the end, the problem is still the same, but the feelings — and the points of view — associated with each of them are vastly different.

To create an effective outcome frame, play freely with the initial problem statement, rewording it several times. For example take single words and substitute variations – instead of ‘increase sales’ try replacing ‘increase’ with ‘attract’, ‘develop’, ‘extend’, ‘repeat’ and see how your perception of the
problem changes.

Other very useful business frames include…

The Out Frame – which defines what is not to be included in a particular intervention. For example… “I understand that ‘X’ is something that must be addressed in a future discussion, but at the moment we need to focus on ‘Y’”

The ‘As if’ Frame – which provides a way to create more choices and/or options for action by switching perceptual position, time, possibility instead of impossibility etc.

Final thought

Suppose the government is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed, and you must choose which one you think is better. These are the estimates of the outcomes for each program:

Program A: 200 people will be saved.
Program B: There’s a ⅓ chance that 600 people will be saved and a ⅔ chance that no people will be
saved.

Now suppose that, instead of those two programs above, you’ve been presented with the following two programs instead. As in the previous situation, pick the one you think is better.

Program C: 400 people will die.
Program D: There’s a ⅓ chance that nobody will die, and a ⅔ chance that 600 people will die.

Which programs did you pick? This question was asked in a famous experiment by Tversky and Kahneman (which led to a Nobel Prize for Kahneman), with 72% of participants choosing option A over B, and 78% choosing D over C.

The fact is, as you’ve probably noticed, programs A and C are identical, as are programs B and D. They’re objectively the same — the same numbers of people live and die, with the same odds — but they’re presented — or framed — in different ways!

So, in essence the skill of framing is quite simple – decide what you want the other party to pay attention to, and frame your communication in such a way that this becomes the most likely outcome!

No.6 – “The survivor’s guide to the (possibly) festive season!”

If your Christmas is guaranteed to be filled with peace, love and laughter – or, if it’s not a festival that you celebrate – then this edition of Top Tips may not be directly relevant to you. However, I write it in the hope that it may be useful for someone you know or for any other festivals/family occasions which
you may be part of in the future!

I think most people would agree that there are a lot of expectations around the Christmas period how it’s celebrated, and that it can be a difficult or emotional time for many people. Over the years I have coached many people on issues with which they are faced at this time of year. For example…

  • Deciding where to spend the holidays – “your folks or mine”!
  • Feelings of guilt at not inviting the relatives you’d rather avoid
  • Feeling torn between what you ‘have’ to do, as opposed to what you really want to do
  • Pressure to spend money you can’t really afford
  • Dealing with the ‘inevitable’ family rows
  • Feelings of panic about making the whole thing perfect if you’re hosting the event
  • Believing you have to be the one to keep everyone happy and ensure they have a good time

So, if any of those are familiar to you, here are a few questions and/or insights which seem to have
been helpful for people in the past…

  • How can you best stay true to yourself?
  • When thinking about the most adverse aspects of those people that you’d rather not have spend any time with…
    • What is their “unconscious positive intention” towards you? (This takes the assumption that there is a very high value learning for you buried somewhere inside even the most adverse of situations!)
    • In what way is their behaviour/attitude representative of something inside you? (This does not have to be exactly the same thing, or be expressed in the same way, but it will have the same core essence.)
  • Even if you are likely to be in a situation that is not ideal, how can you make the best of it? For example, given where you’re starting from, what would be a really good outcome?
  • How can your current feelings be explained in Graves’ Values Systems terms (for those of your familiar with Dr Clare Graves’ work)?

At the end of the day, remember that “being happy” is purely a state of mind and therefore (bah, humbug!) within your control. Zen philosophy has a couple of interesting and potentially useful concepts in this area…

  • The first is to do with the idea of ‘optional suffering’. This relates to those situations which may be unavoidably unpleasant or challenging in some way, but which we choose to make even worse by constantly dwelling on the negative aspects – the situation may not be in your control, but your reaction to it is.
  • The other is the belief that happiness comes from outside rather than from inside ourselves. So what matters most – that all the decorations are in place, the food is perfect and the presents beautifully wrapped, or that your time is spent (however it is spent) in a state of inner peace and harmony?