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.

No.4 – “What happened to September?!!”

The observant among you will undoubtedly be wondering what happened to the September edition of Top Tips! I can only offer my apologies – having moved house in the last 2-3 weeks, September was a rather hectic month (to say the least), and in addition to that I’ve only just managed to regain internet access.

However, normal service will be resumed in November and with all my recent experiences of organising a house-move, mail re-direction, changes of address and all the other associated activities,I have a number of ideas for topics – ways of managing your emotional state, stress management and dealing with ‘difficult’ people are among those that spring to mind!!

I’d also welcome ideas for any situations you’ve encountered for which you’d like some additional tips, and I’ll be happy to incorporate those into future editions. In the meantime, a quick thought for this month…

Consider how the NLP Presupposition – “What you experience in other people is, in some way, representative of what is going on in you” – can be useful to you.

Next time you encounter a behaviour in someone which you find irritating or ‘difficult’, consider how you too manifest that same quality in your life (although almost certainly not to the same degree or in the same way). For example, if you are ever frustrated by the fact that someone consistently fails to respond to messages from you or to answer urgent queries, ask yourself “How is that me?” Even though you may always return calls or messages quickly, are there nonetheless times when you get distracted, or ignore the needs of others because something more important has taken your attention? Naturally none of us is perfect, but beginning to recognise your own fallibility in this way can make it easier to understand the same characteristic in others – not to agree with it, or even accept it, but as a way of managing your own stress and tensions in those situations.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that if there is a quality or characteristic in someone else that you really value or admire, the same principle applies – you must also have the ability to manifest that same quality or you wouldn’t be able to recognise it in others!

Remember, these NLP Presuppositions (or empowering beliefs) are not necessarily statements of ‘truth’, but acting as if they are true can offer very useful insights and a way of developing your personal flexibility, and creative approaches to what had previously been a difficulty.

No.3 – “Change Matters”

This month, I’d like to offer some ‘musings’ on the subject of change. A huge topic I know and in this instance I’m particularly focussing on situations where you want to make (or influence) change yourself, in any context, rather than those which are ‘imposed’ on you.

You may be familiar with the work of David McClelland’s team at Harvard, who some years ago, summarised the requirements for any significant change to be lasting and effective as follows:

In order for change to be sustainable people must…

  • be willing to change (if they’re not it’s a motivation issue)
  • be able to change (if they’re not it’s a training/competency issue)
  • not be prevented from changing (if they are, it’s a ‘systemic’ issue)

In this edition of ‘Top Tips’ it’s the last of these three that I’d like to explore. How exactly can ‘the system’ prevent change – and what does that mean anyway? Consider the presupposition…

“Any system or relationship is exquisitely designed to deliver precisely the result it does”.  On the face of it that statement seems to defy logic – how can it be true, particularly in situations where the result you are getting is not the one you want? Why would everyone involved in a negative situation be onspiring to keep it exactly the way it is, rather than change what they’re doing to get the result they say they want?

Consider the following scenario…

A manager is concerned by constant arguments and tensions between two members of his team, who always seem to rub each other the wrong way. It’s also beginning to affect the other members of the group who ‘tip-toe’ around them in an attempt to keep the peace! Individually both of them have a good relationship with the manager (and other colleagues). The Manager has made several attempts to mediate between the two – with no success. Both say they are unhappy with the situation and would like it to improve, but despite the direct interventions of the manager and the indirect efforts of other team members, nothing changes. 

Therefore, if we apply the above presupposition to this situation, it would suggest that each of the participants in this system is conspiring (consciously or not) to keep the current position exactly the way it is.

Yet that seems to make no sense – why would they want to perpetuate something that causes frustration, tension and stress? And yet nothing changes – despite everyone saying they want things to be different. Therefore another option could be that they are all getting something out of keeping it the way it is, at a much deeper level, rather than making the changes they say they want. In other words, the system itself is perpetuating the situation.

So, before anything can move forward it would be necessary to understand the kind of deeper needs and drivers that are being satisfied by the current behaviour, as this will have to be maintained in the new desired behaviour, or no change will happen.

Obviously it’s speculation, but just suppose the following is true…

For the Manager – Despite the tensions in his team, they are still meeting all their objectives and are seen as a high performing department by the rest of the organisation. Therefore he feels proud of the fact that he can achieve the desired results, despite the interpersonal challenges the team is experiencing, as it sets him apart from his peers and gets him noticed by the Board.  For the two people in conflict – They get attention and reassurance both from their manager and other members of the team. The manager is not naturally someone who gives much feedback on good performance, but throughout this scenario he has been much more forthcoming in giving both parties support and encouragement on the work they are doing.

Unless those needs are acknowledged, and met, in any future scenario, the ‘system’ will push back at any attempt to change the status quo. The key will be to find a way to satisfy the deeper needs and motivations of all parties, but with new behaviours, rather than a continuation of the existing ones.  Only then will a lasting change occur which creates a new ‘system’ designed to produce a different result.

So, what might resolve our example?

What if they were introduced to this presupposition and then asked to explain (to each other) how, despite saying they wish to resolve the issue, they do not? This would be best done with some humour and it almost becomes a double-bind in the sense that if they say they don’t know, they are tacitly accepting some responsibility for it staying static. If they deny it then you can reasonably say that they are manifesting the behaviour! The resulting mind-set change should be sufficient to get some movement into the situation.

No.2 – “Making it Practical”

It’s a common situation – you’ve been on a so-called ‘soft skills’ course (whether it’s based on NLP, EQ, or any other form of interpersonal skills training) – it was really interesting and you gained some valuable insights. However, once you’re back in the ‘real world’, your everyday issues and pressures come back again, and it seems to become increasingly hard to find opportunities to practise your new skills and develop them further.

It’s a scenario that many people have fed back to us over the years, so in this edition I wanted to remind you of some simple ways to practise new skills, so you can more quickly move from conscious to unconscious competence.  One of the best ways is to start by raising your awareness of others’ behaviour in situations where there is no necessity for you to intervene.

For example…

  • Next time you’re in a meeting, or anywhere where there are groups of people talking together, listen for particular patterns of language.
    • In NLP terms this could include patterns of representational systems language (see, hear, feel) and other ‘filters’. Or, if you’re familiar with Robert Dilts’ ‘Logical Levels’ model, and the Graves Values Model, ask yourself “at what level or levels must they be thinking in order to express themselves in that way”?
    • What kind of metaphors are being used – e.g. expressions like “it’s a battleground out there and we have to fight for what we want”, “sowing the seeds of success now will reap rewards in the future”.
    • Listen to their vocal characteristics, and pay close attention to the speed, volume, rhythm, intonation, etc of their voice? Then consider, if you were going to match one of the people speaking, what adjustments would you have to make in your voice to do that?
  • If you can’t hear what’s being said, pay attention to body language.
    • Who’s influencing who? If one person makes a change in their body language (posture, gestures, etc), do others do something similar after 30 seconds or so? This will happen quite unconsciously, but is a good indicator of who is the (unconscious) leader in the group, and therefore the one who is likely to have the most influence.
    • Linked to this is the question of whether or not they are in rapport – and how do you know?
  • If you sense someone has changed their emotional state (e.g. calm to frustrated, tense to relaxed, confused to confident) – rather than just applying a ‘label’ to it, ask yourself what it is you’re picking up or responding to. For example…
    • What specifically has changed in their demeanour – changes in skin tone, muscle tension in face (around eyes and mouth), body position/posture?
    • Vocal changes – is the tone of their voice harder or softer, is their volume louder or quieter, is their speed of speech faster or slower?
    • Have the language patterns they’re using changed?

And even if there’s no-one else around you still have yourself…

  • When you’re operating at your best, pay attention to the relationship between your internal dialogue and how you’re feeling?
  • How are you thinking about yourself? What do you believe to be true/not true about yourself in these situations?
  • What about when things are not going so well? What’s different?
  • What happens if you change the words you’re using internally, and/or your tone of voice?

Raising your awareness in this way will really build your confidence and ensure the new skills become ‘normal’ for you – part of who you are and what you do – as quickly as possible. Then, when you’re required to interact with someone or intervene in some way when it really matters, you’ll need to pay little, if any, attention to using them consciously.

No.1 What’s your real question?

Welcome to the first in our series of ‘Top Tips’. We hope you will find them useful yet concise, and of course we welcome feedback at any time. If you have any particular topics or areas on which you would appreciate some tips, do let us know and we’ll do our best to incorporate them into future editions.

No.1- “What’s your real question?”

You’ll probably be familiar with the expression “a question pre-supposes the structure of its answer” – particularly if you’ve attended any of our courses recently!  It means that in any question posed, there is an implied structure that an answer must fit in order for the questioner to be satisfied and achieve their outcome. This concept can be applied in two different ways…

1. Every time someone asks a question, they are giving you a lot of information about how they’re thinking and what’s important to them. Therefore, by listening carefully to the precise question someone is asking it should be possible to work out what they’re really interested in.  This is likely to make your response much more effective.

Here are some tips on how to do this successfully…

  • In your mind’s eye, mentally step into their world and ask yourself “What has to be true for this person to say that thing, in that way, at this time?” (i.e. what values are they operating from?). This is particularly helpful when the question feels ‘difficult’ or challenging in some way – it doesn’t mean you have to agree with their perspective; you’re merely seeking to understand it!
  • What language patterns are explicit (or implied) in the structure of their question – e.g. what representational system(s) (seeing, hearing, feeling language), meta programmes (filters) and/or meta model patterns (deletions, generalisations, distortions) are they using?
  • In light of that information, how can you structure your response in order for it to
    ‘make sense’ to them?

On that basis, what information you can glean from this question?…

“I just don’t see it – we’ve tried this sort of thing in the past and it’s never worked properly. Don’t you think it’s about time we tried a new approach with a clean sheet of paper, rather than attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole?” …you could find examples of visual language (see), filters for time (past) and difference (new approach), generalisation (never), kinaesthetic metaphors (paper, square peg in round holes), and implied values of innovation and creativity.

So, how could you now frame a response to cover as many of those areas as possible?

2. When you’re the one asking the questions, the same principle applies. You can frame your questions to make it most likely that you will achieve the outcome you want.

Ask yourself –

  • Where do I want to take this person in their thinking with the question I am about to ask? (i.e. what’s my outcome).
  • Is the form of words I’m about to use most likely to take them there – i.e. what is presupposed in the structure of my question?

Even subtle changes in the structure of a question can make a marked difference on where it takes the other person in their thinking. For example, consider what is pre-supposed in the structure of these questions…

“Does that make sense?” vs. “How much sense is this making?”
“How willing are you to commit to that?” vs. “Are you willing to commit to that?”
“Are you going to do X or Y?” vs “What are you going to do?”
“What will help you to move forward?” vs “What stops you moving forward?”

There is really no such thing as a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ question; only one that best matches the outcome you are going for. The important factor is does it take you closer to where you (and more importantly the other person), want to be?