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No.7 - “Setting the frame”  Published 1/11/2011 in Author Admin

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!”  Published 12/3/2010 in Author Admin

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?

No.5 - “Using Anchoring”  Published 11/3/2010 in Author Admin

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?!!”  Published 10/3/2010 in Author Admin

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”  Published 8/10/2010 in Author Admin

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.

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