If you were asked, would you say that a human being is like something that can be programmed, or is the experience of being human more akin to a story? You can doubtless tell by the way I’ve articulated that question that I veer towards the latter. And I’d like to think that is’s not just because – fundamentally – I’m a writer.
A new acquaintance, involved in professional training, related her sense of being scanned in a machine-like way by some of the NLPers she’s come across. I know what she means. ‘Checking signs of congruence. Mismatch alert! Reject output of this humanoid and proceed to next one.’ I’ve felt the same, when someone has attempted to reframe a sentence with no respect for the decades of personal history that made what was offered something appropriate to share. When I’ve seen a married couple on a DHE training express their desire to become Borg, the robot drones featured as bad guys in one of the Star Trek spin-offs. When a Bandler apprentice declares that he’s 86% of the way to downloading his mentor (he’s probably up to 93% since another NLP trainer shared that one with me…in an attempt to influence how I felt about the guy he was talking about).
And no, it doesn’t have to be like that. I know people with NLP expertise who go beyond dissecting someone’s language patterns and watching their eyes dart about and in some cases really do grok what others are about. Grok, you may or may not be aware, is a term from Robert Heinlein’s science fiction classic Stranger In A Strange Land, from which this definition comes: “Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.”
There are times I’ve had that experience, before and after NLP training. And I’m conscious that NLP can often be an obstacle to it happening: it has been for me, anyway. While you’re noticing patterns of whatever sort, you’re some kind of dissociated. And yes, that is ‘some kind of’, since contra to much received wisdom, association and dissociation aren’t either/or options; they exist in a continuum. It’s possible to note what’s happening and how it’s unfolding while being part of the ongoing experience. And there are times when we are part of something larger, and resorting to toolkits from NLP or wherever else takes us away from the magic of the moment. Interestingly, two of those experiences are those that artists of all sorts often have difficulties depicting in whatever their medium is: sex and prayer. What’s happening subjectively and what goes on externally are out of synch. Both can be ‘about’ a sense of union that defies description or analysis.
This mismatch cropped up on my first NLP course, when we were invited to have a pretend meeting using a format called PEGASUS. I think there was a cheesy strapline involved, to the effect that your meetings would soar away. Flying horse, see? Anyway. We started – in the traditional group of three – sans any kind of format, and got on swimmingly (a word that popped up spontaneously, and again points to immersion). As soon as we used PEGASUS, the whole thing fell apart. So much so, that we laughed about it, and kept a good positive attitude about what we were being asked to do that PEGASUS was inhibiting.
That connects in another direction. I was hired to have input into the marketing of a training organisation. After I came out, someone asked ‘Was that the marketing meeting you were in? I could hear laughter.’ She said it in such a way that implied the marketing meeting was somewhere you’d not encounter such a phenomenon. Good thing I didn’t know beforehand. And the same applies with NLP. By suggesting (through inept training) that people ‘are’ visual or auditory etc; that there really are distinctions between capabilities, beliefs, identity and so forth, as laid out in a particular hierarchy; we condition people to experience arbitrary facets of others and not their rich wholeness.
The more you focus on those things you’ve been trained to spot (whether they exist or are fantasies), the less you pick up what’s actually happening in any situation. I’ve been working with someone lately, an amazing woman who has seen off two coaches – one of them retiring from the field after experiencing my client. It wasn’t until I pointed it out that she realised she wasn’t a coach herself, despite having spent a good wedge of money on finding out how to do that. Sure, she’s got some skills and knowledge that come from that world – but shoehorning them into the coaching model she was trained in distorted her natural brilliance, took away some of what makes her so wonderful in the first place.
I know, incidentally, that there are a lot of talented NLPers and coaches out there. Some of them are friends of mine. And I know too that you’ll find what you pay attention to. Increasingly though, I’m inclined to suspect that it’s an abuse of the core of what attention is – if that can ever be defined – to treat it as a tool that you point at happy things to make sure you’re happy. Along with that goes a notion that paying attention to what’s not working is indicative of negativity. To me, that’s a facile understanding of attention, treating it as just something else that can be programmed. And I’m interested not just in what’s good and what’s bad, but what’s there and especially in what doesn’t fit in any categories that I’ve come across. It’s through that exploration that my own story becomes a more rewarding one.