Change Management

Neural Linguistic Programming

By Ron Updated on January 13th, 2011

NLPAn interesting field of study I have briefly researched (i.e. read a few books but no formal training) is Neural Linguistics Programming (NLP).

I am by no means an expert in NLP and am not promoting it here.  There are parts of NLP that do seem a bit odd and “out there” for me but other parts of it may serve to be useful in change management type situations.

NLP is not new. It has been around since the 1970’s but from my experience few have heard of it. I only stumbled upon it after a colleague referred me to a book. Rather than offering a thorough explanation of NLP I want to address a few key aspects this evening; specifically, building rapport, mirroring, pacing, and leading.


A key to leading change is the ability to “connect” with the people you are working with. Good leaders of change or even good sales people, for example, are those able to quickly build rapport with their clients.

NLP teaches that rapport happens when we get the attention of another person’s unconscious mind and meet them at what they refer to as the others person’s “map of their world.” Yeah, I know it sounds a bit like some psycho babble… but stay with me.

A key point to remember is that you cannot “cause” rapport but you can influence it as we will soon discuss.


A technique we can use to help influence rapport building is mirroring. It’s safe to say that it’s easier to build rapport with people we like and subsequently like us. Why is this? There are many reasons of course… but one key reason is that we are similar in some way and/or have things in common with each other. The next time you see an older couple eating in a restaurant take note of their similarities. Chances are their actions will mirror one another. Everything from their posture, body language, and even the way they speak likely resembles one another. Why is this? They have grown so close to one another over the years that their actions and demeanor mirror one another.

So if you want to give mirroring a shot here are some tips. Does the person you are dealing with use their hands a lot when they talk? If so, mirror this.

Is the person high energy? If so, you need to turn up the juice a bit thus matching their behavior.

What about the words this person uses when they speak? Are they more visual in the way they speak? For example, they may say “I see what you mean.” Or perhaps they are more kinesthetic and say things like, “I just feel like you’re not listening to me.” My wife is very kinesthetic so when she is “feeling” I need to do my best to meet her on this level. I could do this by responding, “I didn’t know you felt this way. Let me try to do a better job.” The basic idea here is to mirror the way this person talks which may help you connect with them thus building rapport.

Pacing & Leading

The old phrase, “If you lead they will follow” perfectly sums up the concepts of pacing and leading. When you successfully meet someone at their “map of world” you are pacing. Then as you bring this person along with you on your change initiative you are leading.

Here is how you can test this. Try to mirror one aspect of someone you know. Once you think you may have built rapport and are pacing and leading scratch your nose or make some other type of noticeable gesture. If within the next few moments this person does the same thing you may have lead their behavior.

Be Careful

Some have likened NLP to brain washing. I even heard an NLP proponent once say that it is indeed brain washing. But his next remark was that we are attempting to brain wash people everyday via training, meetings, etc.

Final Remarks

As with anything NLP should never be used in a negative or devious manner. This would be the dead opposite of respect for people. So if you are not trying to influence a situation in a positive manner please forget everything I just discussed. Really, forget it. Please.

For more reading on NLP click here.

  1. robert

    April 25, 2007 - 6:10 am

    Ron – Nice post. I’ve been interested in NLP for a while now and have used some of its principles at work. For example I use anchoring when setting-up a project room. I deliberately attempt create an area close to the source of the six sigma area of concern itself, but off-line. The very act of walking into the room or separate area facilitates a state change in the personnel: they know they are here to actively contribute the resolution of the concern. I’ve other examples of similar techniques that I use (I feel a blog post coming on!). Over at Wikipedia, they use this example: Think of your own psychological changes that occurred when you heard the soundtrack’s amplified, pounding heartbeat rhythm in the moments leading up to each of the appearances of the huge killer shark in the movie ‘Jaws.’ What anchor was established in you by the crescendo of the sound of the music meeting the shark? Did your heartbeat increase? Did your palms begin to sweat? Did you have to see the shark, or was the thumping music enough to start your slide to the edge of your seat?


  2. Ron Pereira

    April 25, 2007 - 6:25 am

    Great example about the Jaws music. Music is very powerful when you think about it. For me, the Star Wars intro music does a similar thing for me. It instantly reminds me of the words scrolling back into the movie screen.

  3. Brian

    April 25, 2007 - 4:04 pm

    Hi Ron,
    I really like the article and would definetly back up that NLP can be applied in a business context and especially with Sigma type work – in fact when I first started learning sigma I described it as ‘business therapy’ due to the similarities in both approaches.
    Re: Rapport, this is an essential skill for all project managers and many just do it unconsciously. Matching the person’s physiology and language are 2 great ways to start and the amazing thing is, if you do it well, the other person won’t even notice. One word of caution, unless you want really deep rapport stay away from mirroring the persons body language e.g. if they cross their left leg you cross your right leg – just like looking in a mirror, funnily enough! This does build a very deep level of rapport that is more akin to best friends or trusted confidants than business.
    On the Brain Washing subject – lot of rubbish!! NLP works from the standpoint that all experience and behaviour is subjective therefore the only way someone can wash a brain is if the owner of the brain allows it to be washed!
    In agreement with Robert, Anchoring is an excellent and effective tool and I would urge all BBs to look into effective use of it if you can.
    Always happy to discuss NLP in a business and Sigma context (I’m a Master Practitioner of NLP & Lean Black Belt) and how you can use it to make your job easier.

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