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neurolinguists toolbox

A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: Using Presuppositions (Part 2)

On 12 July 2022, our Training Director, Professor Joel Lee, published a blog post on the Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: Using Presuppositions (Part 2)“. His blog post is reproduced in full below.


A Brief Recap

For readers who are new, the “Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox” series is an ongoing series focused on using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in our practice of amicable dispute resolution.

The first section focused on rapport (the first of which can be found here). The second section focuses on matters of self-care and personal improvement for mediators (the first of which can be found here).

This third section focuses on the use of language in amicable dispute resolution. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, I will list in this and subsequent entries the series of entries in this section.

1. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The NLP Communication Model
2. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The Hierarchy of Ideas
3. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: Meta-Model (Part 1)
4. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: Meta-Model (Part 2)
5. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: Using Presuppositions (Part 1)

It is recommended that you read the first entry (NLP Communication Model) before reading this entry. And the same caution I provided in the previous entry applies.

The previous entry explored how linguistic presuppositions can be used to “incept” ideas in communication. Put simply, every statement/question contains assumptions that we must accept, as a matter of simply understanding and responding to that statement/question. Specifically, we explored the presuppositions of existence and awareness. In this entry, I would like to discuss the presuppositions of “Binds” and “Time” as they are often used together.

The Presupposition of “Binds”

Put simply, the presupposition of “Binds” is any sentence giving the illusion of choice. Consider:

Would you like this shirt in blue or red?

Or

Sooner or later, you will realize that dealing with this is unavoidable.

Congratulations to those who, having read the previous entry, immediately recognized the presupposition of Existence (“shirt”) and the presupposition of Awareness (“realize”). Astute readers will have noticed that common to both sentences is a choice, indicated by the word “or”.

This use of “or” is more obvious in the first sentence, where one has to pick between “blue” or “red”. Whatever the choice, the presupposition is that a shirt in either of those colours will be picked. It is also useful to point out that this first sentence is in the form of a question.

While the second sentence is in the form of a statement, the use of “or” is less direct and applies to when the presupposed event will happen. This sentence presupposes that dealing with this (whatever “this” is) is unavoidable. It is simply a matter of time, and that “sooner or later”, it will occur. This is where we turn to the presupposition of “Time”.

The Presupposition of “Time”

Put simply, presuppositions of time are semantically indicated by words delineating time. The ones that work hand in hand with binds are “sooner”, “later”, “now”, “before” and “after”.

Consider the following sentences:

1. “Share with me your side of the story.
2. “Let’s identify solutions to that problem.”
3. “Let’s explore solutions to your problem.

These are sentences which you might use in a mediation. They are fairly direct and can sometimes meet resistance. In sentences 2 and 3, parties may disagree that there are solutions to the problem, or might be unwilling to do so.

Applying the Presuppositions

The presuppositions of “Binds” and “Time” allow for communication to be layered more subtly. Consider the following sentences alternatives:

1. “Would you like to share with me your side of the story now or after the claimant has had a chance to speak? ”
2. “Sooner or later, we will begin to identify solutions to that problem.”
3. “Would you like to explore solutions to your problem before or after the break?”

I have chosen not to indicate the “or” as these are obvious. The words in bold are the presuppositions of “Time“.

These alternatives say the same things as the first set, but has a softer effect. Instead of suggesting the event directly, the sentences presuppose that the event will happen, and it really is only a matter of time. Using this structure redirects the resistance in the listener’s mind from the event that you wish to have happen, to when it will happen.

So far, we have only considered the “or” structure for binds. It is possible to construct a bind without using an “or”. Consider the following sentences:

While you consider ways to resolve this conflict, we can continue to flesh out these agenda items.”
“Are you still considering ways to resolve this conflict?”
“Have you decided on the ways to resolve this conflict yet?”

Again, the presuppositions of “Time” are in bold. These sentences all presuppose the happening of an event i.e. identifying ways to resolve the conflict, without the use of an “or”.

A Reflection to Close

As readers consider the different ways you can apply what they have learnt, it is useful at this point to address two matters that readers might already be thinking.

First, it is important for the use of binds to be subtle. Binds are not unique to NLP and one often encounters binds when a salesperson is trying to pressure you into purchasing something. For example, “would you like to sign the contract with your pen or mine?”. In NLP, we frown upon this type of use. Instead, the use of binds needs to be subtle and layered.

Second, and this is even more important than subtlety, binds need to be used with integrity and respect for the parties. As mediators, we should not seek to strong arm parties into an agreement. Instead, we should use our language and behaviours to enable and empower parties to find sustainable outcomes to their conflict. Using binds allow us to subtly influence parties towards those outcomes.

Finally, I should say that there is a fair bit more to the presupposition of “Time”. This entry has only focused on those presuppositions of time that help us in the construction of binds. In a future entry, we will look at other aspects of presuppositions of time that can assist us in mediation.

I hope you have found this useful. Thanks for reading!


To learn more about how Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help you, join us on the journey towards solving “The People Puzzle” – Prof Joel’s flagship NLP training series. Obtain the blueprint to achieve greater self-awareness, enhance communication with others, and connect with people more effectively.

Unlock the People Puzzle today! 👉 https://peacemakers.sg/the-people-puzzle/

neurolinguists toolbox

A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: Using Presuppositions (Part 1)

On 12 May 2022, our Training Director, Professor Joel Lee, published a blog post on the Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: Using Presuppositions (Part 1)“. His blog post is reproduced in full below.


A Brief Recap

For readers who are new, the “Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox” series is an ongoing series focused on using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in our practice of amicable dispute resolution.

The first section focused on rapport (the first of which can be found here). The second section focuses on matters of self-care and personal improvement for mediators (the first of which can be found here).

This third section focuses on the use of language in amicable dispute resolution. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, I will list in this and subsequent entries the series of entries in this section.

1. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The NLP Communication Model
2. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The Hierarchy of Ideas
3. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: Meta-Model (Part 1)
4. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: Meta-Model (Part 2)

It is recommended that you read the first entry (NLP Communication Model) before reading this entry.

In previous entries, we saw how the use of language can traverse a continuum. For instance, from the specific to the abstract, and how we can directionalize our communication. And consequently, our listener’s attention in a desired direction (See The Hierarchy of Ideas). We have also explored how we can use specific questions to recover information that has been distorted, generalized and deleted, and how this can assist in challenging perceptions and creating movement in the listener’s minds (See the Meta Model, Parts 1 and 2).

A Disclaimer!

Before going further, I feel I should provide readers a heads up. The discussion that follows is a little involved and may feel like one is back in school learning English. My apologies in advance. It is the nature of the subject. I suggest a strong cup of coffee (or other legal stimulant of choice) and I trust that for the intrepid reader that soldiers on, you will find value.

Having said that, this entry and those following, explores how linguistic presuppositions can be used to “incept” ideas in communication. Put simply, every statement/question contains assumptions that we must accept, as a matter of simply understanding and responding to that statement/question. This is best illustrated by a true story from my misspent youth.

Lessons from My Youth

During my university studies in New Zealand, I had a friend who liked to go around asking people the following question:

Are you still beating your wife?

Before going further, I should say that this is obviously a politically incorrect statement and should not be taken to indicate any kind of approval for said behavior (one can never be too careful in today’s “lit” world). I share this here as a factual description of what my friend said, and who obviously did so for shock value.

I was constantly surprised by how many were confounded by this. They simply did not know how to respond to this Hobson’s choice. An affirmative or a negative would be equally damning. I didn’t know it then, but this was a presupposition in action. In order to meaningfully respond to the question, one had to accept the presupposition inherent in that question, i.e. I have a wife and have beaten her at some point.

For completion, I should add that there were a rare few who recognized the obvious trap and either refused to answer, or responded by saying “I have never had a wife” or “I have never beaten my wife” which directly challenged the presupposition.

When I finally learnt about presuppositions, I immediately recognized what my friend was doing then, but more importantly how we can use presuppositions in our work as mediators to help parties come to agreement. Since then, I have taught mediators and negotiators how to use presuppositions artfully. I would like to share some of these thoughts with readers.

There are many types of presuppositions and in this entry, I will share 2 presuppositions that are often used together. These are the presupposition of “Existence” and presupposition of “Awareness”.

The Presupposition of “Existence”

Looking first at the presupposition of “Existence”, simply put, every statement/question that contains a noun has a presupposition of “Existence”. Consider:

There is a garden behind the house

Or

He has attained many achievements and success in his career

In the first sentence, there are two concrete nouns; “garden” and “house”. Concrete nouns refer to things that can physically exist in the world. In NLP, we say that concrete nouns can fit in the palm of your hand, or you can put in a wheelbarrow. A “stone” or a “building” or a “planet” would all be concrete nouns. You may need a very large palm or a very large wheelbarrow, but it is conceivably possible.

Concrete nouns are to be contrasted against abstract nouns.

In the second sentence above, “achievements”, “success” and “career” are all examples of abstract nouns. In communication, we treat them as if they exist as things in the world but they are essentially dynamic processes that have been frozen as nouns. Readers may remember that these are referred to as nominalizations in the Meta-Model. In the Meta-Model, our purpose was to denominalize these abstract nouns. However, for our purposes here, we want to be able to use abstract nouns to assist parties.

Consider the following sentences:

“The both of you have been experiencing conflict
“This dispute has created some problems between you”
“It is good that you have chosen to resolve your dispute through mediation
“There are a number of obstacles and challenges to resolving this matter
“There are a number of possible solutions here that can give us an agreement

The words in bold are abstract nouns that are likely to occur in a mediation.

Mixing in Other Presuppositions

There is nothing miraculous at this point. We can easily construct sentences that contain a noun (of some kind) thereby creating a statement or a question that contains a presupposition of “Existence”. The problem is a simple single-layered statement like “There is a solution here” can be simply responded to with “There is not”.

Therefore, to effectively incept a presupposition, one needs to create a sentence of question that is multi-layered. And this is where other presuppositions can come in. Consider:

“There is a garden behind the house”
“Did you know there is a garden behind the house?”
“Did you know that John did not realise that there is a garden behind the house?

All these sentences share the same presuppositions of “Existence”, i.e. there is a garden and there is a house. However the second and third sentence is multi-layered in that they contain presuppositions of “Awareness” (in italics). 

The Presupposition of “Awareness”

Presuppositions of “Awareness” allude to ways we cognitively interact with others and the world. Consider:

ThinkRealiseKnowFeelAwareConsider

These words all allude to how we are aware of others and the world. In the second sentence above, by using the words “Did you know…”, we have added an extra layer to the communication that focuses the listener’s attention on “whether they knew”. Therefore, regardless of whether the question is answered in the affirmative or negative, the presupposition of “Existence” of the garden and house is unconsciously accepted.

The third sentence is simply illustrative of creating two additional layers using presuppositions of “Awareness”; “Did you know” and “John did not realise”. One is now asking whether the listener was aware of John (and yes, this is an extra presupposition of “Existence” i.e. someone called “John” exists) not realizing that there is a garden behind the house. In this third sentence, the presupposition of the garden and the house is even more deeply embedded. And even if the listener were to ask “Who’s John?”, the garden and house are taken as given.

How might we use this in mediation?

Consider the assumptions we want to parties accept as assumptions when they engage in mediation. For example:

1. That in general 7 out of 10 disputes that go to mediation get settled
2. That cooperation can go a long way to resolving disputes
3. That there will be a number of possible solutions that can be created

Again, the presuppositions of “Existence” are bolded. Making these single layered statements runs the risk of parties directly challenging the presuppositions. However, if we were to layer in presuppositions of “Awareness”:

1. I don’t know if you know, but most people are surprised to find out that 7 out of 10 disputes that go to mediation get settled.
2. It is common for parties to be pleasantly surprised when they realise that cooperation can go a long way to resolving disputes.
3. As the mediation proceeds, we will begin to see a number of possible solutions that can be created so that we can identify the best one to solve this problem.

Three Closing Points

First, readers may find the above discussion a little two-dimensional. This is because we have really only covered the basics of using presuppositions. I have limited my examples to the two presuppositions (“Existence” and “Awareness”) discussed, and needless to say, there are many other presuppositions which I will explore in future entries.

Secondly, it clear that the information shared in this entry can be used unethically. I have addressed this in previous entries. It is sufficient to say here that how the tool is used depends on you. Moreover, I take the position that all our interventions as mediators should be ethical and respectful.

Finally, some readers might feel a bit overwhelmed by the information and concepts in this entry. I invite you to take a step back and realise that as part of our day to day communication, we use presuppositions all the time. What is important to us as professional communicators is to use it purposefully and ethically. I also invite you to spend some time noticing the presuppositions we use in every day communication, two of which we have discussed.

It has been a long entry and I thank you for reading to this point. I hope you have found this entry both interesting and useful.


To learn more about how Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help you, join us on the journey towards solving “The People Puzzle” – Prof Joel’s flagship NLP training series. Obtain the blueprint to achieve greater self-awareness, enhance communication with others, and connect with people more effectively.

Unlock the People Puzzle today! 👉 https://peacemakers.sg/the-people-puzzle/

neurolinguists toolbox

A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The Meta Model (Part 2)

On 12 November 2021, our Training Director, Professor Joel Lee, published a blog post on the Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The Meta Model (Part 2)“. His blog post is reproduced in full below.


A Brief Recap

For readers who are new, the “Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox” series is an ongoing series focused on using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in our practice of amicable dispute resolution.

The first section focused on rapport (the first of which can be found here). The second section focuses on matters of self-care and personal improvement for mediators (the first of which can be found here).

This third section focuses on the use of language in amicable dispute resolution. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, I will list in this and subsequent entries the series of entries in this section.

1. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The NLP Communication Model
2. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The Hierarchy of Ideas
3. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: Meta-Model (Part 1)

It is recommended that you read the first entry (NLP Communication Model) and third entry (Meta-Model (Part 1)) in this section before reading this entry.

Essentially, the NLP Communication Model suggests that our memories and experiences are a lesser representation of our external environment because our neurology automatically filters out extraneous data so that the information that is presented to us is in manageable chunks. These filters essentially distort, generalize and delete our experience of the world.

These filters operate again when we seek to use words to describe our internal memories and experiences. Therefore, words used do not fully represent the internal memories and experiences that we hold in our head. In turn words do not fully represent the external world upon which those memories and experiences are based.

Communication and the Meta-Model

In communication, we often assume that we understand what the speaker means by the words they use. In reality, we are filling in, from our own experiences, what we understand those words to mean. However, our experiences may or may not match the speaker’s reference experiences. When they do not, miscommunication and misunderstanding occurs. These filters also explain why perceptions and biases occur.

The Meta-Model was modeled from Virginia Satir’s systemic family work. It is a model of language which allows us to linguistically recognize and recover the distortions, generalisations and deletions that have occurred in communication.

In the previous entry, we considered three Meta-Model patterns and the questions to ask to recover the information that has been filtered out. These patterns were the Mind-Read, the Connecting Statement and the Lost Performative. In this entry, we will cover 3 more patterns.

Pattern: The Universal Quantifier

The first pattern is the Universal Quantifier. These are words which imply or state absolute conditions about the speaker’s perception of reality. They usually indicate that a generalization has been made from a specific experience in the speaker’s life. The universal quantifier linguistic pattern is identified through the set of words like:

“all”

“every”

“always”

“never”

“nobody”

An example of a sentence with a universal quantifier would be “He is never on time!”. Another example would be “Nobody cares about the company.”

Responding to Universal Quantifiers

There are two ways in which Meta-Model responds to the universal quantifier. Both of which seek to get the speaker to loosen the belief upon which the generalization is based.

The first way is to exaggerate the universal quantifier by using the universal quantifier on itself with appropriate voice tonality. To illustrate, in relation to the two examples provided above, one could say “Never?!” or “Nobody?!”. Obviously this must not ridicule the speaker. Rapport must be maintained. The idea is to respectfully get the speaker to consider that the generalization made is too far reaching.

The second way is to elicit a counter example from the speaker’s model of the world that contradicts the generalization. Again, in relation to the two examples used earlier, one could ask “Was there ever a time when he was on time?”, or “But you care, don’t you?”

Pattern: Modal Operators

The second pattern is Modal Operators which define the boundaries of the speaker’s model of the world. They are the “rules” which govern the limits of possibility and necessity for the speaker. To go beyond these boundaries would be to invite a catastrophe that the speaker believes to be beyond his control.

There are two types of modal operators. The first are modal operators of necessity or non-necessity. This refers to words that indicate a lack of choice. Examples of modal operators of necessity would be words like:

“have to”

“must”

“should”

or in non-necessity form:

“haven’t”

“must not”

“should not”.

The second are modal operators of possibility. This refers to words that indicate the limits of possibility, or impossibility, in the speaker’s model of the world. Examples of modal operators of possibility are “can”, “will”, “may”; or in the form of impossibility, “can’t”, won’t”, “may not”.

Responding to Modal Operators

In the Meta-Model, there are two ways to respond to the modal operator linguistic pattern. The first way works with the modal operators of non-necessity or impossibility like “can’t”, “won’t”, “shouldn’t” and the response is to ask “What stops you?”. This takes the speaker into the past to isolate the experience from which the generalization was formed.

For example, if the sentence were “I can’t accept this deal!”, one could respond “What stops you?”.

The second response is applicable to all types of modal operators whether positively or negatively stated. This is to ask “What would happen if you did/didn’t”. This response serves to take the speaker beyond the boundaries of the model of their world so that they can consider what was previously not possible for them to consider.

For example, if the sentence were “I have to stay in the company”, one could respond “What would happen if you did?” or “What would happen if you didn’t?

These responses assist the speaker in expanding the boundaries in their model of the world that will ideally increase choice for the speaker.

Pattern: Nominalization

The final Meta-Model pattern we will explore is known in linguistics as Nominalization. Nominalizations are essentially abstract nouns like success, love, relationship, problem, integrity, happiness, communication and peace. Unlike concrete nouns (pen, chair, computer, wheelbarrow), nominalizations are essentially verbs or processes that have been made static and generalized across time.

Examples of statements containing nominalizations would be “Our relationship is not working out” or “We have bad communication”. The problem with these statements is that the nouns seem immovable making the situation seem final.

Responding to Nominalizations

The Meta-Model prescribes denominalizing abstract nouns. Put another way, convert the abstract noun back into a process. For example, in response to the first statement, one could ask “In what ways would you like to be relating instead?”. Denominalising “relationship” back into the process of relating adjusts the speaker’s subjective reality so that there is now some movement possible. Things don’t seem so final. The same can be done to the second statement by asking “How would you like to be communicating instead?

A Note Before Closing

I will briefly repeat 2 points made in the previous entry about using the Meta-Model.

First, one should not expect a single question to make a complete shift in the speaker’s mind. This might sometimes occur but more often than not, you may need to string a number of Meta-Model together to achieve the desired shift.

Secondly, one should always pose the Meta-Model questions with care and respect. One should maintain rapport with the speaker and utilize softening frames like “Help me understand how…”. Or “Let me play devil’s advocate here and ask you…

This entry concludes our foray into the use of the Meta-Model. There is of course much more to the Meta-Model and I invite readers to find out more on their own.

In future entries, I will explore other ways in which we as mediators can use language in our work. Thank you for reading and I hope readers found this entry both interesting and useful.


To learn more about how Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help you, join us on the journey towards solving “The People Puzzle” – Prof Joel’s flagship NLP training series. Obtain the blueprint to achieve greater self-awareness, enhance communication with others, and connect with people more effectively.

Unlock the People Puzzle today! 👉 https://peacemakers.sg/the-people-puzzle/

neurolinguists toolbox

A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The Meta Model Part 1

On 12 May 2021, our Training Director, Professor Joel Lee, published a blog post on the Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The Hierarchy of Ideas“. His blog post is reproduced in full below.


A Brief Recap

For readers who are new, the “Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox” series is an ongoing series focused on using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in our practice of amicable dispute resolution.

The first section focused on rapport (the first of which can be found here). The second section focuses on matters of self-care and personal improvement for mediators (the first of which can be found here).

This third section focuses on the use of language in amicable dispute resolution. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, I will list in this and subsequent entries the series of entries in this section.

1. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The NLP Communication Model
2. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The Hierarchy of Ideas

The first entry in this series looked at the NLP Communication Model. It is recommended that you read the entry on the NLP Communication Model before reading this entry.

Remembering our Previous Posts

Miscommunication can occur because our experience of our external environment is filtered by our neurology. This results in our internal representations (our memories and experiences) becoming a shadow of reality. It is filtered again when we use words to describe our internal representations. Our words becoming a shadow of a shadow of reality. These filters essentially distort, generalize and delete our experiences of the world.

These processes of distortion, generalization and deletion are vital. They allow us to manage and cope with large amounts of input that bombard our nervous system at any one point. They also make it possible for us to create and learn. For example, imagination and creativity is a function of our being able to distort reality in our mind and consider “What If?”.

Generalization allows us to learn from one event/instance and be able to apply in all other similar events.

Unfortunately, these processes can also have negative effects. For example, generalization may cause us to take an instance of someone’s uncaring behavior and lead us to conclude that that person is uncaring. And when that person displays caring behavior, distortion causes us to change the meaning of that behavior into something that matches our generalization. Finally, deletion also allows us to ignore behaviors and information that do not match our generalization.

As such, these three filtering processes limit the richness of our experiences and trap us in unhelpful mindsets.

From a mediation perspective, these processes form the perceptions and biases that we often find in parties (and sometimes ourselves!). NLP’s way of dealing with these perceptions and biases is through the NLP Meta Model. This is not to be confused with the Meta Model of Mediation.

A short history of the Meta-Model

The Meta-Model was modelled after Virginia Satir’s systemic family work. What the co-creators of NLP noticed was that when working with clients, Virginia Satir would ask questions that would often lead them to readjust their subjective realities. NLP’s perspective is that since our subjective realities shape our behaviors, a readjustment in subjective realities can lead to an adjustment of behaviors. Hopefully for the better.

Mediators, of course, already do this. For example our acts of reframing statements adjusts parties’ subjective realities in a bid to move them closer to agreement. The NLP Meta Model provides mediators another tool in their tool box that they can use.

In this and the next entry, I will share some of these Meta-Model patterns. I will also share the questions we can ask to shift these realities. Before doing so, it is important to highlight 2 matters when using the Meta Model.

A Quick Note!

First, the Meta-Model is not a magic bullet. Do not expect a single question to make a complete shift in the speaker’s mind. It is like a reframe. It can sometimes make a significant shift. Or you may need to string a number of interventions together to achieve the shift in subjective realities.

Secondly, asking these questions can sometimes be threatening as it causes the listener to question their subjective reality. It is therefore vital for a mediator to maintain rapport with the parties and utilize softening frames like “Help me understand how…”. Or “Let me play devil’s advocate here and ask you…“.

Having said that, what follows are the first of three Meta-Model linguistic patterns. Mediators may find these helpful when seeking to adjust parties’ subjective realities.

Meta-Model Linguistic Pattern: Mind Reading

The first Meta-Model linguistic pattern is known as a mind-read. This is where the party makes a statement that purports to know what the other party is thinking or feeling.

An example would be “He doesn’t care about the company”. Many mediators will generally accept this statement and seek to gather more facts. Some might seek to reframe with a “So the company is important to you?”. Or they might acknowledge the emotion beneath with a “You must really feel upset about that”.

The NLP Meta-Model response is to find evidence for that statement by asking “How do you know he doesn’t care?”. Making the speaker identify the evidence achieves 2 things. First, it recovers data. Secondly, it surfaces to the speaker’s attention that this view is an attribution of intention on the part of the speaker, not reality. In an ideal situation, this question will get the speaker to acknowledge his/her subjective attribution and become more open to other realities.

Meta-Model Linguistic Pattern: Connecting Statements

The second Meta-Model linguistic pattern is a connecting statement. Essentially, two concepts X and Y are subjectively connected. For example “He is a bad father because he comes home late every day.” In this statement, a subjective connection is made between “Coming home late” and “Being a bad father”.

The NLP Meta-Model response is to question the connection between X and Y. The mediator might ask “How does coming home late mean he is a bad father?”. The answer to this might get more information about the interests involved e.g. spending time with children. The mediator might also ask “In what ways can one come home late and still be a good father?”. This question will cause the speaker to reconsider the connection made.

Meta-Model Linguistic Pattern: Lost Performative

The third and last Meta-Model linguistic pattern is the lost performative. A lost performative refers to a statement, usually a value judgment, belonging to the speaker’s model of the world which is made as if it were a statement about the world itself. Put another way, the speaker takes rules that are true for him/her and states them as if they were true for everyone else. For example, “It’s bad to be unreliable” or “Being inconsistent is not good for business”.

There are two NLP Meta-Model responses to the lost performative. The first is to ask “for whom?”. This requires the speaker to identify the person that the standard, belief or judgment would apply to. The second way is to ask “According to whom?”. Both these responses seek to enable the speaker to identify him/herself as making the judgment and applying it to a specific person/context. This may then enable the speaker to be aware of the limits of the model of his/her world and allow for more choices.

In Closing

By way of closing, some readers may be wondering how best to practice recognising and responding to Meta-Model patterns such that they can become second nature. From personal experience, I would recommend that readers first spend some time learning to recognise each of the 3 patterns in their daily interactions. For example, you could take one day identifying Mind Reads in the things they read, in the conversations they have and in their own speech. Once the mind is attuned to that specific pattern, one can then practice the correct responses consistently.

I hope readers have found this useful and will take the effort to practice recognising and responding to these patterns.


To learn more about how Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help you, join us on the journey towards solving “The People Puzzle” – Prof Joel’s flagship NLP training series. Obtain the blueprint to achieve greater self-awareness, enhance communication with others, and connect with people more effectively.

Unlock the People Puzzle today! 👉 https://peacemakers.sg/the-people-puzzle/

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A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The Hierarchy of Ideas

On 12 March 2021, our Training Director, Professor Joel Lee, published a blog post on the Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The Hierarchy of Ideas“. His blog post is reproduced in full below.


A Brief Recap

For readers who are new, the “Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox” series is an ongoing series focused on using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in our practice of amicable dispute resolution.

The first section focused on rapport (the first of which can be found here). The second section focuses on matters of self-care and personal improvement for mediators (the first of which can be found here).

This third section focuses on the use of language in amicable dispute resolution. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, I will list in this and subsequent entries the series of entries in this section.

1. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The NLP Communication Model

The last entry looked at the NLP Communication Model. Specifically, it explored how our experience of an external environment is filtered by our neurology such that the resulting internal representations (our memories and experiences) were a shadow of reality. The language we then use to describe our internal representations to others is similarly filtered such that the words used are a second shadow of a shadow of reality.

Not realizing this can cause miscommunication. Even though two people may use the same word, they may not mean the same thing. Nor do they necessarily draw from the same reference experience. Understanding the NLP Communication Model allows us to be aware of these internal processes. We can then seek or provide appropriate clarification when communicating with others.

The Hierarchy of Ideas

The Hierarchy of Ideas is based on the understanding that language, concepts and ideas fall within a continuum of communication. This continuum ranges from specific details to big picture abstractions. As an example, the notion of “animal” is expressed as a particular level of abstraction. From this level of abstraction, one can conceptually and linguistically move in three directions.

Direction of Specificity

The first is to go in the direction of specificity and obtain more details. This is referred to in NLP as chunking down. Examples of questions that would move in this direction would be:

What/Which specifically?
What are examples of these?

Asking these questions will allow us to elicit a layer of responses that are of a lower level of abstraction than animal. For example, we might say that examples of animals are “Cat”, “Dog”, “Bird” etc.

We can chunk down further from this by applying these same questions to one of these examples. Let’s take “Dog” and ask “What specifically?”. At a certain level of specificity, we will encounter a layer of responses that is bifurcated into 2 sub-categories. The first is types of dogs. In this sub-category, for example, we may derive the list “Golden Retriever”, “Dachshund”, “Labrador” etc. The second is parts of dogs where we may derive for example, the list “Ears”, “Nose”, “Tail”, “Paw” etc. We can of course chunk down further from these categories to elicit more specific layers.

Direction of Abstraction

The second is to go in the direction of abstraction. This is to look at the bigger picture or interrelationships between things, ideas and concepts. This is referred to in NLP as chunking up. Examples of questions that would move in this direction would be:

What is this an example of?
For what purpose/intent?
What will this do for you?

Asking these questions will allow us to elicit a layer of responses that are of a higher level of abstraction than animal. For example, we might say that animals are examples of “Living Things”, “Life”, “Transport”, “Food” etc. It should be immediately obvious that not all animals are “Food” or “Transport”. But if we started from “Food” or “Transport” and chunk down, we can certainly see how animals could be examples of these. Needless to say, we could chunk up from these to elicit a more abstract layer of responses.

Moving Laterally

The third is to move laterally from any concept within a layer. This referred to in NLP as Chunking Sideways and is a function of a 2 step process. The first step is to chunk up. The second step is then ask “What are other examples of this?” which essentially chunks down but laterally.

To illustrate, let’s say we would like to chunk sideways from the concept “Animal”. We would generate a list of items that are on the same level of abstraction as “Animal” but of a different logical type. From our earlier examples, Chunking up from “Animal” (Step 1) gets us, inter alia, “Living Things” and “Food”.

Let’s pick “Living Creatures” and ask “What are other forms of living things?”. This might generate the list “Humans”, “Plants”, “Insects” and “Bacteria”. Along with “Animals”, these are all examples of living things. Of course, if we had picked “Food” as the higher lever chunk to work off, we would derive a different list.

Application of Traversing: Facilitating Communication

Having covered how the mechanics of how to traverse the Hierarchy of Ideas (Up, Down and Sideways), I would like to suggest three ways you can apply this.

The first is in facilitating communication. Most people have a preference about the range of specificity or abstraction at which they communicate. Some process information and communicate at the big picture level. Others process information and communicate at the level of details. Of course, this does not mean that one can only communicate at that particular level. There is usually a range within the continuum that one is comfortable with. Unfortunately, many of us have had the experience of communicating with someone who is operating at a level of specificity (or abstraction) that does not match ours. Perhaps you can remember a time when you asked someone a question looking for a general response and got a 20 min answer complete with mind-numbing details. Conversely, you might have wanted a slightly more detailed response to your question than “It was ok”.

In this situation, one can facilitate communication (and build rapport in the process) by first matching their level (In NLP, we refer to this as pacing. You may wish to refer to the first section on rapport) before leading them in the direction you wish them to go by asking them the appropriate questions for chunking up, down or sideways.

Application of Traversing: Eliciting Interests

This segues us into the second application. Most of us will be familiar with the interest-based model of conflict resolution and the 7 Element framework that comes out of Roger Fisher’s work. Essentially, one looks behind positions to identify interests, before creating other ways to meet those interests. Positions generally exist at a relatively low level of specificity. Eliciting interests involves the process of chunking up. It is to identify a more abstract layer(s) of needs that allows us to open up the space for resolution. Creating options is essentially the process of chunking sideways from the initial position.

If the initial position was “money”, and meeting this position was not possible, chunking up may reveal that the interest behind money is “feeling valued”. This then allows us to explore different ways to meet this interest which may include a promotion, enhanced benefits, a better office etc. In the parlance of the 7 elements, these are all possible options.

Sometimes, chunking up once may not surface an interest that is abstract enough to open up the space to resolve the matter. In these situations, one may have to chunk up a number of times until a sufficiently abstract need is identified before identifying other ways to meet that need.

Application of Traversing: Agenda Setting

The third application relates to agenda setting. There is of course no one correct way to set an agenda. Mediators however do generally agree that an agenda can be helpful to keep the discussion on track, and that when creating an agenda, the items listed should cover all relevant issues and be phrased neutrally. Unfortunately, most of the time, parties do not state their agenda items in a neutral fashion. A common item is “compensation”. Some may feel that listing “compensation” on the agenda presupposes that some fault is involved and may cause the other party to doubt the impartiality of the proceedings.

The prescription of course is for the mediator reframe this issue with a term that is neutral. This is often easier said than done and many mediators find this challenging to do in real time. A fairly simple process to assist mediators in doing this is to chunk up to create a more abstract layer of terms, some of which are likely to be more neutral than “compensation” and using that as the agenda item.

By way of illustration, if we chunk up, “compensation” can be an example of “Fault Acknowledgment” or “Payment” or “Money”. The latter two are more acceptable than “compensation” and can be more safely used on the agenda.

I invite readers to chunk up on agenda items that they may have found challenging in the past, just for the practice.

A Final Point before Closing

Just as others have a preferred range within the Hierarchy of Ideas to operate within, so do we. One can train ourselves to extend our range by getting into the habit of asking questions. These questions could be to chunk up, down or sideways, as is appropriate.

To share a personal example, I used to be a details and small-chunk person. As such, I often did not see the big picture or the consequences of certain actions. Put simply, I used to miss the forest for the trees. After learning the Hierarchy of Ideas, I would ask myself the chunking up questions as I went about my day. Just doing this alone has assisted me in being able to see the picture better and to think more strategically. It does require time and effort, but then again, doesn’t every skill worth having?

Thank you for reading. I hope readers found this entry both interesting and useful, and will be able to immediately apply some of the ideas. I look forward to sharing more about language in subsequent entries.


To learn more about how Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help you, join us on the journey towards solving “The People Puzzle” – Prof Joel’s flagship NLP training series. Obtain the blueprint to achieve greater self-awareness, enhance communication with others, and connect with people more effectively.

Unlock the People Puzzle today! 👉 https://peacemakers.sg/the-people-puzzle/

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A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The NLP Communication Model

On 12 January 2021, our Training Director, Professor Joel Lee, published a blog post on the Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Language: The NLP Communication“. His blog post is reproduced in full below.


A Brief Recap

For readers who are new, the “Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox” series is an ongoing series focused on using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in our practice of amicable dispute resolution.

The first section focused on rapport (the first of which can be found here). The second section focuses on matters of self-care and personal improvement for mediators (the first of which can be found here).

This third section will focus on the use of language in amicable dispute resolution. We have encountered the use of language in NLP before. Specifically in the use of predicatesvalues and metaphors in building rapport. However, this section will look at how the purposeful use of language can affect one’s internal representations. And in turn, how this can affect our experience of the world.

To prepare the ground for future entries, it is useful to start by looking at the NLP Communication Model

An Introduction to the NLP Communication Model

In human communication, in order for two people to understand another, they must share a common “code”. This is often in the form of language. Language is one of the essential tools that we use as mediators. Without language, we would not be able to elicit from the parties the nature of the problem, assist them in defining the issues, exploring their interests and guide them in creating solutions for their problems.

When parties (and the mediators) do not speak the same language, it is inevitable that misunderstandings and misperceptions will occur. One could say that this is unsurprising. However, even when parties speak the same language, misunderstandings and misperceptions can occur. The problem is that we may not always realise this because we are under an illusion. That speaking the same language means we understand one another.

This happens because the internal representations (our memories or experiences) that we hold in our head does not accurately represent reality. This is best captured by one of the tenets of NLP.

“A map is not the territory it represents”.

Alfred Korzypski

Unfortunately, most people operate as if their maps are an accurate representation of reality. They cannot understand why reality does not conform to their maps. This explains why two people can perceive the same event or experience differently. They may also act as though what they perceive is reality.

Why do we have Different Perceptions of Reality?

This disparity between our perceptions and reality occurs because of our neurology. Our neurology engages in filtering processes that seek to assist us in coping with and making sense of the world. It is estimated that more than 2 million pieces of information bombard our neurology every second. Miller however, posits that our conscious attention is usually limited to 5 to 9 chunks of information at any one time. As such, one would be crazy to try to consciously attend to all available pieces of information.

Therefore, to maintain our sanity, our neurology has to filter incoming data so that we only pay conscious attention to what is more relevant at any point in time. These filtering processes are Distortion, Generalization and Deletion.

Distortion, Generalization, and Deletion

Stated Simply:

Distortion is the process by which we alter or make shifts in our perceptions, changing our experience of sensory input. It is the basis of our creativity, allowing us to plan for the future, dream and fantasize.
Generalization is the process by which one element of a person’s experience becomes representative of the entire category of experiences. It basically allows us to generalize and learn from previous experience thereby eliminating the need to relearn a concept or behaviour every time we are confronted with a variation of the original.
Deletion is the process by which we selectively pay attention to certain aspects of our experience and exclude others. As mentioned earlier, there is far more external data available than is possible for us to be consciously aware of. Therefore, the process of deletion is useful in that it reduces the world to proportions that we can easily handle.

Because a package of experience must pass through these three filters before it is coded and stored, the content of the memory that is stored is very different from the original content of the package of experience. However, it is this memory that is very often taken to be an accurate representation of experience. In essence, the map is mistaken for the territory. This often causes problems in communication.

And while these filtering processes are useful in some contexts, they can also be limiting. For example, someone who has a low opinion of themselves may be constantly distorting, generalising and deleting data to reinforce what they already believe. Confirmation bias is an example of these filters in action.

Communication Turning to Miscommunication

Of course, the process does not stop there. In order to communicate a particular memory, idea or concept to another, one must code the memory, idea or concept into words so as to convey meaning to another. The words are not the experience but are labels for meaning. Put another way, words are the symbolic representation of experience.

Unfortunately, in order to code experience into words, these three filters operate as well so that the words that are finally used are a mere shadow of their original meaning. This is one of the reasons why words cannot express how we see, hear or feel in our internal representations about certain situations. Further, the words that are used will not mean the same thing. Since words are a symbol of subjective experience, the same word may refer to different reference experiences for different people. Therefore, the assumption that the other person’s map for the word is the same as yours can be the cause of many instances of miscommunication.

An Example: What does fairness mean to you?

For example, take the word “fair”. Most people would agree with the statement that they would like to be treated in a “fair” manner. The person who says this clearly knows what s/he means by this (and how it is represented in their internal representations). Therefore, the word “fair”, for them, is a linguistic symbol of their internal representation.

Someone listening to that statement may agree with it. They are even likely to think that s/he understands what the speaker means by “fair”. The reality however is that the listener, after hearing the word “fair”, is unconsciously overlaying his/her own internal representations onto the word. The result then is that both parties assume they are talking about the same thing when what they actually mean (their internal representations) can be vastly different.

In a future entry, we will look at how distortions, generalisations and deletions can be recovered via the NLP Meta Model.

So how do we Improve our Communication?

For our purposes in this entry, now knowing the NLP Communication model and how misunderstandings can occur, there are two immediate things that we can do to improve communication.

The first is to recognise when someone is using a word or phrase that requires clarification. The clue generally is when the word or phrase is abstract. When encountering such a word or phrase, it would be helpful for the listener to seek clarification. One way of doing this is by asking “When you say [word/phrase], what do you mean?”. Their answer will give you a better sense of whether you share their perspective, or if you view it differently. In the latter situation, it might mean that it is something that you would have to discuss the meaning of. Perhaps you have to come to a common or, at the very least, closer understanding.

The second is to recognise when you, as a speaker, are using words or phrases that are abstract. Your listener may not have the awareness to recognise this possible communication trap, nor the skill to seek clarification. It may therefore help to, after using the word or phrase, provide more information and context about how you see it and what you mean.

Doing these two can have an immediate and powerful impact on your communication.

I hope readers found this useful and I look forward to sharing more about language in subsequent entries.


To learn more about how Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help you, join us on the journey towards solving “The People Puzzle” – Prof Joel’s flagship NLP training series. Obtain the blueprint to achieve greater self-awareness, enhance communication with others, and connect with people more effectively.

Unlock the People Puzzle today! 👉 https://peacemakers.sg/the-people-puzzle/

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A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self-Care and Improvement: Working with State (Part 3)

On 12 July 2020, our Training Director, Professor Joel Lee, published a blog post on the Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self-Care and Improvement: Working with State (Part 3)“. His blog post is reproduced in full below.


A Brief Recap

For readers who are new, the “Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox” series is an ongoing series focused on using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in our practice of amicable dispute resolution. The first section (with 6 entries) focused on rapport (the first of which can be found here).

This second section focuses on matters of self-care and personal improvement for mediators. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, I will list in this and subsequent entries the series of entries in this section.

1. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self Care and Improvement: Preliminary Thoughts
2. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self Care and Improvement: Working with Physiology
3. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self-Care and Improvement: Working with State (Part 1)
4. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self-Care and Improvement: Working with State (Part 2)

Working with State: Part 1, basically introduced readers to what anchoring is, and how to create an anchor for yourself. Anchoring is simply stimulus response conditioning and the purpose of anchoring is to be able to access a resourceful state whenever we choose to and to be able to transfer it to desired contexts.

The following entry, Part 2, built on Part 1 to provide nuance and variation on anchoring by way of:

  • Stacking Anchors
  • Establishing Anchors with others
  • Future Pacing

Collapsing Anchors

This entry, which is the last on Working with State, will deal with the process referred to in NLP as Collapsing Anchors. Collapsing Anchors builds on the techniques covered in Parts 1 and 2. As such, I recommend reading those entries before attempting the Collapsing Anchors process described here.

From this point, I will assume that readers are familiar with establishing an anchor and stacking anchors (both for oneself and with someone else), and the process of future pacing.

What is Collapsing Anchors? The basic process of anchoring allows us to associate a positive resource anchor with specified contexts such that the resource is automatically available in that context.

Sometimes however, this association does not succeed because there is a strong negative state associated with that specific context, or a number of similar contexts are connected by the same strong negative state.

For example, if a person associates anxiety with a particular situation, and that anxiety is not limited to a specific instance but has generalized to many other contexts, then a simple resource anchor may not be sufficient to deal with the unresourceful feelings.

Collapsing Anchors involves overwhelming this generalized unresourceful state with a powerful positive anchor, thereby clearing the metaphorical space for the person to have new choices.

What are the Steps?

The steps for collapsing anchors are:
1. Identify and Anchor the negative state
2. Identify and Anchor/Stack the positive/resource states
3. Collapse Anchors
4. Test
5. Future Pace

I will go through each step briefly and highlight certain aspects that need particular attention. You can conduct the process of Collapsing Anchors on yourself, or assist someone else through it. Either way, I recommend reading through the steps first and then going through them again, performing each step.

1. Identify and Anchor the negative state

What is the negative state that you wish to collapse? In the example above, anxiety was the negative state but it could be any state that prevents you from peak functioning.

Sometimes, it is not easy to identify the negative state. In which case, it may be easier for the person to identify the context in which s/he feels unresourceful. For example, “Every time I encounter [situation X], I feel [negative state Y]”.

Once the negative state has been identified, see if the person can identify the very first time s/he felt that negative state in that particular context. If the first time can be identified, then use that context to elicit the negative state for the purposes of anchoring. If the first time cannot be identified, then simply use whichever context that is most vivid for him/her to elicit the negative state for the purposes of anchoring.

Elicit the negative state by having the person remember that specific context in which s/he felt the negative state, and to associate into that memory. As the state peaks, set the anchor for the negative state.

At this point, break state by having the person think of something else or by walking around. Then test the anchor for the negative state. When done correctly, the negative state will return.

Once successfully done, break state again.

2. Identify and Anchor/Stack the positive/resource states

For us to successfully collapse the negative anchor, it is imperative that the positive anchor state is overwhelmingly powerful. As such, it is important to identify a list of positive resources states to anchor. You can find out from the person what powerful resource states might be helpful to them. You can also use the following possibilities:

  • Feeling Powerful
  • Feeling Loved
  • Feeling Full of Energy
  • Feeling Totally Confident
  • Feeling like you can achieve anything

Once the list of positive states is identified, proceed to elicit each state, making sure they are intense and associated, and anchor them with an anchor that is different than the one used for the negative state. In other words, you will be creating a stacked anchor consisting of all the positive resource states you have identified.

Once you have completed stacking the anchor, break state and test the stacked anchor. Again, when done correctly, the collection of positive states will re-manifest in a powerful way.

Once successfully done, break state again.

3. Collapse Anchors

Once the single negative anchor and the stacked positive anchors have been set, we are ready to collapse them. This involves firing or activating both anchors at the same time. Both anchors are to be held until integration is complete.

What does integration mean? In order for us to be in any particular state, our nervous system has to be in a specific configuration. Some configurations are compatible and others are not. This is why, when stacking anchors, we need to select states that are compatible and complementary.

By collapsing anchors, we are essentially causing two very different configurations to exist at the same time and the stronger one will prevail. This is also why it is important for the negative anchor to be a single one and the positive anchor to be powerfully stacked. It would not do to have the negative one prevail!

This clash of configurations will manifest in one’s physiology. It can be as dramatic as a flush in the skin, asymmetrical body movements or even a change in physiology. Or it can be something subtle like taking a deep breath.

Once integration is complete, while holding on to the positive anchor, release the negative anchor. Continue to hold on to the positive anchor for 5 more seconds before releasing it.

Then, break state.

4. Test

There are 2 ways to test the success of the collapse anchors process. The first is to activate the negative anchor that was set. Either nothing should happen (indicating that the anchor had been “disconnected”) or the positive states in the stacked anchor should manifest.

The second way to test is for the person to think of the situation or context that used to trigger the negative state. Similarly, either that memory will feel neutral or will have the positive states associated with it.

5. Future Pace

Have the person think of an event in the future, an unspecified time, where s/he might have responded in former way, and to notice what is now different. When the collapse anchors process is done correctly, s/he will not only notice that they feel and respond differently to that future event, but that they will also have more flexibility and choice in those feelings and responses.

Repeat the future pace 3-4 more times, into the future. A handy guide would be 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, and 1 year into the future.

That brings us to the end of this entry. While the process in this and the last two entries can be a little technical, with a little practice and experimentation, it can pay great dividends! Have fun and thank you for reading!


To learn more about how Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help you, join us on the journey towards solving “The People Puzzle” – Prof Joel’s flagship NLP training series. Obtain the blueprint to achieve greater self-awareness, enhance communication with others, and connect with people more effectively.

Unlock the People Puzzle today! 👉 https://peacemakers.sg/the-people-puzzle/

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A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self-Care and Improvement: Working with State (Part 2)

On 12 May 2020, our Training Director, Professor Joel Lee, published a blog post on the Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self-Care and Improvement: Working with State (Part 2)“. His blog post is reproduced in full below.


A Brief Recap

For readers who are new, the “Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox” series is an ongoing series focused on using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in our practice of amicable dispute resolution. The first section (with 6 entries) focused on rapport (the first of which can be found here).

This second section focuses on matters of self-care and personal improvement for mediators. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, I will list in this and subsequent entries the series of entries in this section.

1. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self Care and Improvement: Preliminary Thoughts
2. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self Care and Improvement: Working with Physiology
3. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self-Care and Improvement: Working with State (Part 1)

The last entry, Part 1, basically introduced readers to what anchoring is, and how to create an anchor for yourself. Anchoring is simply stimulus response conditioning and the purpose of anchoring is to be able to access a resourceful state whenever we choose to and to be able to transfer it to desired contexts.

This entry builds on Part 1 to provide nuance and variation on anchoring. As such, I recommend reading that before this entry. In this entry, I want to discuss:

  • Stacking Anchors
  • Establishing Anchors with others
  • Future Pacing

Stacking Anchors

So far, we’ve established a single anchor i.e. a particular state has been associated with a specific stimulus. Taking an example from the last entry, in my personal anchor, I associated the state of “unshakeable confidence” with the kinesthetic stimulus of touching my left little finger to my left thumb.

Stacking anchors essentially involves associating more states with the same anchor. Done well, one will essentially have created a “Super-Anchor”, the activation of which will lead to a powerful collage of states.

The steps to stack an anchor are:

1. Identify the desired states
2. Access the states (one at a time)
3. Link the anchor
4. Repeat steps 2-3 with each desired state
5. Break the State then Test the anchor

You will see that the process for stacking an anchor is essentially the same as that for establishing an anchor. The key points for establishing an anchor were covered in the last entry and I won’t be repeating them here.

Desired States to be Stacked

For the purposes of stacking anchors, it is important that the desired states to be stacked are complementary. For example, consider the following list of states:

ConfidenceHumourAnxiousnessPeaceAlertness

From this list, it should be evident that confidence and humour are similar states and can complement one another. Similarly, alertness and peace can also be consider complementary. And even though confidence and humour on the one hand, and alertness and peace on the other, are not exactly the same, they are arguably similar enough such that they could probably be stacked on one another.

Anxiousness however, should stick out like a sore thumb in the company of the other four. It is in a different class of states such that stacking it with any of the other four will cause a clash and possibly lead them to cancel one another out.

Some of the more astute readers may be asking “Why would one want to anchor anxiousness?” There are reasons why we might wish to anchor a non-resourceful state but that will be answered in the next entry when we consider how to collapse anchors.

For the moment, the point is simple. Ensure that the states to be stacked are similar enough to be complementary.

A Reminder on the Types of Anchors

So far, we’ve only explored setting a self anchor, and specifically a kinesthetic one. Self anchors do not have to be kinesthetic. They can be an external visual item (e.g. a picture or symbol or colour) or an external auditory item (e.g. a piece of music or a tone of voice). Self Anchors can also be internal visual items (remembered images) or internal auditory items (remembered voices or sounds).

The explains why we feel bad when we see someone we don’t like or hear their voice. And it works the same way when we think of them. Test this for yourself. Think of someone you don’t like. See their image and hear their voice and notice how you feel. By simply thinking of their image or their voice, we respond the same way as if they were present. This is why anchors can be so powerful. It can dis-enable us but we can also use them to our advantage.

Establishing Anchors with Others

We can also establish an anchor on behalf of your friend. In other words, you can anchor your friend’s state to an external visual or auditory anchor such that when you activate that anchor, s/he re-accesses that state. It is sometimes desirable to do this because some people find it more effective to have someone else take them through the steps in the process.

The steps to establish an anchor for your friend is the same as that for establishing a self anchor. For ease of reference, the steps are:

1. Identify the desired state*
2. Identify a suitable anchor*
3. Access the state*
4. Link the anchor*
5. Break the State then Test the anchor
6. Repeat steps 3-5 until a strong anchor is established

The “*” next to steps 1 to 4 indicate some minor modification as this now relates to establishing an anchor with someone else. We will go through these briefly in turn.

1. Identify your Desired State

This should be your friend’s desired state for which you wish to establish an anchor. This state should be identified by your friend and should not be something imposed upon externally.

2. Identify a Suitable Anchor

This refers to the visual or auditory anchor or kinesthetic anchor that you will use to link the desired state selected by your friend. Remember to make it unusual enough and replicable for you. For example, you could raise both of your eyebrows or hold your fingers in a particular way to use as an external visual anchor. Humming a tune or adopting a particular tone of voice are examples of external auditory anchors. Examples of external kinesthetic anchors would be a touch on the shoulder or the middle knuckle of your friend’s left hand.

3. Access the State

Your friend will need to access the state identified in Step 1. For illustration’s sake, let’s say this state is unshakeable confidence. Remember this needs to be fully experienced, vivid and associated. Sometimes, you may have to help them access that state by saying, for example:

“Can you remember a specific time when you felt unshakeable confidence? As you remember that time, I’d like you experience it as if you were there, see what you saw, hear what you heard, and feel the feelings of total unshakeable confidence.”

4. Link the Anchor

Have your friend give you a signal when they have fully associated into that state so that you can activate the anchor to link to this state. Your friend should also let you know when the state peaks so that you will know when to release the anchor.

If desired, your friend may also wish to activate his/her own self anchor at the same time. In fact, this can then be the signal for you to activate your external anchor.

By way of completion, two final points to be made here.

First, when you start anchoring someone else, you will generally need them to provide you that signal to indicate that they have accessed the desire state. However, as you get more experience, you will find that there are observable physiological manifestations of the person accessing the state. For example, there might be a difference in their posture or skin colour or even facial tension. An NLP Practitioner is trained to develop the sensory acuity needed observe these physiological manifestations.

Second, it seems obvious but may need saying. If you are going to anchor your friend with an external visual anchor, then your friend needs to be able to see you. Their eyes need to be open and you need to be positioned such that you are in their field of vision.

Steps 5 and 6 remain the same and as with self anchoring, you may need to repeat the process a number of times to strengthen the anchor. Further, you can also stack anchors using this method. Simply make the appropriate changes to the process for stacking anchors.

Future Pacing

In the last entry, I recounted my experience of establishing my personal anchor for public speaking and activating it whenever I needed it. At some point, the context of public speaking became the anchor itself so that I did not need to activate the self anchor anymore. However, this presupposes that one remembers to, or has the presence of mind to activate the anchor in the appropriate context. Sometimes, one may be so caught up in the moment that one forgets to activate the anchor or that even an anchor exists.

One way around this is the process of future pacing. Future pacing essentially works in two ways. First, it is a form of mental rehearsal. Sports psychologists have known for the longest time that mentally rehearsing one’s sport can be as effective actual practice. Hence “visualize the perfect swing” is common advice for tennis and golf players. Second, it connects the anchor to identified moments, events or context in which we need the anchored resource/desired state.

The Process for Future Pacing

1. Identify a time in the future when the resource/desired state is needed
2. Imagine that time (vivid and associated)
3. Activate the anchor
4. Imagine completing that time successfully with the assistance of your resource/desired state
5. Repeat steps 1 to 4 with 3-4 more similar future times
6. Test

Testing involves thinking of similar future times without activating the anchor and noticing how the resource/desired state automatically presents itself. If it does not, or does not present strongly, then either the desired state was not a sufficiently strong resource, or the anchor was not properly set, or the future pacing was not properly carried out.

Needless to say, future pacing can be done by oneself or for another person.

That bring us to the end of this entry. As mentioned, the nuances and variations in this entry build on the last so it is important to have read that one first. I hope this has been helpful and that you will have fun practicing! Thanks for reading!


To learn more about how Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help you, join us on the journey towards solving “The People Puzzle” – Prof Joel’s flagship NLP training series. Obtain the blueprint to achieve greater self-awareness, enhance communication with others, and connect with people more effectively.

Unlock the People Puzzle today! 👉 https://peacemakers.sg/the-people-puzzle/

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A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self-Care and Improvement: Working with State (Part 1)

On 12 March 2020, our Training Director, Professor Joel Lee, published a blog post on the Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self-Care and Improvement: Working with State (Part 1)“. His blog post is reproduced in full below.


Disclaimer!

Some may find the contents of this entry a little too “funky” for their liking. The ideas within may challenge your concept of notions of human autonomy. If so, I recommend you move on. Nothing to see here. If you are still reading, thank you for staying.

A Brief Recap

For readers who are new, the “Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox” series is an ongoing series focused on using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in our practice of amicable dispute resolution. The first section (with 6 entries) focused on rapport (the first of which can be found here).

This second section focuses on matters of self-care and personal improvement for mediators. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, I will list in this and subsequent entries the series of entries in this section.

1. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self Care and Improvement: Preliminary Thoughts
2. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self Care and Improvement: Working with Physiology

By way of quick recap, NLP sees Physiology, State and Representation as interacting systemically. When we experience something, our physiology, representation and state have to form a certain configuration and by changing one of these aspects of the configuration, we can change the experience. The previous entry dealt with changing the physiology aspect of the configuration.

In this third entry of this section, we will focus on changing the state aspect of the configuration. Specifically, we will be looking at how we can do this via a process called anchoring.

What is Anchoring?

At this point, it would be helpful to define for our purposes what anchoring is and what it isn’t.

First, readers might be familiar with the term anchoring, not from NLP but, from the field of negotiation. Put simply, anchoring is setting and asking for a goal that is higher (or lower as may be appropriate) than what you might be content in getting. This presupposes that there will be some sort of bargaining and concession giving. For example, if you wanted a sell your smart phone for $300, you might ask for a higher figure like $400, fully expecting that you would be bargained down. This is not the notion of anchoring (in NLP) that we are referring to in this entry.

Secondly, what is NLP anchoring then? Put simply, it is stimulus-response conditioning. For some readers, the name Pavlov might ring a bell. Pavlov is probably most famously known for his experiment where he associated a dog’s salivation response (induced by the presentation of food) to the ringing of a bell. After the response (salivation) was conditioned to the stimulus (the bell), Pavlov found that he could induce salivation by simply ringing the bell. Put another way, one could connect two seemingly disparate stimulus and response such that activating the stimulus can trigger the response.

Experiences and Responses

At this point, some readers are thinking “Wait, I’m not a dog. And humans are far more complex than dogs! Aren’t they?” Yes, we are more complex than dogs. But that doesn’t mean that we are above stimulus-response condition. Pavlov’s work on conditioning help form the basis of the general approach to human psychology called behaviourism.

You can also test this in your own experience. Can you think of a person with whom you have a negative response to? This may be a colleague or a teacher with whom your interactions in the past have been negative, and now, when you interact with them (even when they are trying to be nice), you experience the negative feelings of the past? You have essentially associated the negative feelings (response) to that person (stimulus). In fact, you may not even have to interact with them and just thinking about them can cause those negative feelings to return! A phobia is an intense disproportionate negative response to what is, in most cases, a relatively harmless stimulus.

Of course, our responses do not necessarily have to be negative. Many of us have positive feelings from childhood associated with certain smells like fresh bread or that of a favourite soft toy. Moreover, I am certain that there are songs which may be associated with very pleasant memories.

Establishing an Anchor

The notion of anchoring in NLP is the process by which we can deliberately connect a chosen stimulus (the anchor) with a desired response. We can then call up that desired response anytime we want by activating (or firing) that anchor.

Why then might we want to create these anchors? Have you ever been in a situation where you wished you felt more confident? Or resourceful? Or motivated? For example, before a mediation, it is often useful to be in a resourceful and confident state as parties often take their cue from you. Anchoring allows you to easily access the states you need when you want them.

We will explore in future entries variations on anchoring, chaining anchors and collapsing anchors. The rest of this entry will focus on how to establish an anchor.

How then do we create an anchor? The steps are:

1. Identify your desired state
2. Identify a suitable anchor
3. Access the state
4. Link the anchor
5. Break the State then Test the anchor
6. Repeat steps 3-5 until a strong anchor is established

I will go through each step briefly and highlight certain aspects that need particular attention. For those who would like to set an anchor for yourself, I recommend reading through the steps first and then going through them again, and perform each step.

1. Identify your Desired State

What is the desired state that you wish to link to your anchor? It is important when selecting this state that it be a positive and intense state. For example, a state like “pleased” does not have the intensity that will be easily anchored. “Overwhelming Joy” works much better.

When I first learnt to anchor, I wanted to feel confidence when public speaking. My trainer helped me intensify that state with the use of modifiers so that my desired state became “unshakeable confidence”. So, feel free to use linguistic modifiers as you identify your desired state.

2. Identify a Suitable Anchor

What is the anchor you will link the desired state to? An anchor can be visual (an internal image or an external object you might see) or auditory (an internal sound/voice or an external sound/voice) or kinesthetic (an external touch). For the purposes of learning how to set an anchor, I suggest using a kinesthetic anchor. 



It is important that this anchor is unique. What this means is that it must not be an anchor that can accidentally get activated. A touch on the forearm might not be sufficiently unique because it is possible that in day to day interactions, you will get touched on the forearm. 


It is also important that the anchor is easily replicable in the context you wish to use it in. My first anchor was the touching of my left little finger to my left thumb (forming a circle). This was not something that would be fired off accidentally and was something I could do without people noticing. So, go ahead and identify a suitable anchor for yourself.

3. Access the State

It is important to fully access the state so that you have a good quality response to be anchored. What does it mean to fully access the state? There are two ways in which we access our experiences, dissociated and associated. Association is remembering or experiencing something in your own body, seeing and hearing things as if you were there and feeling all the feelings that are connected with that experience. Dissociation is remembering or experiencing something outside your own body, watching yourself experiencing that moment.

This is best illustrated by an example. Have you ever been on a roller-coaster? And if not, can you imagine what that might be like? I am going to ask you to experience this in two different ways.

First, I want you to imagine sitting on a bench watching yourself in a roller coaster that is clanking its way up the tracks. You can see the roller-coaster reach the peak of the track and then tumble downwards.

Now for the second way. I want you to imagine being in the front seat of the roller-coaster. You feel the seatbelt against your body as your hands grip the bar in from you. Then, you hear the steady clanking of the roller-coaster as it climbs and the vibration of the tracks with each clank. You can see the track in front of you diminish as the roller-coaster climbs until it disappears altogether at the peak. There is that eternal moment of silence just before the roller-coaster plunges down! You can hear the wind woooshing past your face as the screams of the passengers assail you’re your ears.

For most people, the second experience provides a more realistic feel of the event than the first. We call the first dissociated and the second associated. When you access your desired state, you need to be associated.

When I established my first anchor of unshakeable confidence, I was asked to remember a time when I felt unshakeable confidence, and then to go back to that time and to experience that time of unshakeable confidence, seeing what I saw, hearing what I heard and feeling the feelings of unshakeable confidence.

For some people, association is easy and natural. For others (like myself), dissociation is more familiar so we need to be more mindful about practicing how to associate into our experiences. You might not get it on the first go but as they say, practice makes perfect. 

4. Link the Anchor

When linking or setting the anchor, timing is everything. It is important to realise that states have an ebb and flow to it. When experiencing a state, it starts by increasing, peaks and then decreases. The key is to link the anchor just before the state peaks, hold it and then to release it just after it peaks. Done this way, you will ensure that the anchor is set at the highest intensity of the state.

I recommend that you access the state a few times first to get a sense of the ebb and flow before you link the anchor.

5. Break the State then Test the Anchor

Once the anchor has been set, break state. This means to think about something else or stand up, walk around. This is to basically reset your state. Then you test the anchor.

Testing the anchor means to activate or fire off the anchor and notice how that brings back the desired state. When doing so, it is important to reproduce the anchor as precisely as possible. So if the anchor set was a touch (with moderate pressure) on the second knuckle of the right hand, a touch with light pressure, or a touch on the third knuckle of the right hand, or a touch on the second knuckle of the left hand won’t work.

When done correctly, you should feel the state return. If it does not, or does not return in the same intensity, there are three common possibilities. First, you might not have associated into the desired state. Second, even if you did associate, you might not have linked the anchor at the correct time. Thirdly, you might not have replicated the anchor precisely when testing.

6. Repeat Steps 3-5 until a Strong Anchor is Established

Sometimes, one iteration of setting the anchor is enough. However, for most people, especially if you are attempting this for the first time, you may have to set the same anchor a number of times before it takes. And as you get more experienced and better with the process, you may find that all it will take is one time.

As mentioned, the first anchor I ever set was a personal anchor of unshakeable confidence for public speaking. And I found that it was tremendously helpful for me to fire off the anchor every time I need to speak in public. What I found was that after a while, the context of public speaking itself became the anchor for the state of unshakeable confidence. I therefore didn’t need to fire off the original anchor anymore when speaking in public. The anchor is still there however, so in other contexts where I need to have unshakeable confidence, I can still fire off that anchor and access that state. At least until that too, becomes automatic!

Thank you for reading what has been quite a long entry. I hope you found it interesting and you will have fun practicing to set your own anchors!


To learn more about how Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help you, join us on the journey towards solving “The People Puzzle” – Prof Joel’s flagship NLP training series. Obtain the blueprint to achieve greater self-awareness, enhance communication with others, and connect with people more effectively.

Unlock the People Puzzle today! 👉 https://peacemakers.sg/the-people-puzzle/

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A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self-Care and Improvement: Working with Physiology

On 12 January 2020, our Training Director, Professor Joel Lee, published a blog post on the Kluwer Mediation Blog entitled “A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self-Care and Improvement: Working with Physiology“. His blog post is reproduced in full below.


A Brief Recap

For readers who are new, the “Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox” series is an ongoing series focused on using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in our practice of amicable dispute resolution. The first section (with 6 entries) focused on rapport (the first of which can be found here).

This second section focuses on matters of self-care and personal improvement for mediators. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, I will list in this and subsequent entries the series of entries in this section.

1. A Neuro-Linguist’s Toolbox – Self Care and Improvement: Preliminary Thoughts

In this second entry of this section, I would like to focus on working with physiology to further self care and improvement.

Context

Before going further, it would be useful to state an operating assumption as well as the goal sought in discussing these interventions. These entries assume that we, as mediators, occasionally find ourselves in unresourceful situations. This could be in the context of a live mediation i.e. at the mediation table, or outside of it. In these situations, we can feel stuck and unable to think of ways to respond constructively.

To illustrate this, can you think of a difficult interaction you had recently which you feel did not go as well as you would have liked and which you still feel bad about? As you think about it now, notice your posture and your breathing (physiology). Also, what you are feeling (state) and how you are representing the event to yourself in your head (representation). At this point, if I were to ask you to think of solutions, chances are you either will not be able to think of any or may only be able to come up with solutions which are not particularly resourceful.

What does NLP have to say?

NLP suggests that this particular configuration of physiology, state and representation prevents you from considering or thinking of certain solutions. NLP also suggests that, because these variables are systemically related, changing one variable in the configuration will affect the others. This creates a change in the way we perceive and respond to that situation. The goal then is to access a more resourceful space through the suggested interventions.

A Balanced Posture

The first relates to how we physically hold our body. When one feels unresourceful, it is often described as feeling off-balanced or uncentered. While this can be taken to be a metaphorical description, if we assume for a moment that it might be literal, then the solution is to regain and maintain one’s balance.

The simplest way to do this is to first become aware of how one is standing/sitting at that moment and then to reconfigure one’s physiology. Both feet should be firmly planted on the floor, about shoulder width apart, and to straighten one’s posture. (Those familiar with Virginia Satir’s communication styles will recognise this as the “leveler” mode. Practitioners of the martial arts, chigong (气功) or dance will also recognise the parallels here.)

Sometimes, it is not about feeling unbalanced but about experiencing a mental block. While changing one’s physiology to a more balanced one may help, there are two other things that might help. Once again, become aware of your physiology at the moment of being “stuck”. Chances are there is very little movement, if at all. The suggestion is to introduce movement. Stand up and move around. Physically changing locations, environments and moving can often move you from being stuck. Darwin, while formulating his ideas about evolution, reportedly constructed a sand-covered “thinking” path at Downe House which he would walk to think about his work.

The other suggestion is to adopt a mirror image of the physiology that is part of the configuration of being “stuck”. For example, if one’s left arm were crossed over the right, reverse it. Doing the opposite physiologically may well create an opposite mindset of “stuck”. Readers interested in this may wish to refer to an earlier entry devoted to Movement in Mediation.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

The first physiological intervention has been about physically manipulating the body. The second physiological intervention involves our breath. When one is feeling unbalanced or stressed, one is often breathing quickly and shallowly. Those who hyperventilate in times of anxiety will be familiar with this. Sometimes, we may even hold our breath. This is an indication of sympathetic nervous system arousal as our body prepares to fight, flee or freeze. The easiest to deal with this is by simply going back to breathing, but in a very specific way.

The breath that helps us regain our balance is diaphragmatic or belly breathing. This means breathing using as much of the lungs as possible, by taking a slow, steady and deep breath and sinking that breath to a point just below your navel. The breath is then held for a period before slowly and steadily being released. A simple formula to follow is a 4 count:

  1. Breathe in (4 counts)
  2. Hold (4 counts)
  3. Exhale (4 counts)
  4. Hold (4 counts)

This diaphragmatic breathing lowers your mental centre of gravity and grounds you. Diaphragmatic breathing will be familiar to those who sing, or practice chigong or Yoga. Diaphragmatic breathing will invoke what Dr. Herbert Benson refers to as the relaxation response.

Peripheral Vision Response

The final physiological intervention is activating the peripheral vision response. The human eye is geared towards two types of vision. The first, foveal vision, is a function of the cone cells. This is central vision, which gives you clarity, accuracy and detail of vision. The second, peripheral vision, is a function of rod cells. Peripheral vision detects context and movement. When we are stressed, we tend to fixate on foveal vision, often leading to what is referred to as tunnel vision.

Going into peripheral vision activates the parasympathetic nervous system which, among other things, lowers blood pressure and relieves stress. Peripheral vision (sometimes referred to as “soft eyes”) can be activated by first fixing one’s attention (foveal vision) on a distant point, then paying attention to movement in the environment—without moving the eyes. It takes some practice, and can be assisted by having a friend stand to the side and make hand movements. Once you get used to being able to see your surroundings without having to look directly at it, it will become easier to call into use. The key in activating peripheral vision is to not worry about detail but to look for movement and context.

By way of Closing

I would like to make two final observations. First is that these three physiological interventions can be used on their own or in conjunction with one another. At some point, they are also interrelated. For example, diaphragmatic breathing can also lead to the activation of peripheral vision which may in turn lead to one being balanced, both physically and mentally.

Second, one should practice these physiological interventions so that they will be ready to be deployed when one needs it. As the saying goes, the time to learn how to swim should not be when one is drowning.

I hope this has been interesting and that you will find these techniques helpful to you.


To learn more about how Neuro-Linguistic Programming can help you, join us on the journey towards solving “The People Puzzle” – Prof Joel’s flagship NLP training series. Obtain the blueprint to achieve greater self-awareness, enhance communication with others, and connect with people more effectively.

Unlock the People Puzzle today! 👉 https://peacemakers.sg/the-people-puzzle/

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