“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

V. How to think like an NLP Master

To understand any model, you must first know its underlying assumptions. The NLP Basic Presuppositions presented in this chapter lay the groundwork for everything that will follow. You do not have to believe them. But to learn the NLP Model and to get the results described in this book, you do need to begin by “acting as if” they are true.

As NLP practitioners, we are not interested in arriving at or claiming knowledge of some Ultimate Truth; we are interested in what is possible for each individual. By inviting people to “try on” the NLP Presuppositions, we have helped thousands to go beyond their perceived limitations. We now ask you to see for yourself how they will make a difference in the way you perceive the world and in the rewarding results you get.

If you think that these presuppositions are written in stone as universal truths, then you run the risk of becoming a fundamentalist – rigid, defensive and thinking you know what’s best or right. Only by remembering that they are useful assumptions, will they promote increased flexibility, openness to change and enhanced communication.

To know how an NLP masters think, you will need to understand their assumptions.

Implementing an NLP technique without understanding the NLP Presuppositions is like playing a sport without knowing the rules.

When traveling to a foreign country, we inevitably encounter some very different cultural beliefs and values. If we don’t recognize these distinctions, we will become confused and a series of miscommunications will likely follow. Entering into an NLP classroom is a bit like stepping into another world, so learning the NLP presuppositions will prepare you for the journey.

NLP was first developed by modeling the excellence demonstrated by various leaders in the field of psychology and interpersonal communication. These exemplars included Milton Erickson M.D., Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir and Gregory Bateson. The NLP Presuppositions come from beliefs that they held and the methods that they used.

We invite you to “step into” each one of the following presuppositions and consider how the world looks, sounds and feels when you do.

The Six NLP Presuppositions:

I. The Meaning of Your Communication is the Response You Get-No Matter What Your Intentions

According to this presupposition, the “meaning” of our communication is all about how the other person responds to us. If the other person is insulted, then that is the meaning of our communication. If the other person becomes angry, sad or happy, then that is the meaning of our communication.

It we are typing on a computer keyboard and aiming to hit the letter “z” but instead hit the key to the right, then “x” is the meaning of our communication. Another example: While teaching in Europe and typing on the computers there, I (S.L.) discovered that every time I went to hit the “z” key, a “y” appeared on the screen. After awhile I realized that the European keyboard had the “x” and “y” keys reversed. Interpersonal communication works the same way. It involves the realization that every person we meet has his/her internal keyboard configured differently. Our ability to figure that out is the “key” to effective communication.

A common response to the computer-key reversal, when you are not using this presupposition, is to blame the foreign keyboard, thinking that it is broken, that something is wrong with it or that it’s not working properly. Or we can blame ourselves, thinking that we are the problem. Of course, we can also fault the foreigners who built it.

Of course, a computer doesn’t have a will of it’s own (at least, not yet). So let’s leave the metaphor and return to human interactions. When we do, we see another person who is responsible for his/her part. So while we are not suggesting that we take responsibility for the other person’s behavior, we are proposing taking full responsibility for ours, since it is really the only thing that we can directly do something about. But we caution you here. Responsibility, as we are defining it, is not about blaming or feeling guilty. It is about accepting the response you are getting while generating other ways to get the response you are looking for. This is the idea behind this presupposition.

When we communicate, we often we get the response we’re looking for – as when a comedian gets laughs or a storyteller inspires wonder. But there are times when a comedian gets silence or a storyteller elicits boredom. The best comedians and storytellers are excellent communicators who pay close attention to the responses they are getting. If a responses doesn’t match what they are looking for they recognize it and use their flexibility to modify what they’re doing until they get the response they want. While this flexibility can come from being well prepared -having practiced their skills for many hours, days, months or years – it must also come from their ability to think on their feet and be spontaneous.

Well what if you tell a joke and one person laughs and another gets angry? Does that mean the meaning of your communication is different for each person? Yes. It does. To be effective means to be responsive to the behavior of each individual.

Milton Erickson, looked forward to the times when he was working with a client and the technique he usually used, didn’t work. He remained incredibly curious. And while in this state of wonder, he gathered more information, varying his approach until he got the intended response.

Resistance is a statement about the inflexibility of the communicator.

When I (S.L.), started learning NLP in the 1980s, I was also working as a mathematics teacher at an alternative high school in Brooklyn, New York. I had a student, Maritza, who was doing outstanding work. But when I attempted to pay her a compliment she responded, “I am a terrible math student.” Even after trying to prove her excellence by quoting her test scores, she continued to protest and again resisted the complement. At this point, it was clear that the meaning of my communication was not matching my intended communication. Recognizing that I was becoming frustrated, I shifted my state of mind to one of curiosity and found myself saying to Maritza in a calm soft voice, “For someone who considers herself to be a terrible math student (LONG PAUSE), you are doing really, really well.” A big smile appeared on her face. “Thank you,” she responded, as she drew in a deep breath along with the compliment. To get the response I wanted, I had listened attentively for what was true for her. Instead of disagreeing, I joined Maritza’s experience by accepting her presupposition as her truth and leading her to a place where she could, in turn accept what I was saying. (I also realized that further work would be required for her to let go of her self- limiting belief and create a more positive opinion of herself.)

The inherent beauty of this presupposition is in its effective and efficient “guilt free” approach that develops greater flexibility of behavior resulting in the response we want. And even when we are not getting the response we want, we still benefit. The Presupposition gets us to be creative, by coming up with new solutions. In the process we get to build a vast repertoire of stored possibilities for future use. For NLP Practitioners, it is a new definition of responsibility that is light, energizing and liberating – not heavy, pressurized and blameful. Responsibility is not seen as a burden, but as an empowering criterion that can give us opportunities to transform relationships.

But even if you choose to adopt this Presupposition, not everybody will. Which means, “Be prepared to be blamed” by people unaware of or unwilling to take responsibility. You can either join that other person in the “blame frame” or you can maintain an NLP perspective. In other words, you are either going to revert back into a “stuck state” or be resourceful. And in doing the latter, you are modeling a healthy way of communicating. But be forewarned, most people don’t like to be left alone in the blame frame. They will try to pull you in. And some can be very persuasive. Then again, maybe you can persuade them.

What if we do attempt to have another person accept what we have found to be a very useful Presupposition and he/she still declines, resists or refuses? If he/she does, then his/her behavior is the meaning of our communication and we can explore other ways of communicating. Some of us can become so enamored with our own “useful” maps, that we might find ourselves “pushing” our ideas on others. When this happens, we frequently stop listening while the other person feels ignored. People have the choice to reject our premises. Understanding their choice will contribute to making you a more effective communicator.

If you ever find yourself introducing a wonderful, excellent, positive, healthy idea to someone and getting frustrated and angry when they resist, then you know it’s time to take on this presupposition.

You will be amazed at how much more influential you’ll become – not to mention how much better you’ll feel – when you adopt this Presupposition and model it for others.

The NLP Center of New York Copyright 2013.