The Heart of NLP
by Kevin Hogan
When I was learning NLP in the mid 1980s I had two areas of study that I couldn’t get enough of. Learning people’s metaprograms and their values got me jazzed. To this day, these are my favorite elements of NLP to share with others.
I’d like to share with you a little more about values and how important they are in understanding yourself…and others.
Values: The Key to Connecting with Anyone!
Zig Ziglar, one of the world’s great motivational speakers, once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I agree. People don’t simply listen to people who’re smart or have a breadth of knowledge in a specific area. People listen when they know how much you care.
Having interviewed many people about what makes a person interesting and “listenable”, I have gathered that this point is not understood by most people. There is a common misunderstanding about what “caring” means. Most people define caring, in part, as being unconditionally accepted by another person. People will not truly listen to us until we show them how much we care.
How can we show people that we are accepting of them and care about them?
1. As you listen to other people talk, learn to see things from their point of view.
If you were in their shoes how would you think? You don’t have to agree with people to accept them as a person. You can respect their opinions and completely disagree with them. You can show empathy without having to agree or compromise your beliefs or integrity. “You know, if I had been through what you have, I might think the exact same thing.”
I recently had a session with a 17 year old young man who was a member of a gang in Minneapolis. He had asked to see me because he knew that I was “cool”. (Read that as someone anyone can trust.) He worked 30 hours at his job to earn enough money to pay my session fee. I could have worked with him for free as a “kind gesture” but would he have been inclined to listen to any recommendations I had if had seen me for free?
The young man had a problem. The gang he is in is one that only has one exit door and that is death. You either die of old age or you die when you leave the gang. Now this particular gang is built like most gangs. The members are in a typical corporate pyramid structure where there is one CEO and many V.P.’s, followed by many upper and middle management teams and then the largest numbers of employees fulfilling various functions for the gang.
This gang heavily programs its members with the theme that they are family and family takes care of family and that you never do anything to hurt family in any way. Leaving the family is betrayal to the family and is grounds for death.
This was a lot for me to handle, even as a therapist. At one point I asked him to identify and explain some graffiti for me that he was doodling. He looked at me and shared with me some ambiguous information. I pursued more information and he simply said, “If I tell you that I have to kill you.” He was straight faced and being completely honest. I told him, “That’s, OK, I’m not that interested in art anyway.”
He was about to make a move up into “upper management” on his 18th birthday. His 18th birthday would be the day that his fate would be sealed forever with the family. If he was in the gang as a legal adult he could literally never leave. If he left now he might be killed but he might figure out some technicality he could get out on as 17 year olds are not completely responsible in the gang. They are not yet in upper management. However, he was very concerned about leaving because every friend, every person he associated with, every human being he cared for, took care of, looked out after for the last 11 years of his life were in this gang.
I told him that it must be gut-wrenching to feel like you have to leave your family, the people you love in order to get out and try to make a life outside the family. I did not encourage him to leave or stay. I simply had him weigh the options. I presented various scenarios to him to get him to look at his potential in a post-gang life. He couldn’t believe that I wasn’t trying to get him to leave but presented many good arguments for staying.
“You are cool dude. You are the first adult I’ve ever talked to who understood me. I’m going to figure out a way to leave and get out. I’ve got a lot of stuff I have to do first but thanks man. Really.” He stood up at the end of his two hours and extended his hand. He knows his identity, his exploits and his experiences are safely kept from the world.
I created a safe place for him to be in by taking his side and understanding his point of view and putting myself in his shoes. I experienced gang life from his side. I didn’t let my opinions invade his experience. Everything he did that wasn’t harmful to others I validated and sought more information about. I showed him how many wonderful things he had done as a person both within the gang and independent of the gang.
This was a very nerve wracking experience but one I learned a lot from. Never had my life been in quite this amount of danger as talking with this gang member and leaving the session with what I learned, never to teach it or talk about it. He knew that what he said would stay safe with me and he could “feel” that I was “cool”.
Be this way for people you love and care about and watch what happens. Be a safe haven for people and you will build rapport and gain the confidence of those around you.
2. Ask questions about the other person’s beliefs and ideas in order to discover how they came to believe what they do.
As you ask questions of other people use an attitude of curiosity, and not one of contempt. “I’ve never thought of it that way, how did you come to that conclusion?”
It is always amazing to me how people come to their beliefs and attitudes about everything from politics to religion to sexual mores. I recently had a lunch date with an old high school friend of mine, Suzanne. We hadn’t seen each other in nine years. The last time we saw each other was at a meeting to help get kids off of drugs. This time was different. We saw each other at my Mom’s funeral and promised to call each other and catch up. We finally did. We talked and talked. Finally the subject got around to politics. Her Dad was a very conservative Republican and I was a very liberal democrat when we met in high school some 20 years before.I told her that about 10 years ago I gave up my Democratic shoes for those of the Conservatives and she was floored. “How could you do that? The Republicans are a bunch of idiots. I am really disappointed in you!” I couldn’t believe it! I used to argue faithfully with her about how she should become a democrat and she the other way!
“What got you to change?” I inquired
“Oh, my Dad had me brainwashed about Republicans. It’s all I ever knew as a kid and then I went out into the real world and found out that I wasn’t a Republican, I was a Democrat.”
She had switched her life-long belief too!
What is very interesting is that it is very rare that people actually change their political and religious affiliations. In the United States, 71% of all people will tell you what religious denomination they belong to and it was the same one they were in as a six year old child! This is typical of political and social beliefs as well. We are generally raised in a certain fashion and we rarely move from those original beliefs.
When you meet someone and you don’t know how they came to believe what they believe, be sincerely interested and curious and completely nonjudgmental and discover just how they came to believe what they do. You will learn that people rarely consciously choose their beliefs but their beliefs are programmed into the mind early in life. What’s best is that your historical expedition into another person’s mind will pay off in rapport points IF you do not criticize or show contempt for what the person has so freely disclosed to you.
3. Discover a person’s values and find out how they know when they have met their values so that you can be not only a better communicator, but develop a better relationship.
To discover a person’s values, ask a few key questions.
- What is most important to you in life?
- What’s most important to you in a relationship?
- What’s most important to you in a friend?
4. Find out what these values mean to the person!
Having asked these questions to thousands of people, I have discovered a most interesting thing. Most people will not give you their most important value until you’ve asked them twice or three times. People tend to be very protective of what they hold dear to them, especially their values and beliefs. So, I always ask a follow up question.
- What else is important to you in life? What else?
- What else is important to you in a relationship? What else?
- What else is important to you in a friend? What else?
Once You’ve discovered three or four values, you can learn what really is the most important thing to a person. If someone tells you that they find love, happiness, health and security the most important things in life, you can then discover what really is number one in their life. “If you had to pick one of those four values that really is the most important to you, which would it be?”
Imagine that the person tells you that health is the most important thing to them in life. Then you want to know what “health” means to that person. “How do you know when you have health?” The person may tell you that they have a low body fat percentage. They may say that health is the absence of illness. They might say that it is a feeling of vitality. Whatever they tell you is what that value means to them and now you know more about that person than if you would have had simple small talk for weeks or months.
Having shared their values and beliefs with you, the other person has disclosed what is most important to them. They have disclosed their soul to you and most people only disclose what is dear to them to those they love and trust. Disclosure breeds trust, love and respect. The very act of caring enough about another person to the point of truly understanding them shows your acceptance and respect. If you accept a person’s values and respect those values, you build a bridge and create a powerful bond that makes it very easy for anyone to listen to your ideas, thoughts and feelings.
People know that their values are very important to them. We live and die for those things and people we value. When you sincerely want to help people live to experience their highest values, they tend to open up to you and bare their true soul to you more quickly than they would to anyone else. Acceptance of someone else’s values is an act of unconditional love. Such love is sincerely appreciated.
For more NLP tips and techniques, see Mastering NLP: The Home Study Course.