The NLP Communication Model in Relationships



    Episode Transcript:

    Introduction to The NLP Communication Model

    elements of nlp communication model
    Image created by Tara Thomas

    The NLP Communication model is a conceptual framework that describes the human brain's process of filtering sensory information.

    This model was developed by, and covers these key ideas;

    • the three types of filtering processes (delete, distort, generalise)
    • the process of 'chunking' or combining units of information, and


    Wait, WTF is NLP (and is it Fucked)?

    NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and has been definitively discredited as a pseudoscience. So there's that.

    It was developed in the 1970's by Richard Bandler & John Grinder and was inspired in an era where computer programming was an exciting new frontier. They claimed that all behaviours could be broken down into the fundamental elements of neurological processes (neuro), words and patterns of language (linguistic), and observable patterns of behaviour (programming). Further to that, they claimed that by changed specific parts of those sequences, that individuals could imitate 'models of excellence' in order to achieve their same results.

    I really thought deeply about whether I wanted to update & continue to share this piece on the NLP Communication Model. 

    Here are my thoughts & decisions;

    1. I initially was trained in NLP at a coaching school that was mired in controversy. In fact, the training I did was the first one that wasn't run by their accredited NLP Trainer who quit a few days before it was due to run because she was so apalled by the things that were happening behind the scenes. My training was therefore NOT accredited, and there was a bunch of drama - large scale fraud, deregulation of the school, and other shady shit.
    2. The trainers (amongst other shady shit) deliberately induced hypnotic states, and other classic cult tools of influence. People were urged to immediately spend thousands of dollars on their credit cards for the "next level" training, and if they didn't were shamed, called out, and otherwise treated like shit.
    3. My experience of that training was lifechanging. Truly I view my life as before, and after that training.
    4. Some years later I worked with that exact principled NLP Trainer in a mentoring program, I was mentored by her for years. That mentoring program heavily influenced my personal life, my relationships, and my work. I hold her in the highest love, gratitude, and esteem. She is ever my hero.
    5. I have also done some IRL training with Chelsea Alexis Gabriel: "in 1984 at the request of Dr. John Grinder (co-founder of NLP), she became a Trainer of NLP after completing a year-long personal apprenticeship with him.  She designed the first ever 10-day NLP & Ericksonian Hypnosis seminar and co-designed the very first Neuro-Linguistic Programming 'Train the Trainer/Platform Skills' seminar for Grinder, DeLozier and Associates, in the 1980s". Chelsea is the fucking real deal magical witch, a decade later I still am unpacking the learning she shared in just three days.
    6. It's important to note that I actually don't know which elements of what I have learned from those trainers were "NLP", which were from their professional experience & education in other contexts, and which were pure fiction. I often encounter a piece of information or model in another therapeutic context and realise "Oh! This is the source of that!"
    7. I no longer vibe with the messages of the personal development industrial complex. Slow, sustainable, iterative change is my jam.
    8. To this day I find many NLP conceptual models are elegant ways to present ideas. I am continually evolving in my own thoughts & understandings as a human and as a couples therapist. I continually review the things I believe & teach, and I continue to keep what is helpful and discard what is neither helpful nor harmful. Many of these models are still on high rotation in my work, while others have been discarded.
    9. Much (all?) of the NLP Canon was extrapolated & simplified from 'models of excellence'. That makes it hard to parse what is the pseudoscience, and what is genuinely helpful therapeutic or conceptual frameworks.
    10. I've seen a lot of dangerous 'NLP Practitioners'. I was one of them. Truly believing that you have a tool to create profound change in minutes with almost no training is fucking wild! This isn't the only modality that fits this mold...
    11. This particular piece of content is one the highest performing posts I've ever made, even way back in 2016. That means people are still looking for it, that people are still being 'trained' in NLP, and that more than ever there's a need for contextualised content.
    12. I'm proud of my explanation of this model! It is clear and easy to understand.
    13. So. I decided to keep this post and do a deep rewrite. And now it will sit within the broader context of NLP-as-pseudoscience while still performing the explainer function.


    The NLP Communication Model

    A full image of very small colourful lego pieces.
    Image from Canva

    Imagine that in every second you are receiving 2 million bytes of information from the external world. You receive that information through your five senses, taste, smell, touch, sight, sound.

    Let's put that in perspective - Hold out your right hand, and imagine that I am handing you one piece of lego per second… now imagine that I am handing you 2 million pieces per second. Too much, yes?

    Well your brain feels the same way! According to Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihaly in his book Flow -our brain is capable of managing 134 bytes per second. So of those 2 million pieces of lego, we only have conscious awareness of 134.

    So how do we decide which ones to keep?

    What is Deleting, Distorting, and Generalising?

    In order to bring our awareness to the important lego, our brain applies a series of filters, or cognitive mechanisms, to identify which bytes we use as the building blocks for our internal lego kingdom. All the other lego is filtered OUT, by deleting, distorting, and generalizing (DDG) information according to the settings of those filters.

    Deletion occurs when we selectively pay attention to certain aspects of our experience, and ignore others. For example in this moment you may not have noticed the temperature in the room, or the sensation of your feet on the floor, or the sound of the traffic. Those bytes of lego are deleted as your brain prioritises amazing and magical lego -like the words & concepts in this article.

    Distortion occurs when we transform or interpret lego bytes in some way before we incorporate them into our internal lego kingdom. I was in my early thirties before I realised that Tom Petty wasn't singing "I Walk back down" . Totally changed the meaning of that song, because my internal lego world had to change as a result of discovering that distortion.

    Generalisation occurs when we take one byte, or a cluster of bytes of lego, and create a rule that we apply to many other events. An example would be the time I trod on that blue piece of lego - I generalized, and now I believe that all blue lego hurts. Blue lego is spikier than the other colours. Sometimes I see other people with cool blue lego, but I know that wouldn't work for me.

    These three mechanisms are constantly working together to help you to make sense of the things that happen around you. The DDGs are powered by the filters that decide which lego makes it through. In turn, the filters are strengthened by the DDGs - the more blue lego I tread on, the more I delete cool lego, distort blue lego as hurtful and am convinced I will never find true blue lego.

    What Informs Our Information Filters?

    So what are the filters?

    The kinds of things that filter our lego bytes are language ( the specific words, or patterns of grammar that we use), memories from our lived experience and education, decisions we have made, both in our past and in our present , the values and beliefs that we have as a result of those, and our metaprograms - unconscious filters to our perception that help us to sort the lego bytes.

    What that means is that at any moment, we are only subjectively experiencing our own internal lego kingdom, which is built from a tiny number of the available blocks, and is only ever a limited replica of the true external experience. That explains why two people can remember and interpret the exact same event in a completely different way.

    We have been patterned with most of our own filters between the time that we are born and the age of 7, During that time our parents teach us about the way that they have built their own lego kingdoms, and we learn to build our own kingdoms from their blueprint.

    How Do We Group Information?

    As the lego moves through the filters, our brains make sense of it by grouping the bytes into categories, or chunks.

    Now the sorters in our lego kingdom can only concentrate on 7 categories or chunks at a time.

    Well, its 7 plus or minus two (some kingdoms have sorters that can manage 9 chunks, some can only manage 5).

    They group the 134 bytes of lego into those 7 chunks, which we then use to build our current picture of the world.

    We gaze on our internal kingdom, which leads to a feeling, then a change in our physiology (our bodies), and finally -leads to our actions and behaviour. This is the reason that you must separate actions from intentions. It is the Internal Kingdom that governs the behaviour.

    Data Grouping, or 'Chunks' IRL

    A black & grey image of a road with traffic cones. There are 7 yellow squares side by side over the image that say "accelerator, watch the road, indicators, destination, brakes, steering, clutch"
    Image Created by Tara Thomas

    So how does this apply to our world?

    Think back to when you learned to drive;

    The sorters had seven chunks which they allocated to: Using the accelerator, watching the road, indicating at corners, remembering your destination, using the brakes, steering the car, and using the clutch.

    This was new for them, and required all their awareness to notice the right lego bytes as they received them.

    Now imagine it starts to rain, suddenly there is one more category of legos to sort for, which takes you to 8, and suddenly you start to miss some of the important bytes you were already looking for.

    As the sorters gained familiarity with this type of experience , they began to combine categories (or chunks) and become more efficient. So accelerator, plus brake, plus clutch became one chunk allocated to "the speed of car" and no longer required individual awareness for each element.

    Now you can receive more lego bytes and add complexity & understanding to your internal kingdom for the activity of "driving".

    That means after many years of driving you are able to simultaneously steer, navigate, keep position, maintain spatial awareness, sing, drink coffee, and give a running commentary on other drivers!

    Is It Possible to Change Our Internal Experience?

    And now we arrive at the power of the NLP communication model - this understanding of the way you are creating your internal world unlocks your ability to CHOOSE the filters that you want to use, and to UNDERSTAND the way that your partner builds their internal world. And that, is the key to externally actualising your kingdom.

    What that means is, that you are in charge

    Sometimes we inherit or learn filters that stop us from getting the quality of building blocks for the world we want to build. Your experience of the world is limited by accepting filters based on the language, memories, decisions, values, and metaprograms from someone else's life. That means that you end up building a kingdom that is fundamentally the same as theirs.

    So what does that mean for your relationship? You must understand that your shared Kingdom is built in exactly the same way that you build your own, only the scale is magnified.

    Did you enjoy this blog? I'd very much appreciate you sharing it with others!

    A moment of your time has deep & long lasting effects on my capacity to keep creating this kind of content.

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    For full transparency you should know: This article has been edited to optimise the SEO on my website. That means that I have substituted some words or phrases so that the article is more likely to appear in a google search. In this article "NLP Communication Model" has been optimised. I only do that in a context where the meaning will remain the same.

    This is a decision which I've made because SEO is one of the key factors in determining whether people do, or do not, read my blogs & articles, visit my website, and work with me.