What is NLP and how can it help you and your business?

  • 15 Nov 2021

By Carol Harris, former chair of the Association for Neuro-Linguistic Programming

People in business are always looking for the magic bullet – a technique or process that magically makes everything work brilliantly. Unfortunately, there is no such thing. But there is an approach that can give business owners a great boost if used properly.

It’s called NLP – short for neuro-linguistic programming. NLP is based on the premise that you can analyse how effective people function, break down the elements of their performance and then teach them to others to help them achieve similar results. It’s been used for decades in fields such as business, sports, health and education.


NLP looks at five inter-related areas of performance – objectives, behaviour, thoughts, feelings and beliefs – and can work with each of these at a micro-level to bring about change and improvement. A few of the things NLP can help with are increasing confidence, improving communications, building relationships, transforming presentations, focusing advertising and enhancing networking.

In this piece, I’m going to explain how the middle part of NLP’s name (linguistic) can help you understand other people better and improve your business communications.

NLP has several language ‘models’ which focus on different aspects of verbal communications – for example being precise, avoiding imposing your own views on others, using metaphors, finding out about the actual meanings underlying people’s words, using words that relate to different senses and using language that goes directly to someone’s unconscious mind. In case you think that last one sounds potentially dodgy, well you could be right, but you’re likely to be doing it anyway without actually knowing, so you may as well learn to do it knowingly rather than inadvertently.

But here’s something you can learn easily which has the power to transform how you communicate, both orally and in writing. And it can impact on your performance in meetings and presentations, your advertising, your social media and your website presence, so it’s well worth learning.


What I’m about to share with you is called ‘Meta-programmes’ in NLP-speak. But the name isn’t important. All you need to know is that people’s motivational patterns can be demonstrated through their language. There are quite a few of these patterns and I’d like to introduce you to just one of them here.

This pattern is called ‘Internal and External’ and is about how someone becomes motivated. ‘Internal’ people are – as you might expect – internally motivated. They have their own strongly held opinions, which are rarely shaken by others. They don’t usually welcome other people’s feedback and don’t often need support from others.   

Compare this to people who are ‘external’. Those people need to know what other people think, or what their experience is, before making up their minds on something. They crave support and value feedback.

Of course, nobody is only internal or external throughout their life and in all situations, but if you can work out whether someone tends to be one or the other then it becomes easier to know how to communicate with that person.

So if you work with someone who is internal, it helps to ask their opinion about things, to give them projects where they can use their own initiative and to leave them to their own devices unless they really need help. With an external person you would give them lots of support and encouragement, tell them how other people do things and give them feedback on their performance.


And the same goes for advertising, social media posts or website information. You need to judge what kind of people are likely to read your material and, if you really don’t know, then use wording that covers both ends of the spectrum. For example: “This is our new product. The feedback we’ve had from testers has been great and when you try it you can see for yourself how good it is.” You’ve said it’s been evaluated positively by other people and also given the opportunity for the people reading it to make up their own minds about the product for themselves. Hopefully, that will give both groups of people something on which to base a decision.

There are lots of other patterns you can take into account, including whether people are motivated by achieving goals or by overcoming obstacles, need an overview or find detail important, like to have a procedure to follow or prefer lots of choice. If you’d like to find out more it’s well worth pursuing as putting this knowledge into practice can really have a big impact on your business.

Carol Harris is author of several NLP-based books for adults and children, including Networking for Success. She is a former chair of the Association for Neuro-Linguistic Programming

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