Martin Messier

July 26, 2023

Embrace contextual modeling

Are you one of them?

Oh, sorry! I forgot to describe the problem first...

Many new NLP students suffer from a slight case of confusionitis. It's very contagious and it's transmitted by blogs written by confused people trying to make a buck on the back of NLP.

This affliction causes NLP students to confuse therapeutic patterns with generic communication patterns.

Are you one of them?

Among its symptoms, this condition leads them to try to use hypnotic patterns in their day-to-day communication. They speak in Ericksonian patterns. They drill people with Meta Model questions. They try to establish rapport by matching and mirroring.

Then, they get frustrated because they don't seem to get the responses they expect from their efforts.

Fortunately, there's a vaccine. I call it "contextual modeling."

Therapeutic patterns

I first noticed this issue within my first few years after getting my NLP Practitioner certification. I tried to apply my "NLP skills" to everything I did. Every situation presented an opportunity to match and mirror, pace people and ask precision questions.

What I failed to notice at the time, though, was that these were not NLP skills or general communication skills. They were skills modeled from therapists, designed to be applied in a therapeutic or counseling context — not business or everyday life.

This confusion definitely brings benefits to some. People who are working on their own personal issues or want to help others solve personal issues, can just take the existing NLP corpus and run with it.

For those who are not working on personal issues but want to develop in other ways, such as expanding their skill sets or communication range, this confusion can be costly in two main ways:

  1. It keeps them from discovering the basin of possibilities beyond the therapeutic context.
  2. It frustrates them to fall flat when they apply therapeutic patterns in other contexts and they don't work.

How the problem manifests

It's part of the lore of NLP that participants come out of their training as CIA interrogators wielding the Meta Model. Trainers issue a warning before releasing their newly minted Pracs into the wild: "Don't start cross-examining everybody you meet!"

Participants will also traditionally begin including Ericksonian language patterns in their everyday speech and start matching and mirroring complete strangers. Co-trainees have shared with me stories of getting odd looks after trying on some of these behaviors with people they meet off the street.

How would you react if a therapist approached you in the street and started talking funny to you? You would more than likely feel weirded out — AS YOU SHOULD!

That's essentially how these participants behave. They forget the most crucial detail: THEY are in a therapeutic frame; their counterpart ISN'T. That's ultimately what makes the patterning fail, no matter how well it was taught.

It's not their fault, though. It wasn't made clear to them that applying NLP is not the same as applying a product of NLP.

So how do we get past this?

Embrace contextual modeling

The main reason for this problem dragging on decade after decade is the standard NLP Practitioner curriculum doesn't revolve around training participants to model outstanding performers. Participants get exposed to a bit of modeling, in the following ways: they experiment a bit with modeling each other, and they're exposed to the therapeutic patterns that came out of modeling Perls, Satir and Erickson.

Modeling one another can be a lot of fun. However, it doesn't focus the participant on modeling excellence.

Learning the product of the initial modeling of therapists is also valuable. Still, it's not the same as learning how to model excellence. Participants simply learn to apply the product of the modeling process.

This reminds me a bit of philosophy classes. Students do not learn how to philosophize. Instead, they learn the product of other people's philosophizing. As with most academic disciplines, philosophy is mostly a history class of the philosophizing that came before.

So how can you escape this trap?

First, bracket the context of the therapeutic protocols learned in training. The Meta Model of Language in Therapy is a Gestalt therapy model. The Milton Model is a hypnosis therapy model. They are to be used in therapeutic contexts.

If you have been formally trained in NLP, compartmentalize what you have learned into the therapy bucket. If you haven't been trained yet, use this framework to make the most of your training if one day you choose to invest in it. 

Second, learn to model. Learn to apply the methodology that Bandler and Grinder developed to carry out the modeling of the outstanding therapists. This will enable you to acquire and teach skills like no other method available on Earth today.

Third, model a different type of communicator. Change the context. I always recommend to go with a persuader because it's the kind of communication that is most useful to us in our daily lives (dailyNLP, hint hint...).

Why is this third step so valuable — and necessary, in my opinion? Because it breaks you out of the confines of the language of therapy. If you've studied NLP for some time, you've been bathing in that language and that frame has taken over your comprehension of the field.

Once you build a Meta Model of Language in Persuasion, for instance, you uncover all kinds of language patterns that have NOTHING to do with the hypnotic patterns of Milton Erickson — but are equally as compelling when used in their proper context.

At that point, you'll have integrated two important distinctions:

1. The modeling methodology used to produce models of excellence.

2. Two products of the modeling methodology, both about language, yet applied to two distinct contexts.

At that point, you'll have completely dissociated NLP from its products, and you'll be well on your way to mastering modeling.

"But Martin, what if I haven't done any formal NLP training yet?"

All the better!

If you learn the modeling methodology first, then you'll have all the compartments ready to classify what you learn in training.

I hope this makes sense to you. If anything is unclear, don't wonder! Ask in the comments.

Here are the key takeaways for you to ponder:

:: Run-of-the-mill NLP trainings teach a communication model that works in the context of therapy.

:: Applying NLP is not the same as applying a product of NLP.

:: Learn the modeling methodology.

:: Use the methodology to produce a communication model that works in a different context.

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