Friday, March 27, 2015

Shopping and Selling Are Life Skills

I teach in a college business department and I am always surprised by how few students are sales savvy. They don't seem to have any idea of the difference between selling a concept and saying a concept. This leaves them with a lot to learn before they are prepared for a world where selling and shopping are both life skills.

Shopping is a life skill: no one survives without doing some shopping. People who are good at knowing what they want and identifying suppliers who provide good value are good at making the most of what they have. They can live better on less. Frequently, they can take the same attitudes and analysis and use it to build careers and profits.

Sales is also a life skill. For one thing, understanding sales gives you an edge in shopping. You know what to expect and what to avoid as a buyer when you have thought through the process from the seller's point of view. If everyone needs to shop, then everyone needs to understand sales.

Everyone also needs other people, in ways that range from practical to emotional to neurological. Involving other people in our goals and preferences is a sales process. It begins at birth, when a newborn uses a limited skill set to enthrall her parents. As we age, we lose some of the natural advantages of a baby, and have to pay more attention to how we connect.

By the time we are young adults, we have been conditioned to think that power and sales are the same thing. Someone with more power gets to tell others what to think or do. That's how it seems when you have been taught and parented for as much of your experience as you remember.

It's an illusion, of course. People rarely do what they are told consistently just because someone else is in a position of authority. People earn their authority by selling others on doing what needs to be done. I wonder how my students will fare as they move to a world where telling is cheap and persuasion changes lives. Selling is a life skill.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What does theory add to NLP?

I suppose the answer to this depends on what you mean by theory.

Theory can mean academically serious, peer-reviewed thought about why something works the way it does.

Theory can mean "I just made this up, but it makes sense from a certain point of view."

Much of the theory in NLP (neurolinguistic programming) has roots in the first type of theory. But that type of theory changes as knowledge grows. Theory changes as information supports new ideas. Common beliefs about how the mind works were not common forty years ago.  Current ideas about schizophrenia, for instance, are quite different than the theory put forward by Gregory Bateson so many years ago.

If you read "theory" about NLP now you'll find there are two camps. One camp is desperately trying to party like it's 1979. They want to stabilize what they helped to develop forty years ago but many of "them" want to do it by teaching the same theory as they used to support the practice then. It doesn't matter that practices like meta-programs, sensory preferences and eye patterns do not have a theoretical basis outside NLP. They remain useful constructs according to the people who teach them. Just don't scratch too deep or you will find that the theory supporting them is as thin as the supporting research.

On the other hand, the relationship between physiology, sensory coding and language is now supported by theories across many fields. It's not always the theory taught in NLP courses, but there are interesting conversations going on about how the mind/brain/body system functions, and NLPers could contribute to those conversations. They are contributing in organizations where the leaders seek cross-pollination with thinkers from related fields. I'm thinking of organizations that combine neuroscience with NLP, and of the research in therapy that overlaps various theories from mainstream mental health or positive psychology.

It's why I read mostly around the field of NLP (rather than in it). There is no forum in NLP itself where theory would matter (there are associations that would like it to matter, but they are usually promoting theories that go back to the early days of NLP). There is no peer-reviewed forum for original contributions to the field and there are few opportunities for thinkers to explore alternative explanations for the observations generated by NLP without immediately being decried by the purists who are quick to say that any way other than their way is not really NLP at all.

Most of the books are practical rather than theoretical. This doesn't matter very much to most of the people who come to NLP looking for practical, hands on training in communication and choice. Theory is not the only thing that makes a field worthwhile.

But. . . theory is a sign that a field is mature and resilient enough to discuss more than one way of understanding it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A bird's eye view for clearer decisions in troubling times

Have you ever tried to solve a tough problem by digging deeper and thinking harder? How did that work for you?

Most people find that the deeper within they dig, the more complexity they uncover. They are emotionally engaged in contradictory ways. They want incompatible things. The evidence points in different directions. With every turn, the maze becomes less familiar.

There's a better way. When you notice that digging is not helping you get clear on a decision, let go. Let your imagination carry you out of the maze so you can survey it from high, high above. Rising above a problem does not begin with taking the moral high road. It begins with moving to a perspective that is free, moving, and distant.

Imagine trying to tell a seagull what to do. You can watch them on the beach. Even other seagulls have little success in being the boss of a seagull. Now imagine watching that gull take flight. What would it feel like to simply lift yourself away from the squabbles and bumps? How would all the tension on the ground look if you were seeing it from the air?

I don't know much about the mechanics of bird flight, but I imagine that over-muscling would make it hard to glide. Instead, I think birds need enough will to stay in the air that they hold their muscles with precise tension.

What if you stopped over-muscling and used all that will power to imagine a more distant perspective, a time and space where you could see the whole of the situation. If you weren't entangled, what would you be instead?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Are you a credentials person or a "prove it to me" person?

In some ways, I have the ultimate credential. A doctorate is the end of the line, the highest credential in academics. Mine took eleven consecutive years of post-secondary study. The graduate study was seven years, twelve months a year. Now I am working in a field (NLP, but also coaching) where people think a credential is something to be earned in one year (at best) of part-time study.

In the public sector, a rigorous (if not always adequate) process ensures that students only get a credential if they complete work to a specified standard. There are exams, and in good courses there are also assignments and projects and peer-review. There is an effort to ensure that some common standards are represented by the credentials earned. And lots of people fail. They don't make it through the process. There are lots of reasons to question the ethics and the wisdom of failure rates, but they do show that people are being judged not by what they pay or what they attend, but by what they can do.

It's significant that in the coaching and personal development fields, people are eager to demand credentials in order to develop common standards. What no organization seems willing to do is publish their failure rates. In the personal development and coaching fields, very few people are taking the approach of charging clients for the opportunity to fail.

When people earn a certificate from me, it means they have attended all hours and participated in all parts of the program I have developed. It's a program based on practice, not on preaching, and everyone gets better over the six days. They haven't passed anything: they have experienced something.

Their certificate means that I am satisfied to have my work judged by the way they communicate. When people are thinking about taking my program, I encourage them to visit the websites where I showcase my clients and they, by implication, showcase my work.  This, I say, is what you can expect.

I keep my Ph.D. in a box, under my bed. I lost track of my NLP certificate almost as soon as I took it home. I am not really a credentials person. Don't show me a paper to tell me you are a leader.

Show me. Prove it to me with your skill and your vision and your action. Stimulate discussion and discovery that grows your field. Be first across a line, even when it means falling into the mud. Risk failure.

Build something and let people judge you by that.

Friday, February 06, 2015

How to say goodbye

Do you know that good bye began as "God be with you."  It's a good way to part company, much like "Fare well."

When it's time to make an exit, what do you say? The modern way (there are endless Facebook variations) is "it's not about you. It's all about me. This change is good for me and I'm off to pursue my bliss." The focus is on the reasons for leaving. Whatever else is said, whether the rest is in anger or apology, the core message is "I am leaving now because that's what works for me."

And the response to that tends to be "Don't let the door hit you on the way out" (with greater or lesser degrees of courtesy). This is inevitable, since the reasons for leaving are always insufficiency or brokenness or mistakes. When we look at the reasons, we cannot help but feel bad. And there's worse to come.

Human beings are pack animals: we feel abandoned when someone walks away from our pack because we are wired to connect. When someone leaves, they leave a lot of loose ends, connections with nowhere to go.

But human beings are also really, really good at looking forward. Much of the time, that causes us grief because we imagine all the bumps and potholes in the road, all the places we could be ambushed. With some will power, we can push through those visions and see past the obstacles to a destination. We can imagine moving forward and seeing good things on the road ahead.

Every ending reminds us that we are born with an expiry date. They break our favourite things (our habits and assumptions and hopes) and create the restlessness that comes with connections that no longer connect. That's okay. We have the equipment to deal with the hurt and uncertainty and restlessness.

When it's your turn to leave, say "Good bye" and mean it. Don't explain why you are leaving - there is no reason that ties up the loose ends. Instead, say "when I look at your path, I see good things ahead. My wish for you is the strength and resilience to get to the next bright spot on your path."