NLP in the world - Interview Series

Chris Collingwood – Australia – It’s all about patterns

As 2012 is slowly going on with all our resolutions dancing ahead, it’s with great pleasure that I am welcoming today Chris Collingwood for more information on NLP and its search for patterns. Chris works from Australia. He can be contacted on LinkedIn, Facebook, twitter or on his company site

Talking4good (T4g): How did you come into contact with NLP?
Chris: I read an article in 1979 in a magazine called ‘Psychology Today’. The article was written by Daniel Goleman, who was chief editor at the time and later became well known for his book on emotional intelligence. The article was called ‘People who read People’ and Goleman had interviewed Richard Bandler and John Grinder. The article was about their creation: Neuro-linguistic Programming. At that time, they had successfully modelled exceptional psychotherapists and had begun turning their attention to modelling exceptional people in other fields. I read the article without stopping and by the end of it, I knew that I wanted to learn NLP. I think that there are experiences people have, which allow them to set up filters so that the unconscious attention is drawn to those experiences and to possibilities that fit with their interests. In order to be congruent, a person needs to recognize those experiences consciously. In effect, I was primed unconsciously to respond to the possibility of NLP. Anyway, at that point, I took the decision to study it further and I got hold of all three books that had been published at the time (just before “Frogs into Princes” was released). One of books was Structure of Magic volume I* and I read that. Frankly, as I just had high school grammar, this was a whole new world. I read the book four or five times and gradually it made more and more sense to me. I was determined to wrap my head around the meta-model and what NLP was about and that’s how my journey into NLP began.

T4g: Was your university background anything related to psychology?
Chris: Not to begin with. I did horticulture at university and later realized it was not for me. Even though I had enrolled to study horticulture, most of my friends were doing psychology and I was reading their books. I also got a sense that in psychology there was something for me. I have always been interested in people and how people think, how people do what they do, sometimes acting in unpredictable ways. It was a mystery to me and I was fascinated by the way people behave. I did a psychology degree later, after 10 years of NLP experience and followed that with a masters degree in social ecology. I chose this because it gave me an opportunity to study more of Gregory Bateson’s ideas (he coined the term “Ecology of Mind”). Bateson was one of John Grinder’s mentors and had a marked influence on the New Code of NLP. One description of the New Code is it is an operationalised expression of Batesonian epistemology.

T4g: What NLP qualification do you have and who did you train with?
Chris: I have been a trainer for a long time.  I did a couple of practitioner and master practitioner programs between 1980 and 1983. I first met John Grinder in 1984, and even though I was a master practitioner at the time, after two days of a seminar taught by John, I decided to re-train with him. I took every opportunity I could to go along to seminars with Grinder and his team. In a word I decided to go back to school and learn everything again from scratch. In terms of qualification, I have a Graduate Certificate in NLP, which is a recognised Australian post-graduate qualification.

T4g: By which NLP association would your qualifications be accredited?
Chris: I think differently about the accreditation process from most people in NLP as a result of being involved in official, government recognition and university level qualifications. Most of the NLP courses offered by Inspiritive are accredited nationally, currently through the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority. We have a Vocational Graduate Certificate, which is post-bachelors degree in the Australian Qualifications Framework and a suite of NLP applications as Nationally Recognised Training Short Courses. In the NLP community the problem is that’s unregulated and people are endorsed by one NLP association or another. Some training organisations start their own associations and the standards are many and varied. This makes it hard for interested newcomers to identify suitable standards for their own learning. They want a yardstick with qualification and recognition and frankly, they get a mess.

T4g: You mentioned NLP is unregulated, and you mentioned people are endorsed by certain organizations within the NLP community and then you added you have different perspectives on accreditation. Could you expand on this?
Chris: What Jules and I have done, is to organize a formal NLP qualification, recognized for the first time by an external, official body, and by that I mean a government body. We had a couple of options, since we have two systems in Australia for post high-school education. We’ve got the higher education system, mostly university and we have a vocational education and training (VET) system. Inside the vocational education system there are two types of provider, government organizations called TAFE (Technical and Further Education) institutes and the private sector providers called Registered Training Organsaions (RTOs). We decided to go down the vocational education training route and to start with, we put through a 21 day practitioner program as a Nationally Recognised Training Short Course. There is an overlap between higher education and VET, for example in the VET system you can have accredited certificates, diplomas and advanced diplomas. Then, in relationship with a university, a registered training organisation can offer an associate degree, which would be about the first two years of a bachelors degree. At post-graduate level, it is possible to accredit  vocational graduate certificates and vocational graduate diplomas,  which confer professional level post-graduate qualification and provide entry to masters degrees on the higher education system.

T4g: I think having an NLP qualification recognized by a government body is fantastic. Tell us more on how it works?
Chris: It depends on the level of qualification you’re looking for. Our program is officially about 333 hours, which is the equivalent of six months full time study at a university. Putting this in place has been a lot of work; you have to organize it into outcomes, evidences and assessment criteria. It is pretty rigorous. You need to assess if the person will have the capacity for doing the program, either based on their graduate status or their professional experience. Evidence for assessment is based on demonstrable competencies compared with outcomes. We had to put in place a number of assessment tools for assessing people on expressing the proper competencies in their behaviour. We also continually assess people on performance, thinking and coaching skills. Our motivation for creating and offering accredited programs is to see NLP learned in depth and recognised as a field. It’s about time. NLP is a unique body of knowledge. It is distinct from psychology, it has a different epistemology and it’s all about having patterns as the basic unit of models whereas the basic unit in psychology is behaviour. So it’s a unique discipline and it can be a profession. You see, I have concerns that NLP is only seen as an offset of formats for counselling. The application of NLP to counselling and therapy is just one of many possible applications of NLP patterns to a large set of different activities and interests. Even within my NLP trainings, I see a lot of people who think of NLP only as a therapy when they start, and it is not. It’s far more than that! NLP is really a methodology, and an epistemology with a developing range of applications. Of course, the heart of NLP is modelling, where the skills and capacities of those with expertise and excellent performance are taken on, first unconsciously, by NLP modellers.

T4g: What is your current focus with NLP?
Chris: I have several at the moment. In terms of NLP, at Inspiritive, we have been doing a lot of work with recoding much of the original ‘classic code’ of NLP material, especially in the last ten years. For my partner Jules and me, one of our major foci is the recoding of NLP into the ‘New Code’ framework, the New Code design. This includes updating our book ‘The NLP field Guide’, hopefully for mid-year 2012. We also do a lot of consulting, training, and one to one coaching as part of our private practice and, of course, modelling projects where we model high performers, often in organizations. We have also been working on projects individually and with colleagues creating models for trading shares and foreign exchange, excavator operation at a coal mine, and leadership and management skills.

T4g: How do people react to this modelling?
Chris: It works! Last year we modelled for an organization and I was called in to assist on the modelling approach. We were modelling high performing excavator diggers, that is the people who operate gigantic digging machines on mine sites. Now, my first modelling experience was in trading and the first trader I modelled was in 1990. He was a very talented and superb trader who had intuitions about trading. He wanted to find out what was he actually responding to, because, at that time he had been trading for about 20 years, and still he was not conscious of some of the patterns he was responding to. He would have an intuition with no further knowledge about what was happening, which, as we know, is the case in high performance. That’s how I got involved with traders. I have been modelling another trader more recently, now for a year and a half as part of a long project.

T4g: Have you designed any training on those models?
Chris: No, with those particular projects, training has not been the transfer method of choice, though we have coached and demonstrated to pass the skills on to others. Once you have a model, you can choose to keep it for yourself or offer it to others. Naturally, the choice belongs to the owner of the model. We have been applying NLP to teaching trading psychology, more precisely to exploring the series of states traders go through, enhancing the possible responses at each stage and managing the different emotional responses to these. Now we have developed a two day program, which we have been implementing over the past nine months. However we are not teaching a technical trading model at this time. With the excavator operation model we transferred the model to other members of the organisation via coaching rather than training.

T4g: What do you like best in NLP?
Chris: To use a description of NLP from John Grinder, in the mid-80s, “NLP is an accelerated leaning strategy for detecting and utilising patterns in the world”. The product of NLP becomes an expanding set of patterns of excellence, and the appreciation of how to apply these patterns in the world. What I enjoy most is the experience of identifying, recognising and utilising patterns of excellence. The thing that makes NLP unique is that it has an expanding set of patterns, not content models, as its subject matter. When you have an experiential appreciation (not just a conceptual understanding) of that distinction, it opens a world of freedom and choice.

T4g: What about NLP and research?
Chris: I think it’s important for mainstream research to be done on NLP, the question is how to approach it. With standard psychological research methods, one requirement is to limit variables and change only one variable at a time. Then find out what result you get. In practice, applying NLP in a clinical context, a skilled NLP consultant will change the patterns applied in response to the patterns demonstrated by the client. For NLP applied in a clinical setting, a more useful approach to research would be simply to compare the results obtained using NLP with the results obtained using a range of conventional therapeutic approaches. Clients with comparable problems would be the subjects and the consultants would be limited to the same amount of time per client, regardless of their approach. In some psychological research that has been done with NLP, the experimenters have not had an adequate understanding of the NLP and the research has been flawed. However, in the last 10 years, new research is coming out of psychology, which supports the body of knowledge that is NLP. For example, Barsalau’s work with modality specific systems in cognitive psychology provides strong evidence that Bandler and Grinder are on the right track with representational systems. Also Sweller and Paas’ work with cognitive load theory supports the principles of the New Code of NLP, particularly the conscious/unconscious interface. Rapport and implicit learning are supported by findings in psychology and neuroscience relating to mirror neurons. Note that NLP is a model building endeavour leading to practical applications, not a theory creating discipline inside academia. Therefore, NLP and psychology are of different logical types, and I would expect to continue to see the development of new models and practical applications within NLP. The test for NLP is whether a model, when transferred, can get the intended outcome in the context for which it was developed. In my opinion, NLP has nothing to prove to psychology, and at the same time it is benefiting from research conducted in the cognitive sciences (cognitive psychology, linguistics, anthropology, philosophy, neuroscience and artificial intelligence).

T4g: Any specific NLP research you would like to be involved with?
Chris: That’s a good question. First of all I would not be inclined to do academic research on NLP myself, and if I did, it would definitely be on the modelling process. That aspect of NLP is simply fascinating and of course, it is the core of NLP – modelling excellence.

T4g: A last comment to conclude?
Chris: I have a concern that NLP teaching has been focusing too much on the conscious mind. NLP models are processes you have to experience personally, before you can teach them; patterns have to be embodied as unconscious competencies, which mean that NLP cannot be reduced to a set of tools or scripts. The ‘New Code’ of NLP is all about getting the patterns into the unconscious mind first. You need this to ensure congruence in the user. The New Code is about patterns, experiencing them, recognizing them and, taking ownership of them. One of the problems in the NLP community is that models and patterns have been reduced down to scripted formats, which are taught to aspiring practitioners as NLP. A lot of practitioners and for that matter, trainers, do not appreciate the constituent patterns that make any scripted format function, when it does. It is so important for learners and practitioners to have the experience first, and to have patterns inform all their thinking and behaviour throughout life. We need a solid foundation of exposure to multiple patterns for the unconscious mind, before acquiring a conscious, explicit representation of any pattern, without forgetting the need for ecology, congruency and calibration. An experiential and patterned approach to learning NLP supports the development of high grade intuition for the aspiring practitioner. Consciously understanding NLP is not enough, you have to integrate it and embody it. To do otherwise would be like someone recognizing a lost-performative in a sentence from a client and not even challenging it, but naming the pattern instead. I think as well it’s very important to have NLP become an established profession. For this to happen, people will need to be rigorous learning NLP as a methodology and an epistemology, and have a very clear separation between form and content.

* Richard Bandler & John Grinder, The Structure of Magic I & II, 1975

© 2012 Florence Dambricourt –

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