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Alternative Definitions of NLP

NLP didn’t even have a name for its first few years. One story told by Isabelle David reports how Richard Bandler and John Grinder were up a  log cabin in the mountains, after many hours and a bottle of California wine asking themselves, “What the hell are we going to call this?” And they decided on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. This story and many other details of interest from the early years of NLP are reported by Michael Hall who addresses the difficulty of defining NLP. Some definitions are given below:

  1. NLP is an attitude of curiousity
    The founders of NLP were always willing to adopt a “know nothing” attitude.
  2. NLP is the modelling of excellence
    Joseph O’ Connor (1995) describes NLP as
    “a way of studying how people excel in any field and teaching these patterns to others.”
  3. John Grinder, one of the co-founders of NLP gives the following definition.
    “There are people who are recognized as being particularly adept in their performance. NLP is the bridge between being jealous of these people and admiring them… it gives a third way … a set of strategies to unconsciously assimilate precisely the differences that make the difference between this genius and an average performer…. It is an accelerated learning strategy, a mapping of tacit to explicit knowledge … a program that allows you to explore one extreme of human behaviour – namely excellence.”
    Transcribed from:
    Or more simply in Grinder’s words on another occasion:
    “NLP is an accelerated learning strategy for the detection and utilisation of patterns in the world.”
  4. NLP is the structure of subjective experience
    The other co-founder of NLP, Richard Bandler, coined this definition for the Oxford English Dictionary:
    “Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behaviour and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them.”
  5. NLP is a system of alternative therapy
    In the Oxford English Dictionary, Richard Bandler describes it as
    “a system of alternative therapy based on this which seeks to educate people in self-awareness and effective communication, and to change their patterns of mental and emotional behaviour.”
  6. Judith DeLozier often gives a simple four word definition that can be considered to take account of the TOTE model, well-formed objectives, behavioural flexibility, and sensory acuity:
    “NLP is what works”
  7. NLP is a trail of techniques
    NLP is based on modelling, so there are lots of techniques that form a trail that is often called NLP. For example, the phobia cure or parts integration process are on this trail of techniques.

There are lots more definitions for NLP out there and I have no doubt that I will come back to revisit and expand this page at some point in the future, but perhaps there is no definitive answer for this definition (pun intended).
I have seen long discussion threads on LinkedIn and other websites where people have tried to pin it down to one thing or another. It is perhaps the many influences on NLP and the many directions that it has taken that makes it so difficult to give a simple definition. Or perhaps, it is a more paradoxical issue because if the map is not the territory, perhaps no single definition can be sufficient, just as no single map is the right view of the world.


©Copyright 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen

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