How do you do coaching and change work?
Activities such as coaching, creating change, goal setting and problem solving can seem amorphous when we're not already skilled with them. How do you teach something so amorphous?
One solution—one—is to break such tasks down into small, simple chunks which we can sequence into some kind of guide, a bit like a recipe. Then we can turn the chunks into an acronym that makes it easy to remember. Simple.
SMART—a guide to setting effective goals.
Make the goal specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time based; or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time based. (It depends on which school of SMART you went to.)(You can read more about my thinking on SMART here.)
TGROW—a guide for coaching.
Establish the client's topic for this coaching; clarify the client's goal for this coaching; establish the reality of where the client is relative to this goal; stimulate the creation of options; establish the way forward.
Now, I know acronym based models like these bring up different thoughts in different people. Some of you are huge fans of them and see them as eminently helpful. You may see them as useful as a learner tool, like stabilizing wheels on a learner's bicycle. Or you may see them as dreadfully simplistic and linear. Some of you will like some acronym based models and not others. Well, the merits are not what I want to explore today. I'm just acknowledging that there will be a variety of responses among you. Right now, I only want to establish that there are such acronym based models; and that people seek them out to give order and structure to their work.
They are sought as an antidote to the amorphous.
Are there similar guiding structures in Neuro-Linguistic Programming?
Creating change with NLP can seem amorphous too. And, yes, there sure are such acronym based models for creating change with NLP. I've listed two of the best known ones below.
SCORE—developed by Robert Dilts.
Establish the symptoms and distinguish them from the causes; establish the desired outcome of the change sessions; identify and add the resources that would be useful to move forward and create that outcome; and map out the effects of change.
RESOLVE—developed by Richard Bolstad.
Enter a resourceful state yourself; establish rapport; specify the outcome; open up the client's model of the world; lead the client to change; verify the change; and exit with ecology.
By the way—and not that it matters—but notice how Dr. Bolstad's model is mostly led by the verbs—the doing words—whereas Mr. Dilts' goes after the 'nominalizations'—the pseudo-objects like 'symptom' and 'cause'. Like I said, it doesn't matter and it doesn't imply anything about what's better or worse, it's just interesting to note and maybe gives insight into the developers' preferences for how they model concepts in their minds.
Now, again, I'm not talking about the merits of these models today. I'm still just establishing that there are acronym based models in NLP too; and that people seek them to order and structure their work in NLP too.
Putting all this to one side now, what I really want to do today is reply to a point made in that conversation I mentioned right at the start. Which is:
"Bandler and Grinder gave us lots of great tools to work with, but they didn't give us any structure for the over-arching process of creating change!"
So, did Bandler and Grinder give us an overall structure for creating change with NLP?
I think they did. It's just that in classic Bandler and Grinder style it wasn't linear and it wasn't something you could reduce to an acronym. And in a way which is perhaps more typical of Bandler than Grinder, it wasn't especially explicit either.
The 'big chunk', over-arching structure for creating change with NLP is a conjunction of several models. That conjunction creates something more three dimensional.
The back-bone of this structure for creating change is really the TOTE model.
TOTE—a model of how we "feed-back" our way to outcomes.
We start with the opening test or trigger which triggers the process of wanting to shift from the present state to a desired state or outcome. We perform operations to move to the desired state. We continuously test where we are relative to the outcome and whether we're getting closer or further away; and we exit when we have succeeded or when we run out of choices.
Edit: I'm reminded by my friend and trainer Gabe Guerrero that I forgot to give attribution here. I'm retrospectively adding that TOTE was developed by Pribram, Miller & Gallanter and is something that was brought into NLP both as a tool in mapping behavioural strategies and as a model for iteratively working towards change outcomes.
Now, what's presupposed by the TOTE model?
Well, TOTE presupposes there's a desired state—an outcome to create. This in turn presupposes the ability to choose and form an outcome. Enter NLP's model of Well-Formed Outcomes or, more accurately, The Well-Formedness Conditions for Outcomes (WFCO):
First, the outcome is stated in the positive, i.e. it's what you do want rather than what you don't. Second, it's an outcome that can be created and maintained by the subject themselves, i.e. it's about the subject's own change and not how they'd love the world to change around them. Third, it preserves the positive by-products of the present state and is ecological within the person's whole system. Fourth, it is represented in sensory experience, which is the currency of the mind.
TOTE also presupposes there are operations we can deploy to move towards the outcome. In the context of using TOTE as a model for creating change, these would be the myriad of patterns offered in NLP. The more patterns we have, the more we can try. But, as per Gregory Bateson's Logical Levels of Learning, what's even more powerful than having lots of patterns to try is the ability to dynamically create and choose patterns.
(By the way, whilst learning patterns is necessary in NLP training, training which follows only a diagnostic, recipe book approach to creating change is training a lower logical level of learning than the level trainers like Bandler and Grinder typically operate at.)
TOTE further presupposes that we have the ability to test how we're doing, which in the context of creating change presupposes we have an acute ability to pick up on verbal and non-verbal client feedback.
And since what drives a TOTE loop forward is the intelligent interaction of "test" and "operate", it also presupposes that we have learned how to respond to feedback and that we have the flexibility that if what we're doing isn't working, we try something else.
What's not presupposed by TOTE itself but we know can be useful from modeling the work of people like Virgina Satir, Fritz Perls and Milton Erickson is that client rapport may be powerful too.
Some of these things roughly correspond to what some people call the four pillars of NLP—rapport, outcome orientation, sensory acuity and behavioral flexibility. I don't think I've ever heard Bandler or Grinder talk about four pillars—it seems to have been someone else who coined that phrase and forgive me that I can't pin-point who specifically—but top trainers certainly build these capabilities in the people they train as foundations for the change-creating TOTE.
Let's just 'bank' this understanding:
Cross the TOTE model with well-formed outcomes, foundation skills such as sensory acuity, a rich selection of patterns (lower logical level of learning) and an exquisite ability to create and select patterns (higher logical level of learning) and you have two things: first, you have pretty much all of what an NLP training is; and, second, you have that over-arching model of how to create change with NLP. Yes, the whole training is the over-arching model of how to create change.
There's one thing missing so far. All this is "methodology" and "trail of techniques". Remember, NLP is an attitude and a methodology that leaves a trail of techniques. The missing part is the attitude—and that's what's expressed in statements like, "There is no failure only feedback". Remember, they're not true. It's not that there really is no failure, it's that when we take the attitude there is no failure, only feedback, we can enter our work with fearlessness and curiosity.
So, take a look back at your NLP training and see it anew. See how everything you did was building up foundations that ultimately create a great big TOTE structure for creating change.
When you see it that way, maybe you can see the WFCO are a guide to the whole process of change; the TOTE is the over-arching vehicle for creating it; and the patterns are the food of the process.
The desire to reduce it further
So, there we have it. There is an over-arching structure for creating change with NLP. It's just that it's a conjunction of models and therefore three dimensional; and it's based on feedback, acuity and variety rather than defined steps.
That seems to still leave it too complex for many people, because that's a lot to represent consciously. (Please note the emphasis on the word 'consciously'.) This is why I think Bandler at least prefers to do what he calls unconscious installation. Others might put it less technically and simply talk about getting people to do things unconsciously before presenting them consciously.
(Perhaps the reader is seeing even more of how his or her Practitioner training worked.)
There is still a desire in some to be able to consciously represent what we're doing; and some trainers like to use the more traditional learning model of using conscious practice of conscious models to create unconscious competence—and that means creating models which can be reduced to within the famous seven-plus-or-minus-two chunks.
I'm not going to say the desire to reduce is right or wrong, I'm merely going to acknowledge that there are multiple approaches and desires about how to package learning. But I'm also going to say the over-arching structure for creating change was and is there.
But while it was there, don't be averse to expansions
Having spoken of WFCO and TOTE, it's worth saying that we don't necessarily have to take the original versions of these models as gospel. Some people felt that the WFCO were incomplete and that's why you might see expanded models of things like that. The original WFCO were put forward as minimum conditions for lasting change, not necessarily maximum conditions. And the TOTE model itself doesn't explicitly take into account that the desired state or outcome might itself change as you get closer or further away from where you are or what you thought you might want. So, some adaptation or at least flexibility about how we understand these models can be useful.
Just get it the "whole big-chunk model" of creating change with NLP as I've put it forward is essentially about information gathering and iteratively working through till we've satisfied all the necessary conditions we've gathered about our client's change.
Wishing you health and happiness,