Change Work September 2007

Step by step

In April's article I talked about modelling skills - getting under the skin of an expert to learn how they do what they do.  This reveals their values, beliefs and strategies.

This month I want to look at that last element a little closer.

In NLP, a strategy is a sequence of thoughts, and the actions that go with them, used to achieve an outcome. And, as described briefly in the earlier article, they are described in terms of the TOTE model:

TEST: How do you know when to start? What is the trigger for starting the sequence?
OPERATE:What do you do? What are the steps in the sequence?
TEST: How do you know when to end? What tells you that the outcome has been reached?
EXIT:How do you end the sequence?

For example, how do you deal with being interrupted at work?  Is it something like:


TEST:You hear a voice saying your name.

You visualise the face of the speaker (before turning to look).
You say to yourself, "This is annoying!"
You feel a tightness in your abdomen.
You take a shallow breath, high in your chest.
You furrow your brow.
You half turn to the other person.
You say, "Yes?" quickly, in a high pitched tone.
Before they can answer, your eyes flick back to your work and slowly return to the other person.

TEST:Assess their state. Are they embarrassed? Yes they are!
EXIT:Slowly bring your full attention to bear on them. (And move into an appropriate conversation strategy.)

 Even if you don't do this yourself, you'll have witnessed it. You've probably been the other player many times.

What is this particular strategy for?

It seems to be aimed at two outcomes:

1. Discouraging other people from interrupting, and

2. Keeping attention on the task in hand for as long as possible, whilst still observing the social conventions.

Convention requires you to acknowledge the other person so you do it to the minimum degree you can. However, you let them know that you're unhappy with being interrupted.

Is this a win-win outcome?

Well, you've still been distracted from what you were doing and the other person feels bad.  They might avoid disturbing you again - and that could be good for you - or it could be a disaster if you don't get some important information or something vital doesn't get done.

So, what might be a better strategy?

Consider this:

TEST:You hear a voice saying your name.
OPERATE:You say to yourself, "Stop!"
You stop what you're doing.
You visualise the other person.
You smile.
You turn to them.
You fix your gaze on their eyes.
You say, "Hello! How are you?"
TEST:Notice the signs that reveal their state: expression, posture, breathing, voice tone and volume.
EXIT:Choose the next strategy - depending on their state. For example, they may be angry or upset and you can help them by responding appropriately. (See the previous articles about rapport, pacing and leading.)

This exit is particularly resourceful because it puts you in control of yourself as opposed to merely reacting.  And, you have the option of giving constructive feedback. Either confirming that they were right to come to you or coaching them to help them judge priorities better.

So, one immediate reason for looking at your own strategies is to improve them.  You don't necessarily need to model anyone else.  Improvements may be quite obvious once you look carefully at what you're actually doing.

How do you install the new strategy?

First of all, notice that the representational system being used in each step is important. You hear, see, feel something.

{There's actually a notation used here, V, A and K denoting visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.  Additional superscripts distinguish between internal (remembered or imagined) and external (through the senses). I won't show examples as they'll be lost for anyone reading this in plain text.}

Then you practise!

Go through the steps of the strategy, actually constructing (imagining) the images, sounds and sensations that are involved. If there are physical actions, do them as well. Remember, this is how you learned all of your strategies in the past - even if you can't remember learning them!

If any part of the sequence is particularly awkward or uncomfortable, then modify it until it runs smoothly.

Finally, test the strategy for real and notice how other people respond.  Also notice how you respond. Is the outcome better for everyone? Can the strategy be further refined?

Have a look at some of your other sequences and do the TOTE analysis.

If you're interested in another example see this article by Robert Dilts on learning to spell: