Category Archives: Neurolinguistics

Choosing Happiness

What is happiness? What does it take to be happy? We all want to feel happy. Do we know how?
It seems we were born knowing how. Babies show their feelings — and happiness is definitely among them.

Sometimes we fall out of the state of happiness and want to find ways to get back there. Various aspects of these Happy Holidays can be stressful, including basic things like bad weather, traffic, or too much to do.

Well-known NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) author and trainer Suzi Smith spoke about happiness on a webinar this week. Happiness has been shown to increase longevity, and has health benefits, in addition to being desirable in itself.

She reminded us of several basic NLP techniques for returning to a happy state of mind. One was to become conscious of the content of our thoughts. If they are negative, change to positive content. For instance, when you make a mistake, look for solutions and learning rather than beating yourself up. The important thing is to become conscious of those negative thoughts.

Suzi told some good stories and used NLP anchoring to give us the choice of waking up to a happy day when our feet first hit the floor in the morning. Thanks, Suzi, for that holiday gift!

There is so much in NLP, and in Suzi’s wisdom, that she was able to go over many useful strategies even in a short session.

One of the interesting things that came up was a participant, I think from Germany, saying that his clients ask, “But what about all the things I have to do?” I think how we handle that question is the key to maintaining a happy state of mind.

Thinking about what I have to do has several drawbacks. One is that it can take me out of my body and the immediate present. Another is that it can invoke worry about future actions. I can start feeling stressed and under time pressure. The feeling of being rushed and having too much to do gets in the way of my feeling happy.

The positive intention behind thinking about what I have to do, i.e., getting me to do it, is worthwhile. I do want to be motivated to take care of my responsibilities and accomplish my dreams.

This intention can be accomplished with joy. I find it easier to do it with joy if I connect with my real motivation – the reason I have to do whatever it is.

In most cases, what I have to do is to keep myself and my loved ones happy and well. That is a joyful prospect and I am glad to do it. I appreciate the reminders that bring me back to that awareness.

Yesterday at a meeting of the South Bay OD Network, speaker Karen Colligan brought up happiness in the context of work. She had us think about a time we loved what we were doing. It’s great to be able to have that kind of feeling while earning a living.

If it turns out that your job is not what you totally love doing, you have the choice of focusing on the things it allows you to do that you do love.

My work has some parts I don’t love doing. It helps me to be happy doing them when I step into the feeling I’ll have when they are done. And then remember to savor it when it really is done. I just love that cleared-off desk!

OK, you probably have much bigger things to be happy about than clearing your desk. Focus on those!

Happiness is contagious. Research on social networks* has shown that we are 15% more likely to be happy if someone we are directly connected with is happy, and 10% if a friend of a friend is happy. We are even 6% more likely to say we are happy if our friend’s friend’s friend is happy. Even if we haven’t met them. The researchers conclude that “having more friends is not enough–having more happy friends is the key to our own emotional well-being.”

So let this note be a reminder to be conscious of your thoughts, choose happiness, and be sure to spread it around.

*From the book Connected by Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, and James H. Fowler, PhD. 2009.

Are You Coachable?

Good Leaders are Good Learners – Are You?
Oh, sure, I am always open to feedback…
Is it true? Or is it hard to ask for and receive feedback? Even if we know it will have value, learning about ourselves is a risky business.

Coachability is a word that struck me the first time I heard it. It puts the responsibility on the client, not on the coach. I had to ask myself, how coachable am I really?

There’s a huge variation in our learning strategies, especially in the arenas of communication and behavior. In school, we were taught many subjects. Only a fortunate few learned the most important thing: how to learn. Many of us learned instead to perform what was asked of us. As adults, we can revisit our learning strategies. We need to reclaim our ability to be self-directed learners who can also accept coaching from others.

What distinguishes a good learning strategy?
It asks questions such as “How can I apply this?” rather than “Where won’t this work?”

Good learning strategies assume that there is a positive intention behind most behavior rather than assuming that people who disagree must be irrational.

Outstanding learners go after feedback: they want to know more about how others respond to them and what they may be missing. Their strategies include not taking the feedback personally, a rare skill. If you can take it as being useful for you and as much about the person who is giving it as about you, you can glean much insight without umbrage.

A logical / analytical option is to use a tool known as an assessment instrument that yields data about workstyles, communication styles, perceptual biases, and so forth. (See the upcoming events column for a program on assessments happening this week in Silicon Valley).

Many of our non-coachable responses are invisible to us. For instance, when I first taught a Transactional Analysis 101 course, I was supervised by my mentor and dear friend Dr. Jo Lewis. As she gave me feedback, I felt I needed to respond to each item, either justifying what I had done or commenting in some way. When she pointed it out, it was glaring.

I was not very coachable, even though I professed to want the feedback (which, by the way, was very valuable). I don’t know where I learned that pattern, and it was very helpful to become aware and stop doing that. Without someone to coach me into being a better learner, I wonder how long I would have hung onto it.

In our three-day seminars, we observe that some people come in with good learning strategies. Others spend the three days working through resistance and beginning to create new strategies. By the third day, hopefully, they are ready to learn.

What is so threatening about learning, and specifically learning to be better communicators?

First of all, the idea that we need to learn something hints that we are not already totally skillful. If you had a family like mine, you grew up with the expectation that if you were smart, you already knew things. Being a good learner wasn’t valued: being a good performer was. There was no graceful way to navigate the learning process and maintain a polished exterior.

I’ve had the good fortune to be in a career where there are many ways to ask and receive interpersonal feedback. Training as a therapist, trainer, coach, all involve much personal interaction in small and large groups and one-on-one. If you have not engaged in process-oriented learning, it’s something to consider. Many leadership programs have a least some component of this kind of process. This is embedded in Syntax leadership courses, and is more fully developed in coaching and culture change engagements.

In collaboration, someone will always have more expertise than you in one or another aspect of the task you are working on together. If you have a knee-jerk defense or know-it-all reaction, how helpful is that? Somehow, being a smart kid didn’t necessarily equip us for learning from our teammates. Unless we focus on it, we may not even recognize we are creating a less than optimal space for learning.

Learning about our behavior and the choices we have moment-to-moment is as present as air and often as invisible.

Being a learner means being willing to be open about the trials and errors along the way. Learning as a communicator means seeking out coaching from peers, a professional coach, or a mentor. We do NOT know the impact of our behavior without feedback from others.

When a leader is willing to learn openly, and can receive feedback authentically and graciously, he or she is demonstrating true leadership. Role modeling is the most powerful form of permission for others to be open about their learning as well.

Changes drive much of our learning. All of us are learning like crazy these days — the new Facebook and Twitter pages, Go-to-Webinar, your new smartphone–and who knows what other emerging platforms will pull us in next.

Whatever the specific technology, learning to use it so that it enhances mutual understanding is one of the great social learning assignments of our time.

The amazing thing is how much we actually do absorb and utilize from the masses of stimuli out there.

We can expand our ability to learn throughout our lives. They say that people who are too old to learn were probably always too old to learn. Instead, seek out ways to be consciously coachable and lead the way.

What Can Communication Coaching Do For You?

Especially at work, what we communicate is who we are. As leaders and co-workers, we enhance or detract from the success of our enterprise with the communication competence we demonstrate. This is a skill set that has to grow to keep pace with complexity.
Working with a communication coach is a high-leverage way to accomplish several objectives at once:
-dedicating time and focus to this crucial area of your work life
-learning new skills tailored to your style and your goals
-and, perhaps most important, having an observer who can give you feedback and a place to test your thinking.

Many well-known C-level executives and other leaders rely on coaches, particularly to prepare for communication situations. If you want to reduce the stress and optimize your traction in communicating, it is likely that your HR folks or your department’s budget can provide funds for coaching.

No longer seen as remedial, communication coaching is fuel for career advancement and business success. For entrepreneurs, the return on investment is easy to measure through direct results.

Some criteria for selecting a communication coach:
– they make a clear contract for a number of sessions and / or a measurable outcome
– they do not have a conflicting relationship with you, i.e. they are not your boss or your best friend
– they are able to explain their approach, the communication models or assessments they use, and how this is applicable to your goals
-they will have an introductory conversation with you to determine best fit.

One of the criteria for choosing a coach is what you can learn from him or her. Coaches who are skilled with communication models help you put them into practice on a daily basis.

We all have blind spots, or simply preferences that don’t match up with those of co-workers or customers. Coaching can help prevent breakdowns or help us learn from them. An extra benefit is getting a reality check from a trusted advisor. Priceless.

We live in an amazingly complex world and an information-rich environment. The more intelligence you bring to it, the more you gain. Communication coaching helps you focus on what matters most to reach your goals. If you’re ready, let’s talk!

What is Syntax About and What’s On Our Website

Our Premise is that…

our ability to communicate effectively with one other is the most crucial priority in today’s global workplace.

By observing the behavior of successful individuals, teams, and organizations, we recognize habits and behavior patterns that constitute the SYNTAX, or structure, of success.
These are organized into five skill areas in a framework that serves as a common language, an organizational foundation for reaching goals and bridging differences.

The purpose of Syntax is to spread understanding and behavioral skill in the foundations of effective communication in efficient, easily learnable ways. To do this, we offer services and educational products to large and small enterprises and to facilitators, coaches, and consultants.

The sources on which Syntax is based include
Neurolinguistic Programming,
Fernando Flores’ work on conversations and action,
Transactional Analysis,
Appreciative Inquiry,
Human Performance Technology,
and over twenty years of introducing Syntax to professionals in organizations.

Many of our assumptions are explained and demonstrated throughout our website at www.syntx.com. Feel free to browse for yourself, and come back often to catch handy hints and good ideas.

Listen with Your Senses – to Morgan Freeman

Neurolinguistic Programming, or NLP, teaches us to listen with our senses; that is, to hear the specific words people say that tell us the sensory system they are using.

We speak in seeing, hearing, and feeling terms that actually represent how we are thinking. If you listen with awareness of sensory systems, you can appreciate the diversity of our personal syntax.

This week, the insightful TV interviewer, Charlie Rose, had actor Morgan Freeman on his show, talking about what it was like to play Nelson Mandela in the new movie Invictus.

To the conscious listener, Freeman gave an elegant demonstration of how his senses inform his work.

When asked how he observed Mandela to get into the character, he said it wasn’t anything he saw or heard. He asked Mandela if he could hold his hand. He said he could not explain or intellectualize it. He could feel the quiet inside.

Later in the interview, he described getting into another character, a principal who inspired students. Freeman had learned the technique with that principal. He held his hand and could feel huge amount of energy going on inside. Feeling that charge allowed him to step into the role. The change in the actor’s demeanor was visible as he spoke of this. Several times he mentioned that he couldn’t put what he knows kinesthetically into words (and then, being a brilliant person, he did anyway).

He talked about approaching Clint Eastwood to direct Invictus, and when asked why Eastwood, he said “His feel for storytelling. I don’t know how to tell you what that is.. He just knows when a scene is dragging…” giving another example of his strong kinesthetic (feeling) system.

Later, Freeman talked about a peak experience of an acting day with Matt Damon, saying it was the “connection” between them that was so memorable.

Morgan Freeman conveys great depth of emotion as an actor. Listening to him speak and watching how he responds to questions illuminates the personal syntax that makes his talent possible.

You may want to try listening to people’s personal syntax with this filter: are they using words that indicate seeing, hearing, feeling? In what sequence? Do not categorize people as either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. We all use all systems, in different sequences and priorities.

If I say “I have to get a feel for what you are saying before I can picture it,” I am really telling you how I think and how I can best receive information at the moment.

Whether you are a manager, colleague, teacher, or parent, it’s worth knowing how each person’s way of processing – their personal syntax – reveals their talent and special kind of intelligence. The first step is to hear, then to practice flexibility in your own speech, to match the sequences used by the other person.

You can learn more about this in our book Smart Work, or by taking a SYNTAX course, or by researching NLP resources online. Having the distinctions of sensory representations is both entertaining and extremely helpful in making choices as we work and live with other people.

Check it out, especially the next time you have a chance to watch a master talk about his or her work.