Neuro-Linguistic Programming Part 4: Modeling

Neuro-Linguistic Programing was developed to unpack the patterns of human excellence. The goal of NLP is to figure out what has worked in the past and break down the process into models which can then be replicated.

Modeling takes the approach of looking at someone who is successful in an area you want to be successful in and observing how they got to where they are so one can replicate their patterns. Young children are excellent at this (walking, talking, using a fork or chopsticks), but as adults, we have a harder time breaking away from the behaviors we are comfortable with and mimicking people whose skills are more fine tuned than our own.  

A model is the structure someone uses to organize their experience. In NLP modeling, we can use models to learn a new skill and replicate the behavior. If you have a younger or older sibling, you may remember trying to act like them or you may remember a younger sibling following you around, trying to do exactly what you did. Modeling in adults works in a similar way. Instead of years of trial and error, you can follow the patterns of people who are already at the point you want to be at so you can get similar results, quicker.

How It Works

Imagine you are in the shoes of the person you are modeling. Think about what it feels like when you do this new skill/behavior (presenting, writing, leading a team). What kinds of things can you hear? What are you doing with your eyes? Can you feel the muscles change in your face? What kind of movements are you making? What tone of voice are you using? What kind of vocabulary are you using? You have to listen with your whole body to have the best results when modeling.

Through direct observation, you can physically observe a person’s behavior.

Ask yourself:

  • What are their mannerisms? Can you see a pattern in their behavior?  

  • How does this person overcome conflict to achieve his/her goals?

  • How do they measure success?

  • What makes them different from other people who approach the same problem?

Additionally, after observing behavior, one must ask “how” and “why” the strategy is important for putting their actions in context. If this person is your mentor, talk about their motivation behind decisions they have made. If this person is a celebrity or not alive, read a biography to understand what motivated them to act the way they did.

After you have answered these questions, you will have all the data you need to structure your model.

Good Modeling/Bad Modeling

Good models copy strategies instead of behaviors. Too often, people look at a successful person’s results and make inaccurate conclusions based on the details of their history. If someone goes to college and gets an education, it is not an indicator for career job security. Similarly, just because someone dropped out of high school or college does not mean they are going to be a successful entrepreneur. Just as doing a lot of drugs and drinking a bunch of alcohol isn’t a prerequisite for being in a band who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In NLP modeling, as mentioned above, you need to look at the why, what, and how. For example, why did the person drop out of school? How were they able to network and make connections? What steps did they take that crossed the technology/age barrier? A good mentor will help you work through this.  

Let’s use Steve Jobs as an example. If one were to focus on the events, they could surmise that his success resulted from the following:

  1. Dropping out of college
  2. Selling his smart friend’s product for billions
  3. Getting fired from the company he created
  4. Starting a company that is just as successful as his last and then getting rehired by his previous startup

This isn’t the case. For a more efficient approach to modeling we need to focus on the patterns leading up to the event:

  1. Discovering his passion at a young age and doing whatever it would take to achieve his goal
  2. Because he found his passion, selling his product was easy because he believes in what he was selling
  3. Admitting that he needed to tweak his business model when his current model stopped working
  4. Setting unheard-of goals and surpassing them

Modeling does not turn people into robots or suggest that a person should act outside of their personality or code of ethics – rather, it gives people a step-by-step recipe to follow that they can change depending on the individual nuances of their situation. Think of it as a guide for best practices; these are methods which have been tried and tested with positive outcomes.

Modeling is the tails side of the mentoring coin. The heads side, meeting with a mentor and discussing skills and goals, is all about gaining insight and information. Modeling is taking the information and putting it into practice. These are the exercises a mentee does on his or her own to build soft skills using the techniques their mentor has guided them towards.

You don’t need a mentor to model behavior. As a writer, I model authors who died hundreds of years ago in reading about their lives and reading their work. However, it does help to have someone you can meet up with face-to-face or over email to talk directly about a skill, goal or behavior you are working on.

Modeling is a great skill for your NLP toolbox, have fun with it and don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques.

If you missed my other NLP posts, follow the links below:

NLP Part 1

NLP Part 2

NLP Part 3

Andrew J. Wilt 
SEI Junior Consultant 
Apprenticeship Program