Teaching NLP: How To Be Consciously Unconsciously Skilled
by Richard Bolstad, NLP Trainer
When you really learn how to teach, you teach how to learn
I live in a small city in New Zealand, called Christchurch. At the Teachers Training College here, a few years ago, there was a rather eccentric lecturer named John Moffit. John was known for his strong view about the role of the teacher. One of the other lecturers arrived at work on this particular morning and passed by the main lecture theatre on the way to his class. He happened to glance in, and saw John Moffit giving a most rousing lecture from the front of the room. John was gesturing enthusiastically, and eagerly writing on the board. But when the other lecturer looked around the lecture theatre, it was totally empty. A little concerned about John's sanity, he decided to raise the matter gently at morning tea later on.
"John," he observed "I saw you teaching over in the lecture theatre this morning."
"Yeeees." John replied in a thick New Zealand accent, and with a wide smile.
"But John, I must say I noticed that there didn't seem to be any students there."
"Yeees, thet's roight. No-one turned up this morning."
"And I noticed," the other man continued, "that you were still teaching." He waited hoping for some simple explanation.
Sure enough, John replied "Yeees, thet's roight. Well, they pay me to teach, and thet's what I was doing!"
"It was at this moment", the other lecturer told me, "that I finally understood that teaching and learning are two separate things".
This is an article for teachers. But it's about learning.
NLP's first adventure with teaching
NLP was developed by modelling some remarkable communicators. Virginia Satir, for example, was a highly skilled change agent. But she confesses in her comments in the first NLP text, "The Structure of Magic" that before working with Bandler and Grinder, "...although I was aware that change was happening, I was unaware of the specific elements that went into the transaction which made change possible." In the same book, Milton Erickson says, "In reading this book, I learned a great deal about the things that I've done without knowing about them."
That is to say, Satir and Erickson were skilled, but they were, like most experts, unconsciously skilled. They did not know how they did what they did. To the extent that this was true, their ability to assist someone else to learn those skills was limited. To that extent, they could teach, but not in a way that others would easily learn.
In fact, the story goes that one day Satir was demonstrating in front of a group of student psychotherapists. She stopped talking to the couple she was working with, and asked if any of her students could carry on, using her methods. One by one, students tried to help the couple, but none of them seemed to know how Virginia chose what to say. At the back of the room, a young man was tape recording the training session. He was Richard Bandler, a computer programmer and a graduate student of linguistics at the University of California, and he had no training in psychology. Finally, after Satir's students had failed, Bandler came to the front of the room and offered to talk to the couple. Amazingly, he seemed to know exactly how Virginia was constructing her questions and suggestions to the couple. Listening to him was like listening to her. The psychotherapists were puzzled. How had this young man learned Satir's method so precisely?
NLP is a system for enabling skills to be transmitted from experts to learners; some of whom are novices and some of whom are nearly experts themselves. In this article I want to present three simple models for understanding this teaching-learning process (McCarthy's 4MAT model, Maslow's Learning Stages model, and the Dreyfus Expertise model), and some important implications for teachers (including teachers of NLP).
Bernice McCarthy's 4MAT System
Bernice McCarthy developed the 4MAT system based on her study of a number of other models of teaching, including NLP and David Kolb's Learning Style theory. Kolb noticed that learners have different preferred learning styles. To simplify, learners are asking four different questions in relation to the learning process:
- Why? These learners want to know the reason for learning. Kolb calls them "Divergers".
- What? These learners want to get the facts and concepts. Kolb calls them "Assimilators".
- How? These learners want to practise and do something. Kolb calls them "Convergers".
- What if? These learners want to try out variations. Kolb calls them "Accommodators".
Kolb pointed out that each of the four groups of students is focusing on one section of a learning cycle. This cycle begins with identifying a reason to learn, formulating concepts about the subject, actively using the concepts, speculating about the results of using the concepts and trying them out in life elsewhere, and identifying new reasons to learn more. Kolb's research verified that learners were spread across the four types. McCarthy pointed out that different teaching styles were required for each stage of this learning cycle, and that accelerated learning models such as NLP were providing the tools to meet the needs of all four groups. The information about the four quadrants is summarised in the following table:
| 4. What If? Accommodators
These learners want to consider future applications of what they are learning. Teachers can be consultants as they explore questions about what might happen , teaching to themselves and others. Ask after an exercise "What questions and what comments do you have?" 32.7% of women and 19.6% of men.
| 1. Why? Divergers
These learners want to know why they should learn this. Teachers can motivate them by giving reasons at the beginning of a training session. To check their readiness to learn, ask "Would this be useful to you?" 25% of women and 19.4% of men.
| 3. How? Convergers
These learners want practical experiences and exercises to do with the information given. Teachers can give them an exercise and coach them as they do it. To check they're ready to do the exercise, ask "What else do you need to know to do the exercise?" 14.8% of women and 23.5% of men
| 2. What? Assimilators
These learners want to know the information, and formulate concepts about it. The teacher can give information and lecture. To check their understanding ask "What more do you need to know? 27.5% of women and 37.5% of men.
Using The 4MAT In NLP Training
How does an NLP Trainer apply the 4MAT? In simple terms, they could apply it by:
- Explaining why the subject is worth learning. They can check that the "Why" question is answered for Divergers by then asking "So would this be of use to you?". If not, it makes sense to continue explaining or demonstrating "Why" until students are motivated.
- Teaching the facts of the subject, and the design of the process if there is one. They can check that the information is conveyed adequately for the Assimilators with questions such as "What more do you need to know?"
- Demonstrating the use of this information (eg demonstrating the process), which gives the trainees vicarious experience ("How"). Then giving them an exercise to practise using the information. To check that they are Convergers are ready to do the exercise, ask "What else do you need to know to do the exercise?" and screen out questions about things which "might happen" or speculative "What if..." questions (which will make more sense after the exercise).
- Inviting questions and comments after the exercise. At this stage questions about applications outside the training room can be answered, including questions about what might go differently to the expected and demonstrated process. This particularly answers the needs of the Accommodators.
It's also important to realise that people committed to one of the learning styles would be quite happy to spend the entire training answering their question alone. Divergers want a motivational speaker; they can always find out the facts and try it out later, if only you'll inspire them now! Assimilators would rather you just gave them ten times the facts; they figure they can always practise later. The Assimilator's ideal teacher is a lecturer. Convergers don't want to chat about it; they want to get on and do it; right from the start, before they actually find out what the exercise is. Their ideal learning situation is a group skills "laboratory" where people just try things out in action, rather than theorising about them. Accommodators want to hypothesise about what might happen in obscure situations, before they even know what the basic process is. They just want you as a colleague to speculate with. The role of the trainer involves ensuring that all four questions are answered, and coordinating the sequence with the natural cycle of learning (why-what-how-what if).
The 4MAT is almost the larger scale strategy of teaching. In NLP terms any process can be thought of as a strategy having four steps:
- Trigger (something that lets you know it's time to begin, and defines what outcome you want)
- Operation (the active collecting of information stage)
- Test (comparing the results of what you got in the Operation with the results you intended from the Trigger stage)
- Exit (the results of the comparison; the indication that you're complete, or that you need to start the strategy again)
Answering the "Why" question is the Trigger for doing the Operation of teaching (the "What"). When you then give students an exercise (the "How"), you as a teacher can compare the results to the intended results, and the results of this Test are confirmed in the final review, in the "What if" stage, which is the Exit.
Maslow's Learning Stages Maslow's learning stages provide another framework for understanding this process of learning. Maslow describes learning as having four steps:
Unconsciously Unskilled: Unfortunately, when people first hear about the idea of learning NLP skills, they often suspect there's nothing to learn. After all, you can either talk to people or you can't. You're either resourceful or you're not. Aren't some people just naturally good at it and some not? And isn't it all just theories anyway? This kind of question always occurs at the first stage of learning something. Tad James calls it "Premature Closure", and he says it's almost as bad as premature.... Well, anyway, it's a problem. Probably all of us have met people who've read the first chapter of Frogs Into Princes and think they know all about NLP. They can't do it; but they don't know they can't do it! In 4MAT terms, the unconsciously unskilled person hasn't had the "Why" question answered.
I like to tell a story about this, to preframe the learning process for my students. Remember learning to ride a pushbike? Quite often very young children are eager to get a bike. Perhaps they've had a tricycle before; that's much the same thing, right? Wrong. Going from three wheels to two turns out to be a major problem. The kid who was just waiting to ride off into the sunset suddenly comes to suspect that she or he may never ride a bike. Perhaps it's just not their scene. They have now reached the second stage of learning.
Consciously Unskilled. You can't do it and you know you can't. A lot of people give up at stage two, but for those of us who stuck at it, riding a bike gradually became more possible. At first, someone pushed you, letting go for a brief time. You could ride at those moments, but you knew you had to hold on for your life. The slightest move to the side and you came off.
Consciously Skilled: You can do it, but it's something you have to keep remembering consciously to do. In 4MAT terms, the person at this stage has the "What" and some of the "How", but they're not ready for the "What If" yet. Some people give up at this stage too. They say, "Sure, I can do it. But it's a lot easier to get around the natural way - the way I always have before. Maybe it only works for certain people. I know when I'm doing it I feel really phoney." If you're a trainer and your students are doing their first exercises with NLP, you may hear some of this stuff. And there's some truth in it; what they're doing probably is more rigid, more rule bound than what an expert would do. What's important is not to agree or to argue with the complaint, but to out-frame the comment with this model, because they will eventually reach....
Unconsciously Skilled: It's just practice that enables you to get to stage four, to expertise. Did you make it with bike riding? Can you ride a bike while thinking about where you're going, while carrying a parcel or waving to someone? If you can, the actual work of keeping your balance on a bike is now something you know so well, it's unconscious. You can do it and it just happens without thinking about it. In 4MAT terms, you're ready to ask What ifs. What if you rode while holding a parcel? What if you rode over a gravel surface? What if you let go of the handlebars for a moment? Learning NLP skills is exactly like that.
Interestingly, this model was well understood in medieval Japan. The 16th century Zen teacher Takuan explains the shift from unconscious incompetence, through conscious incompetence and conscious competence, to unconscious competence:
"Let me explain in terms of the martial arts. As a beginner you know nothing of stance or sword position, so you have nothing in yourself to dwell on mentally. If someone strikes at you, you just fight, without thinking of anything. Then when you learn various things like stance, how to wield a sword, where to place the attention, and so on, your mind lingers on various points, so you find yourself all tangled up when you try to strike. But if you practise day after day and month after month, eventually stance and swordplay don't hang on your mind any more, and you are like a beginner who knows nothing ... . The cogitating side of your brain will vanish and you will come to rest in a state where there is no concern.".
Ever known someone who got married and was unconsciously unskilled about building a relationship: someone who thought there wasn't anything to learn? Then watch them as they learn new ways of behaving. Probably they feel phoney when they try and act or speak in new ways: they're consciously skilled. It takes a lot of practice to change fully. You may even 'fall off the bike' a few times in the early stages. But in the end, it can also work. The question for us as Trainers is how to support people shifting from consciously skilled to unconsciously skilled. And that's where the Dreyfus model of expertise, described below, fits in. However, John Overdurf and Julie Silverthorn point out that there is a step beyond Unconsciously Skilled.
Step Five: Consciously Unconsciously Skilled: This is the stage you need to be at to teach. You can do the skill unconsciously, and you also know consciously how you do it at the unconscious level. This is the level that Satir and Erickson were struggling to reach, when NLP began. In terms of their therapeutic skill, there was no problem. But in terms of being able to teach that skill to others, there was a need for them to get more conscious about what was happening (unconsciously) as they did therapy. On at least two levels, that's what this article is about: your getting conscious about your unconscious skill.
Before we come back to that, though, lets check out one more model of learning.
A Model For Understanding Generalised Unconscious Skill
Stuart Dreyfus and Hubert Dreyfus (at the University of California, 1980) studied chess players and airline pilots to identify the specific differences in the strategies, sensory awareness and belief systems of novices and experts. Patricia Benner researched new nursing graduates and experienced nurse clinicians; confirming that the Dreyfus model also explained the differences between them.
The Dreyfus studies identified 5 distinct stages in the development of unconscious skill from conscious skill. I'll describe these as they relate to one-to-one work as an NLP Practitioner with clients.
- Novice. (eg. early in an NLP Practitioner course) The novice has no experience with the situations where they'll be using their training. They are taught certain context-free rules to guide what they do (adjust your voice tone to match the client's; identify the submodalities for a belief change by asking this list of questions; when a client is associating into trauma, use the trauma cure; and so on). Left alone in a situation, the novice cannot be expected to succeed because they don't know which of the "rules" are priorities, or when to make an exception to the rule. At this stage it's complex enough just to remember the rules.
- Advanced Beginner. (eg at the end of a successful NLP Practitioner course). The advanced beginner can recognise what the Dreyfus model calls "guidelines" for a situation. These are like rules, except they cannot be stated in black and white. An advanced beginner might say "I began asking about submodalities by checking distance, because she kept saying that the problem was closing in on her" or "He told me the situation was traumatic, but he had a very calm, slow voice and when I explored further it was his last counsellor who had told him that. Actually he just wanted to be more resourceful in those situations, so I decided to use collapse anchors". Guidelines can and are taught at a Practitioner course, but depend on the trainee having at least some experience of "what usually happens" so as to notice when a guideline applies. In a Practitioner course, rules can be given before a practise exercise, guidelines are best explained after.
- Competent. (eg after some weeks of NLP practical work, and/or after a Master Practitioner course. This level took 2-3 years for nurses in the Benner study to reach). The competent practitioner can manage the complexities of actual client situations, and has an ability to combine processes and design interventions as part of longer range goals. They no longer get thrown off track by "unexpected" responses to NLP processes, etc, and have a general feeling that they can "cope". The competent practitioner is at ease applying a vast array of guidelines, and so will enjoy learning from less structured, "inductive", simulation-style training's. The competent practitioner has everything ready to allocate the running of the NLP processes to their unconscious mind; they are on the threshold of unconscious skill.
- Proficient. The proficient practitioner is unconsciously skilled at the things the competent practitioner "manages". When dealing with a very complex client situation, they only need to be aware of a few most unique aspects in order to decide what to do next. It's not simply a matter of unconsciously applying the rules and guidelines however. The proficient practitioner accesses their vast array of past experiences instead of the guidelines. They therefore cannot necessarily even put into words how they are deciding. The decision comes as a response to hundreds of accessed VAKOGAd memories, rather than the Ad "principles" a competent practitioner is aware of being at ease with. A proficient practitioner, if asked, will often explain their actions in terms of "maxims" -guidelines that describe what to the novice would be unintelligible nuances of the situation; which seem to mean one thing at one time and quite another later on. Some of Richard Bandler's recent videos contain good examples of such "maxims"; suggestions which sound useful but may seem puzzlingly self-contradictory (they may also simple be self-contradictory of course!). Their criteria are no longer able to be described adequately in sensory specific terms. The leap from competent to proficient is the breakthrough in training. It's the difference that enables expertise.
- Expert. The expert has an "intuitive" grasp of the situation and zeros in on the issues that need attention without any wasted "problem solving" time. In the Dreyfus research , for example, one chess master, when asked why he made a particular move, explained "Because it felt right. It looked good". An expert will confidently challenge rules and guidelines based on such intuition. Expert practise is holistic rather than step-by- step. Both Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson were fascinated by Bandler and Grinder's ability to discern new rules and guidelines in their methods. An expert could, of course, model their own behaviour. But (if the Dreyfus model is right) the consequences of training based on such modelling is never "the same" as expert behaviour. Expert behaviour is qualitatively different; it uses experience as the comparison in the Test phase of the TOTE, instead of a set of guidelines. Experience means collected internal VAKOGAd representations of previous events. For simpler tasks, we in NLP have been innovative in developing simulations which install several hundred experiences of a particular comparison image. For a task as multifaceted as "being an NLP Practitioner" the choice is between actual experience based installation on one hand and reducing the task unholistically to separate chunks on the other.
The Dreyfus study noted that most formal (conscious) training tends to aim at the first three stages of expert development. This is extremely useful for new trainees, and very frustrating for those who are already proficient or expert, a situation we'll discuss later in the article.
On the other hand, teaching the first three stages is frustrating for the teacher, if they are an expert themself. Remember that, as an expert, they use "intuitive" maxims to guide their behaviour, and access full previous VAKOGAd experiences. They are unconsciously skilled, and they want the trainees to be unconsciously skilled as well. This is the problem that Satir and Erickson both had. Both Satir and Erickson had been teaching psychotherapists for some time when Grinder and Bandler began modelling them. But both had been trying to teach from the expert position.
This, it turns out, is a much slower way to get someone through the first stages towards expertise. John Grinder says that Erickson was very impressed when John delivered an induction using Erickson's own patterns, in their first phone conversation. Erickson himself had much less success quickly teaching someone those patterns (rules and guidelines) than Bandler and Grinder did with their linguistic model. Outside NLP, many "Ericksonian" therapists still rote learn and repeat "Ericksonian scripts" as they attempt to leap straight from unskilled to expert, without learning the rules, guidelines and maxims that make expertise work!
Novices don't want fluency, they want rules!
I believe that successful teaching of novices involves being able to reduce one's expertise to a set of guidelines, and even further to a simple set of rules. Put another way, teaching involves being able to be conscious of the processes occurring when you are unconsciously skilled at what you do. Teachers who do not do that become magnificent demonstrators of their own expertise, but their students become awestruck rather than aware. It's one thing for a student to think that Erickson is "the best therapist in the world". It's quite another to be able to do what Erickson does.
Successful teaching of novices requires the ability to oversimplify life into precise sets of points (seven plus or minus two at a time). To the expert, their own skill is an undivided flow. To the teacher of novices, that skill can be chunked into separate and specific units to be taught sequentially, in the order they are most likely to be used. Instead of rambling from subject to subject, teachers of novices benefit from creating quite non-real step by step instructions, and emphasising each of their key points at the expense of the real life merging of one truth into another. This means creating specific lists of key points (ideally no more than 7 in a list) and teaching to those points.
For example, as NLP experts, you and I may know that anchoring is just a way of reframing experiences by association, and that all rapport involves anchoring a state; we know that everything in NLP implies everything else. But teaching novices involves talking as if these things are all separate entities. As if anchoring was a thing in itself, to use after you've established rapport and set an outcome, and to use by following four basic keys to anchoring.
In teaching each NLP subject to novices, I first decide what the rules are and teach those (the "What" phase of the 4MAT). Then I demonstrate using those rules (moving us into the "How" phase of the 4MAT). I do not demonstrate doing the process the way I would as an expert. That's just showpersonship. If I do decide to use something beyond my rules, in a demonstration, my aim is to have this extra skill fit seem- lessly into the rules. I demonstrate (ie display up front) what I taught; the rules. If someone challenges the rules at this stage, I'll often ask them to hold that till after they've tried out the process.
Advanced Beginners Want Guidelines
After the trainees have completed the exercise, I discuss what actually happened, and we discover that the rules are not always perfect. As we consider "What happens if..." (the last phase of the 4MAT) I'm teaching the guidelines; when to vary the rules, when one rule takes precedence over another, when to abandon the rules. The trainees are now, in relation to that task, advanced beginners. In planning this stage of my teaching, I think carefully about how the rules relate to each other, and where one takes precedence or another becomes irrelevant.
If I had raised these issues earlier, I would have come across as denying my own rules (and supported the students staying unconsciously unskilled). For example, if a trainee complains that associating someone into a state isn't always necessary before anchoring, before they've even done any anchoring exercises, I don't get into a discussion about the guidelines. I simply acknowledge their idea, say we'll come back to it, and ask them to do the exercise. At my next time teaching that process, I'll design a preframe (see my previous article on preframing) to ensure the rule is accepted.
Beyond Conscious Training A) Case Studies
Proficient and expert practitioners will tend to find step-by-step trainings and even simplified "simulations" too reductionist (reducing real life to a set of patterns). And competent practitioners sometimes get the feeling that they've collected so many guidelines they're going to burst. They're seeking something more. So how could training support them developing from competence to expertise? How could it support the leap from accessing guidelines to accessing whole experiences and trusting your unconscious mind to select the guidelines to use? The three answers I'll discuss here are the case study, unconscious installation, and supervised practise.
By the case study I mean here an example presented by an expert, for study by practitioners. Such a study will provide examples of guidelines for advanced beginners or competent practitioners. It also provides vicarious experiential learning for practitioners moving towards expertise. Examples in the NLP literature include "Virginia Satir: The Patterns of her Magic" by Steve Andreas, "Magic In Action" by Richard Bandler, and the retelling of Milton Erickson's casework in his essays and in NLP books such as "Phoenix" by David Gordon and Maribeth Meyers- Anderson. Videos and audiotapes of advanced NLP or real client sessions are another great source. Case studies contain far more than the guidelines. A trainee can go back to them and discover their own new guidelines, or make intuitive connections to other situations. In that sense, they are packaged experience.
Many of the stories we tell as metaphors are case studies in this sense. They become a vicariously experienced addition to the trainee's collection of real life VAKOGAd experiences. You may yourself have had the experience of working with someone, and suddenly thinking "Hey; this person is just like so-and-so that Erickson worked with.". Having intuitively correlated the two cases, you then act not from rules or guidelines, and not by simply copying a script, but by responding to the deeper similarities.
Beyond Conscious Training b) Unconscious Installation
Unlike rules and guidelines, the maxims which experts use are installed at an unconscious level. When the expert attempts to explain them consciously, they often sound obscure or self-contradictory. In NLP training, I aim to install patterns such as the Milton model at an unconscious level. Having presented the patterns as rules and guidelines, most of my focus in a training goes into using them again and again, in the state (trance) that I want students to access them. In this way, the students build up a real sense of familiarity with the sound of the patterns: the type of familiarity that is called expertise. The number of VAKOGAd experiences of the Milton model needed for this to occur is dramatically less than would be expected from the years that it traditionally took for an Ericksonian therapist to learn to talk like Erickson.
Reports of the success of unconscious installation by Photoreading( also suggest that some degree of expertise is able to be assimilated without the person being conscious of the learning at all.
Beyond Conscious Training c) Supervision
By supervised practise, I mean the kind of experience practitioners get discussing their own work (especially using audio taped sessions) with a supervisor at their own or a "higher" stage of expertise. Supervision is not training, but it is a next step in developing expertise, after training. Simply attending more trainings and learning more guidelines doesn't create expertise. Supervision can. Counsellors and other change agents frequently make an ongoing arrangement to meet with a similarly trained professional (perhaps once a fortnight for one-two hours) in order to discuss their casework in supervision. I believe this is ethically appropriate for NLP Practitioners, and I recommend the following guidelines.
- Use a group format. Groups provide a wider range of experiences to share and learn from, allowing for cross fertilisation of ideas and skills. Issues described by one practitioner almost invariably provide insights for issues being dealt with by other practitioners in the group.
- Structure the sessions, to allow time for each person to discuss issues from their one to one work or their learning as a practitioner.
- Focus on the outcome of expertise. Traditional counselling supervision is focused on problems, just as traditional counselling is. Celebrate successes as well as puzzling over unsolved cases.
- Direct the supervision at the practitioner's next step towards expertise. Emphasise rules with new practitioners, and share guidelines with those who have memorised the rules and found the exceptions. For competent practitioners, though, explore the unique challenges of each particular client relationship, and share stories of other similar relationships. Explore the unique ways in which the practitioner is behaving towards this client, as clues to how they could improve their success.
Case Study: A. Introductory Level
Recently our organisation ran a series of short (one and a half hour) training sessions, some for 100 people new to NLP and some for 50 NLP Practitioners. The comparison of my two sessions (one at each level) illustrates much of what I've described above.
My session for people new to NLP explored the topic of Visionary Leadership. Dealing with people who were mainly unconsciously skilled about such NLP refinements as Time Lines, first second and third position, mission setting and sensory system use, I spent approximately half my session answering the "Why" question. I told stories about a collection of visionary leaders: Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Kate Sheppard (who enabled New Zealand to be the first country which gave the vote to women), Steve Gurney (New Zealand's top triathelete, and an ardent advocate of our NLP services), Kate White (editor of Redbook magazine) and Ted Turner. In doing so I explained how each of these people embodied certain basic qualities of visionary leadership, which enabled them to succeed. I framed NLP as the systematic study and replication of such excellence. By the time I asked if they would be interested in learning how to do this, people were all but pleading to be told (which I treat as a positive response).
My handout listed nine keys to visionary leadership. These are "rules", in the Dreyfus model, and included such things as setting a mission, having a long future time line, and being able to use the three perceptual positions. They suggested that Visionary Leadership is a step by step process: "Do A, B and C and you get D". I went through these rules illustrating each by referring back to my original examples (this is the "What" phase). I then focused on one of these nine (sense of mission) and had the participants each answer four questions leading to their identification of a personal mission (giving them a sample of the "How" of Visionary Leadership). They discussed their responses in pairs, and we concluded with a few brief questions ("What if"). This was a moving experience: One older man stood up to say that he had finally found something he'd been searching for all his life. Several were in tears, describing the power of the process.
Case Study: B. Advanced Level
My workshop for the NLP Practitioners was on setting tasks for clients. It needed very little answering of the "Why" question because these participants had already worked with clients and knew that there would be advantages to being able to ensure clients took more responsibility for their changes. I wound into the session by telling a couple of inspiring stories of Milton Erickson's work setting tasks with clients. I briefly outlined a series of pre-framing issues about setting tasks, and had them get into pairs ready for the exercise.
Each person was then asked to tell their partner about a change they wanted to make in their life (ideally one that they had tried to achieve previously and not yet succeeded with). They used the preframing I had just explained to set up an agreement with their partner, to design a task for their partner's change issue. They then separated and I began going through a series of general categories of therapeutic task, detailing where each would be useful, and giving examples from my own and others' work. While this answered the "What" question, it was also part of the "How" because each person was searching for a useful task to set for their partner. After my presentation of the types of task, they took ten minutes to select and design a task for their partner, met together again, and delivered the task. They had arranged to contact each other by phone in one month's time to check the results. We closed with a brief question time to deal with "What if" issues.
In this workshop, then, my focus was not on rules. I gave some guidelines for selecting tasks, but relied on my case illustrations to convey the feeling of how I choose tasks. And the participants were engaged in a live case study as they learned. Most of the session was taken up by "What" and "How". My aim was to shift students further along the path from being just consciously skilled, towards expertise. Participants said at the end that they felt more equipped to actually use tasking in their practices.
Putting The Three Models Together
Robert Dilts emphasises the value of getting three different descriptions of any situation. In this article we've considered Teaching and Learning from the perspective of three separate models. The first model is Bernice McCarthy's 4MAT, identifying a learning cycle in which individual learners may focus on Why?, What?, How? and What if?
The second model is Abraham Maslow's Learning Steps model, in which learning is considered to happen in a sequence of Unconsciously Unskilled, Consciously Unskilled, Consciously Skilled and Unconsciously Skilled. Julie Silverthorn and John Overdurf add to that sequence the trainer's stance: Consciously Unconsciously Skilled.
The third model is Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus model of Expertise, which holds that expertise develops through the levels of Novice (rules), Advanced Beginner (guidelines), Competent (integrated guidelines), Proficient (accessing past experience and unconscious maxims), and Expert (intuitive). I recommended case studies, unconscious installation and supervision as processes for Competent, Proficient and Expert practitioners.
These models are only guidelines. But by integrating them and developing your own maxims, you'll enrich your teaching. For more case studies of their use, I'd recommend two processes.
- Check out some videos of NLP training by trainers you want to use as models.
- Video or audio record your next training, and discuss it with a colleague, bearing in mind these guidelines.
John Moffit may have been right. He was paid to teach, and he was teaching. There are many things to learn about teaching. But that's not really what this article is about. It's about Learning. That's why you teach.
Dr Richard Bolstad is an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer who has worked with clients individually and as a trainer of groups since 1990. He can be contacted at PO Box 35111, Browns Bay, Auckland, New Zealand, Phone/Fax: +64-9-478-4895 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.transformations.net.nz
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