NLP has adopted a hierarchy system in order to allow NLP Practitioners recognise peoples thinking patterns. When you can figure out how people are thinking, then you can assist them in making better choices. This is the art of training and coaching.  The NLP Neurological levels of thinking model provides lots of food for thought:

Language is not just understanding the dictionary meaning/ definition of words. Language is a vehicle that expresses the internal state of an individual.

Sometimes the words that we speak are not really who we are. We have modelled our use of language from others and so may not be skilled in the use of language to communicate precisely who we are. We may for example try to say that we are not able to do something (skills level) but in fact what we mean is that we are not confident enough at it (belief level). In this case, the feedback we will get is someone showing us how to do it – something which we already know – and then feel humiliated and not helped.

Being aware of the Neurological Levels will help us to identify exactly from which level we are communicating and whether it is that level that we want to communicate from.

It also helps us to respond appropriately to others: it will help us to see from which level the other is communicating and respond accordingly thus facilitating communication, making the other feel understood and helped and maintaining / establishing rapport.

Apart from being important in interpersonal communication it is also important in intrapersonal communication. When I am aware and can discern from which level I am communicating something with self, I may address it in the right way.

Let me take the example given above – if I say I am not able to do something, I may read and try to learn more how to do it. But if, however, the statement is at belief level – meaning that I am not confident is using such skill – what I need to target is more the building of confidence, elimination of fears and insecurities, rather than skill-based knowledge.

As explained in this module the Neurological Level concept is also very important in organisations – both in training as well as in managing and motivating people. The importance of being aware not to label people from an identity level – saying for example, this person is resistant or this person is destructive. Instead of doing so one has to analyse the language the person is using and see at what level is the difficulty – maybe the person does not feel valued or the person feels excluded in decision making thus rendering them to become critical and demotivated.

The understanding of the neurological levels of change can help me:

  • to use my words better in order to have a better chance of getting what I want.
  • it will help me also in my work as a psychologist to help others get what they want,
  • another benefit is when I am asked to carry some corporate training
  • Lastly but not least it will help me in my role as manager

Realising that language is our main filter of communication makes me realize the importance of the words I use when speaking to others as well when I am speaking to myself (mental self talk). It is the words and the structure of the words I use which will distort, generalise or delete certain aspects of reality to myself and to others.

I need to pay attention to the language I use as that is reflecting what neurological level I am thinking on.

For example if I say I am a shy person, I am speaking on an identity level. I am generalising because If “I am a shy person” I will be like that in every situation and always; I am deleting from my immediate consciousness instances where I was assertive and where I spoke my mind without any fear or anxiety; thus I will be distorting the actual reality. I may distort even by putting information about situations where I was not shy into the picture of I am a shy person; for example by saying “Yes ok, I managed to approach a person that day but that was only because he/she smiled to me, or because I had a drink.”

Thus evidence which contradicts the identity statement will be distorted and put into the picture of the identity statement.

If I say “I believe I am a shy person”. I am expressing a belief on an identity. Saying “I lack confidence to approach a stranger” – will be expressing a belief about myself.

On the other hand if I say “I do not know how to approach a stranger” – there I will be speaking on capabilities. It may also be expressed “When I am in an informal gathering and there is some person I do not know whom I would like to speak to I feel inhibited/ anxious and do not approach him/ her”.

Here I am describing my behaviour in a particular environment. By doing so I will be diluting the problem / difficulty by changing the neurological level I am thinking / speaking from. Here I am realising that it is not an identity issue to a situational issue and that it has to do with confidence / anxiety in a particular situation.

If I am at a job interview or speaking to one of my superiors and say “I am shy”, I may not get the job or not given a responsibility / opportunity I want. When in actual fact it is not true that I am shy because when it comes to business matters, professional related situations I do not experience any of that anxiety / shyness.

Helping relationships

Realising what neurological level I am thinking on helps me also in my relationships with others, whether subordinates, colleagues, friends or clients. I may have a tendency to speak form identity level saying “that person is rude”, “that person is resistant”. By doing so I will be cutting off the individual – generalising, deleting and distorting information to conform to that identity statement.

The behaviour is not what the person is – a person’s behaviour is not his/her identity – this really had an impact on me. Though I knew this before (theoretically so to say) it had never stuck me so clearly as when I listened to you speaking about is in the context of the neurological levels. I am training myself not to go from a lower level up i.e. for example form a behaviour inferring an identity.

Helping overcome challenges in communication at work

This unit has helped me also to try to explore what are certain challenges at work. For example when some of my subordinates object to something. I am now starting to refrain from going to an identity level and saying “this person is difficult” etc. I am starting to try to explore from what level is he or her speaking – is it because the person does not feel / believe that he / she is treated as a professional because his/her opinion was not sought before? Is it because of a fear that he / she will not be comfortable doing something different? Is it because they lack the skill of doing or is it because they believe they do not know how go about it? Paying attention to such neurological levels is helping me and am sure will continue to help me more once I master their use even more.

This helps me to target the real issue and think about a solution on the appropriate level.

Paying attention to the culture persons have about their work and / or the situation they are in.

This helps me also because concentrating on my life-vision when going to work – to be able to help others and contribute towards a better generation – will transform all other lower levels and help me focus on the mission which motivates me. Seeing my work through that perspective.

It helps me also in working with clients and in training. It is interesting to note that in order to introduce change in a person and / or organisation you need to start from a higher level. As you have rightly said, we generally start training /helping form the level of skill / competence but we need to explore whether we need to start from the level of belief first; or else form the level of identity or indeed mission.

These lessons helped me to realise how the neurological levels show me how myself and others are structuring a problem and thus how this can be targeted to bring about the desired change and thus a successful outcome.

“The Neurological Levels concept is also known as Dilts Logical Levels and was developed by Robert Dilts in the early days of NLP, taking much of his inspiration from the work of Gregory Bateson and is used for exploring opportunities and problem solving.  There are six logical levels although some other models used by other practitioners have five or seven levels, and when the different levels of thinking are in congruence with each other, the person is experiencing a meaningful and purposeful life.  Listening to the language that people use when they start to complain about a situation, we can realise at what level of the logical levels of change to pay attention too and to meet the need at the right level to get them back on track.  Changing something on a lower NLP logical level of the hierarchy could, but would not necessarily affect the levels above it. However… making a change at an upper level would necessarily change everything below it in order to support the higher level change, so it is necessary to work at the level above the one we are trying to influence for success.  If you make a change at a lower level but the problem is at a higher NLP logical level then the change is not likely to last.

The Logical Levels provide a structured way of understanding what’s going on in any system including the human personality, a partnership or marriage, a family, a team, a department, or even an organisation.

We can use the model to recognise how the various levels interact and how they are related. And it provides a means of

  • Asking for, and verifying the relevance of, information
  • Keeping track, in a highly structured manner, of the huge amount of information is often available when discussing an issue
  • Recognising at which level a problem is occurring
  • Recognising the most appropriate level at which to target the solution.

The six levels are:

Mission & Purpose (Spirituality) – Referring to the larger system of which we are part.  Where are we going with our life? With which people?  and what contribution to the world we intend on making.

Identity – How we think of ourselves, our self esteem, our sense of self, and our unique value. This can include identifying with our job, marriage, religion, etc. it can also include how we interpret events in terms of our own self-worth.

Beliefs & Values – Our emotionally held views, whether we believe something is possible or impossible, whether we believe it is necessary or unnecessary, whether or not we feel motivated about it.

Capability & Skills – Whether or not we have instinctive capabilities and/or learned skills for dealing appropriately with issues, and what qualities and strategies we use.

Behaviour – What we do and say, Our external behaviours which may include, for example, what an observer would see or hear or feel when they are engaged in a particular activity.

Environment – Our surroundings, the people around us and places we go and work in etc that we are interacting with, and responding to.

How can this concept help me and others? 

Logical levels can help me in a counselling environment  by clarifying how they perceive a situation is to them. This could be what they are thinking, the ideas they have and what the real issues in their life may be, plus identifying where a problem may come from, eg within the workplace, relationships or family by gently challenging them with questions associated with the levels .

The company I work for is about to go through a very big change where we are about to move premises.  This type of change will no doubt effect different people in different ways, some positive and some negative. I have already had someone doubt their own capabilities due to some tasks assigned to them so I’ll start to work on their beliefs and values and see how they react.

The NLP logical levels  are very useful for assisting with understanding change from an individual, social or organizational point of view.  Sometimes people find that NLP techniques worked great at changing an unwanted behaviour for a short period of time, but eventually the unwanted behaviour returns. This may be because that if the new behaviour was not in alignment with the person’s beliefs and values or identity at the time then the higher level would override the lower level.  Understanding this would help make me a better practitioner by highlighting at what level work needs to be done to achieve their desired change and how I could intervene,  interact and help them solve problems.”

The Neurological Levels of Change model, developed by Robert Dilts, is useful for bringing about learning and change through identifying the language a person uses. We learn language from a very early age by modelling, leading to us filter it in a largely unconscious way. Listening to the words a person uses gives us an insight into their level of thinking. The focus is as much on how the person says what they say (process or structure) as what they say (content).

The model begins with environment (which focuses on where); then behaviour (which focuses on what a person does and says); then capabilities (which focuses on skills and qualities); then beliefs and values (or the views we hold emotionally or things which are important to us); then identity (which focuses on how a person sees themselves); and finally mission (which relates to a person’s purpose in the world).

The NLP Practitioner can infer how a person is thinking (eg why a project might be stuck) from the words they use, and thus work with them to find a solution (eg what needs to change to move forward).

I used the Neurological Levels of Change as an exercise with myself, looking at my own lack of motivation in organising a family holiday. I worked through the concept from environment up to mission. I discovered that what I had thought was a behaviour level issue was in fact to do with identity and a clash between how I see myself and how (I believe) the rest of the family see me.

According to the model, in order to bring about change, a person or organisation needs to work at the level above the one they want to influence. So, for me in a professional context, if I am trying to influence a change in behaviour in line with the organisation’s competency framework, I might need to work with the group at the beliefs level to ensure that they believe that they can change or that the training I am delivering is any good.

Neurological Levels of Change are useful in learning, solving a problem or bringing about change. Through asking open questions, the NLP Practitioner can use the levels of change to identify where the problem has occurred and therefore how to find a solution.

This might be in an organisational situation, such as managing a project, or as an intervention with an individual who is stuck, perhaps held back by a limiting belief, or even with oneself.

I can see how the exercise might be useful in my professional life. For example, when preparing myself for facilitating a training course or an away day, I could carry out the exercise I mentioned above to align my thinking and to get in the zone.

I can also see how I could use this with a whole group to embed their learning, and enable them to take their personal learning forward (so that the focus is more on how they apply it rather than the specific content or knowledge).

“In this part of our NLP training we looked at the power of language and the meaning behind the words people use to communicate. As words are reflective of what people feel and as language is our main filter, it is important to be consciously aware of the words we use when communicating as well as the words people use when communicating to us.

By being consciously aware of what we say is a huge benefactor in enabling people to be the best they can be. The results we get from people are heavily influenced by what we say based on the language being linguistically coded. What is important to understand is how the use of words in the sentences we shape can impact the results we want to achieve. The words we use enable choice and flexibility to progress and move forward in both life and the choices we make.

Our attitudes, memories, decisions and values are all described through our language, there for the way we use the language when we communicate with both our self and other can either be limiting or enabling. Through language we express ourselves in three way, speaking, writing, and gestures.

As we listen to language it is important to understand what level people are communicating at, if someone is off track or lacks engagement when conversing with you, by listening to their response  you can determine how you should  respond and what level of language is required to get the person back o track.  Everybody has their own neurological needs model and it is important to understand what level they are thinking at to enable the change you want to see.

If I am communicating something I don’t believe in, then the chances are this will be reflected through the words I used, my tonality and physiology the results of which will be seen by the audience who will instinctively be able to identify my true feelings and emotions by the way in which I have communicated.

When people speak you are able to identify what level of language they are communicating at, therefore it is this recognition that will enable me to engage this individual once I have understood where their language is coming from.  Language is great because it enables you to recognise at what level they are communicating at.  When people speak to you and by listening to what they say you are able to identify the structure of how they are creating the language and where it is being formed i.e., identity, beliefs & values, capabilities, behavior, environment.  Once you have recognsied where it is coming from, you can then construct the language in which your reply to focus in on that very element that it preventing them from moving forward. If you concentrate on the structure of what is being said as opposed to the problems, then you can focus your attention on the way you should response in line with the way it is being shaped.

If you pay attention to the person you are able to listen to how their response is being constructed. If you can find out linguistically how it has been built, then you can start to build a solution using the same framework they are using in their language. If you listen to what is being said and pay attention to the words used then you can structure your language and reply in the same pathway they are using to vocalise their feelings or emotions. By finding out linguistically how they have built the problem, you can then start to unpack it using the same pathway they have used in order to overcome the way they feel about it. If you respond using a different pathway then the chances of the individual being able to move forward are limited as a result of differences in the way the language is being formed.

When communicating with someone who lacks understanding or is unsure about the change being presented, you can identify the trigger in their language by just listening.  If you can understand the individual and understand how they are thinking, you can then begin to build a way forward based on the fact that you are able to focus on the very thing that is causing the problem. You will then change your language pattern to match the individual to ensure rapport, connection and understanding, however if they communicate using beliefs and you respond using a different language pattern, then you have not identified the true course of the problems and where it is being constructed from.

Identity level statements –  By being consciously aware of the way in which I use language to describe a person to myself mentally or to others, can really impact on the way in which I project myself both verbal, expressively and in my physiology. By labeling people I am projecting the difficulties i expect through the way in which I represent myself.  I understand that what I project to people is the expectation as to how I expect them to behave, so by being aware of my projection and the identify level statements I use, can only project a better interaction and positive outcome for both me and the person involved.

Performance management interaction

By listening to the language used when conversing with individuals enables me to establish what area I need to pay direct attention to in order to get them back on track using language as the main tool of influence.

Everyone has their own neurological needs model that has been met at some point, however by listening to the responses of individuals and looking out for indicators in their communication pathway allows me to structure my responses accordingly by paying attention to the specific way they communicate and respond accordingly using the following beliefs & values, capabilities, behaviour, environment.

Enabling change – positive results

When introducing change into the workplace people need to be motivated in order to accept it, no matter what the company wants to achieve, unless the individual is motivated within their own right then they will not linguistically take to the change that is required. People are not satisfied unless they are understood and heard, if I hear these responses and identify where the language is placed and being represented, then I can then begin to question the individual in the same language in order to understand and resolve the problem.

If someone expressed a problem to me, then I am now able to identify that they are putting a structured frame around the problem and separating it for identifying the solution. Through listening to the way the individual converses and the language they use, I can slowly begin to understand the structure of the problem and what surrounds the problem by listening to the language to enable me to identify if the problems is related to identity, beliefs & values, capabilities, behavior, environment.

By finding out linguistically how the problem has been built, I can then start to build my own language in the same way but with a solution base projection or reaffirmation to overcome  their though  at that moment.

So if someone was to say “I don’t think I will hit my targets this month as I don’t seem to be able to monitor where I am” This statement enables me to understand that this individual is communicating both at belief and behavioral level. There for by understanding the individual’s train of thought based on the language they use, I can respond accordingly to support the individual to address these concerns and come up with a way to ensure success.

The benefits will be that the individual feels that they have been understood by the way in which I respond to them. By understanding the use of language and words used, I can work with the individual to ensure a successful outcome based on the understanding of the words they use and what level they are thinking at that time.

This level of communication gives me an insight to their emotions and how they are feeling, and it is through the recognition of speech and words used that I can then begin to help them move forward.  If i did not understand the important’s of language then my responses could be communicated in the wrong context resulting in the member of staff being disengaged as a result of being misunderstood.

If I was to respond using Environment and said “ You work for a good company you have good customers, stay focused and you will achieve it” this would not be attuned to the way the individual was communicating and thinking, as a result the person would feel as if they were not being heard.  By listening to the triggers in language I will be able to understand where I need to focus my attention to enable future change based on the way in which i respond.”

The Neurological Level concept is an NLP model that acts Iike a ‘detective agency’. It allows us to hear language used by ourselves, including self-talk as well as language used by others, and then to apply the model to detect where problems are being constructed within the neurology of either ourselves or the other person.

We can detect where problems are being constructed by looking into the language being used. We can then know at what neurological level the problems are being held. In this way the problem can be met and solved. In applying the Neurological Level model to change the problem expressed through language, the most effective level at which to work is the level above where the problem is being held.

If someone says to me ‘I can’t practice yoga’, I know that they are constructing that problem at the level of beliefs and values. I can then meet them at the level of their identity and change their belief about themselves being able to practice yoga.

If someone says to me ‘My leg is stiff and I can’t practice yoga” then I know that they have constructed their problem in relation to their beliefs about their capabilities. Again, I can meet them at their identity level to explain that it is possible to modify yoga practice to accommodate stiffness in the leg. I am therefore changing their beliefs about their capabilities and what is possible for them.

If someone says to me ‘I am a Catholic and so I can’t practice yoga” I know that they are speaking from an identity level. I can meet them at their mission level and explain that as a Catholic they can still practice yoga as there is no requisite religious belief or spirituality involved. They can still have their identity as a Catholic and practice yoga.

In applying the model in this way I am appealing to their ‘higher selves’ and not restricting their understanding for change to the lower, less effective levels. The change can them percolate downwards and positively affect the lower levels of neurology as expressed through the NLP Neurological Levels of Change model.

Language is a powerful, influential, key filter that we use as demonstrated in the NLP Communication Model. Language is learned and influenced from our environment and relationships as we grow up and develop. Language helps to create out internal representations. We construct our reality through our choice of words and from the way that we construct meaning and sentences from those words. The powerful result can be either positive or negative. We express our problems through language, having already constructed these problems within our neurology. The Neurological Levels model gives us access to those neurological realities and from there we can make better choices of language and so create better outcomes throughout our mind/ body experience.

This tool is an extraordinary way to get to the root of the problems that we create for ourselves and dissolve them at source.

In applying this model we are changing deeply held patterns that may be running a negative programme.

A key component of change using this model is to listen to and be aware of language. Our choice of words is key to discovering what the internal landscape of our minds and bodies is made up of.

To benefit myself immediately I can be aware of the words that I am using in self-talk and to others. By asking myself questions I can reveal the language that I am using to create my reality at a mind/ body level. I can identify the meaning I am giving to the words I use. I can identify the structure of the sentences I am using and I can notice where problems are being expressed through my choice of language.

Once I have noticed problems being expressed through my choice of words I can apply the Neurological Levels model and identify which part of my neurology is holding that constructed problem. Working at the level above the location of the problem I can deconstruct and unravel the core of the problem. I can make choices about the words I now use and the original problem ceases to exist because it is no longer held within my neurology.

Similarly I can appraise the language used by others to express their problems. I can detect the core of the problem and invite new language choices to be made.

This model can be used for an individual, a business, a relationship or any other aspect of life where problems are being expressed through language.