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NLP was developed in the mid-70s by John Grinder, a Professor at UC Santa Cruz and Richard Bandler, a graduate student. NLP, as most people use the term today, is a set of models of how communication impacts and is impacted by subjective experience. It's more a collection of tools than any overarching theory.

Much of early NLP was based on the work of Virginia Satir, a family therapist; Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy; Gregory Bateson, anthropologist; and Milton Erickson, hypnotist.


The Featured Books are selections that I believe will be of interest to the readers of the site. I recommend books on related topics, rather than simply recommending pure NLP. For the most part, I emphasize writing clarity and relevance of content. There is a lot of excellent stuff out there for those of us interested in the human mind, learning, and brain sciences.

August 99, Difficult Conversations : How to Discuss What Matters Most

August 1999

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Difficult Conversations : How to Discuss What Matters Most
by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen.

Wow. This book is probably the best book I’ve ever read on how to approach conflict management. It lays out a very simple framework for difficult conversations. Each conversation is really three conversations: one about facts and history, one about feelings, and one about identity. Especially in business, it’s the facts conversation we are taught to pay attention to.

In fact, the authors propose, most difficult conversations are difficult mainly because feelings and identity issues are involved. And they proceed to lay out a framework for understanding the difficulties and dealing with them. Each of the three conversations is explored in depth, along with common pitfalls and common success strategies. Unlike many books of this type, the strategies are specific, well-documented, and easy to adopt.

The book is written simply and clearly, with ample real-life anecdotes and examples that illustrate the points. The final chapter is taken up with a transcript of a "difficult conversation" and a step-by-step explanation and analysis of what’s going on.

If you have ever had a difficult conversation not turn out the way you wanted, or if you will be having a difficult conversation any time in the future, grab this book and read it cover to cover. It’s a gem.

ORDER “Difficult Conversations”


June 1999

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Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions
by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, Howard Raiffa, 1998.

Decision strategies galore!

This book is a wonderfully accessible presentation of state of the art techniques for making good decisions. The book lays out a simple framework for approaching decisions: Problem definition, Objectives, Alternatives, Consequences, Tradeoffs, Uncertainties. It then goes through each step of the decision making and shares anecdotes, examples, and specific techniques for that part of the decision process.

What makes this book exceptional is that it is based on research of good decision making. The section on trade-offs, for example, demonstrates how to simplify a set of choices by recognizing that sometimes different-seeming choices can actually be equal.

Much of the wisdom from this book comes from deceptively simple observations: your decision will only ever be as good as your best alternative, and most people spend very little time in the generating-alternatives phase of decision making.

I learned a lot from this book about how to make good decisions. I’ve re-read it twice, now, and taken extensive notes. It’s got so much good stuff in it that I’m still incorporating it into my behavior. If you care about making good decisions, this is the book for you.

ORDER “Smart Choices”


April 1999

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The Inner Game of Tennis
by W. Timothy Gallwey, 1997.

This book is virtually a classic in how to train and learn physical sports. Gallwey never set out to invent a new way of teaching tennis, but over time as a tennis instructor, he developed several principles which make it possible for anyone to learn tennis rapidly.

Gallwey explores the relationship between “Self 1” and "Self 2," which NLPers would call the conscious and unconscious minds. Self 1 is evaluative and analytical, while Self 2 is about doing and being.Learning works best when Self 1 sets a direction and then gets out of the way. Self 2 is a naturally exquisite learner that—properly harnessed—can learn incredibly quickly.

The teaching and learning techniques are presented in the context of tennis, but they apply to almost anything you want to learn. The book is a fast read, and it gives simple, usable instructions on how to direct your brain to learn quickly, without the self-criticism and obstacles that are so common when learning a new skill.

ORDER “The Inner Game of Tennis”


November / December 1998

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How We Know What Isn’t So
The Fallability of Human Reason in Everyday Life

by Thomas Gilovich, 1991.

Thomas Gilovich presents a wonderful overview of how the things we think we know, we really don’t. His book explores how human beings form beliefs, especially beliefs that don’t corresponds to reality.

The first section of the book sheds light on cognitive belief processes: how we find order even in randomness, how we infer too much from incomplete data, and how we interpret ambiguities to suit our own beliefs.

The next section explains how social phenomena affect belief: how motivation factors into belief formation, how we over-use second hand information (yow! can you say “media?”), and how we often fall victim to the perceived beliefs of the masses.

The book draws from cognitive psychology, decision making, and social psychology to make its points. It is well thought out, and does a good job of presenting information about how we misreason in daily life. The bibliography is extensive, and pretty much everything he says is well substantiated.

Gilovich’s "part 3" takes some time to debunk alternative health practices and ESP. I found this section interesting, because for some of his topics, he seems to fall prey to his own fallacies. He assumes these things are fallacious, and then explains how people use faulty reasoning to believe that they’re true. But the fact that people are reasoning poorly doesn’t mean their beliefs aren’t true; it just means that we don’t know one way or another. And while he’s good at debunking, proper, well-reasoned debunking would involve doing actual studies to support the debunking.

This last part is especially worth reading if, like me, you are a fan of alternative health practices. While he doesn’t convince me that I should run right out and believe only in conventional medicine, being aware of the faulty thinking that can surround alternative practices helps me pick and choose my beliefs more wisely.

All in all, this is a great book for understanding many ways in which beliefs get formed. If you don’t believe me, buy the book and read it yourself! grin

ORDER “How We Know What Isn’t So”


October 1998

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The Psychology of Persuasion

by Robert Cialdini, 1993.

Influence is without a doubt one of the most accessible volumes published on recent advances in social psychology and influence. Cialdini presents a series of specific principles which have been shown experimentally to trigger compliance reactions from people. The book is filled with real life examples, from Tupperware to jewelrey sales. Social psychology differs from NLP in that it is about statistical results, not individuals. Influence discusses techniques that, when used with many people, works with most of them. For any given person, however, you never know whether a given technique will work.

One of the principles presented is the notion that putting a principle in writing publicly produces future compliance with the principle. The principle dates back to Chinese brainwashing techniques, in which a prisoner would be asked to write an essay on the virtues of communism. Even though they didn’t agree with the position they were taking, the act of writing it would produce just a little more compliance next time…with the ultimate result of a true change of position.

Cialdini presents the material in a conversational tone, with lots of stories about the slimy compliance professionals who use these techniques to trigger automatic buying behavior. He then presents techniques for helping to defend yourself against the slimy compliance tactics.

His techniques for overcoming the compliance techniques must work. Cialdini himself has committed in writing to being on the side of the consumer. By his own principles, one would imagine Cialdini’s subsequent actions would be consistent with that position.

About eight months ago, I received a flyer about Robert Cialdini’s sales course for business professionals. The flyer used as many of the techniques as can be used in print, and I’m sure that the workshop itself was open to the slimy compliance professionals as well as serious students of psychology. Clearly Mr. Cialdini has found a way to overcome his previous, inconvenient written position of being anti-sleaze.

That aside, the book is absolutely fantastic. No NLPer should be without it. The techniques work, and they work frighteningly well.

ORDER NOW; EVERY SERIOUS NLPer OWNS THIS BOOK. The book could go out of print any time, now, so act fast. Besides, compared to a $595 persuasion seminar, $9 is nothing.

ORDER “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”


September 1998

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The Battle for Your Mind

by Al Ries and Jack Trout, 1993.

If you’ve ever been curious about marketing, and how to make a company/product succeed, read this marketing classic. Ries and Trout take a very NLPish/brain-based approach to understanding how people think about products. They note that people think in various categories, e.g. soft drinks or safety or home products. Good marketing then attempts to anchor those categories to names and products in the marketplace. Even if you don’t drink it, you know that Coke is the Real Thing when it comes to Cola. As long as Coke occupies that “niche” in people’s minds, they’ll stay on top.

The book is very easy to read, sprinkled with lots of examples, and made more sense than my marketing class at Harvard Business School ever did. Two other excellent books by Ries and Trout that I recommend are Marketing Warfare and Bottom-Up Marketing.

If you run an NLP center, this book is a must. Ask yourself who owns the word “NLP” in the market’s mind [never mind legally]. You’ll probably conclude that no one really own it. But there is tremendous opportunity to own niches in the NLP market. Give it some thought. I have a couple of specific examples, but I’m not going to list them here... evil grin

ORDER “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind”


August 1998

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Words That Change Minds: Mastering the Language of Influence, 2nd edition

by Shelle Rose Charvet, 1992.

Shelle Rose Charvet is without a doubt the world’s best trainer of NLP’s “metaprograms.” Metaprograms are a linguistic model first made explicit by Leslie Cameron-Bandler and Rodger Bailey. Metaprograms reveal how a person motivates themself and how they process information. For example, one metaprogram is motivation direction—is a person being motivated towards a goal, or away from something they don’t like. A person’s language will tell you where there motivation is coming from. By then matching the metaprogram language, you can tap into their motivation. Powerfully.

Shelle’s book is the first really comprehensive, in-depth discussion of metaprograms in print: she presents each pattern and its characteristic language patterns, and explores how that metaprogram impacts a person’s motivation, workstyle, preferred jobs, and ways of interacting with others.

It’s her very, very deep understanding of how metaprograms interact that draw me to Shelle’s work. While most NLPers are asking, “is that person being ‘towards’ or ‘away-from’ right now?” Shelle is asking, “How does a ‘towards, reactive, sameness sorter’ perform when working for a boss who is usually ‘towards, proactive, options?’” She touches on the effects of combinations in this book, and it’s whetted my appetite for more. Maybe if we buy enough copies of volume 1, she can be persuaded to share her really advanced stuff in volume 2!

ORDER “Words that Change Minds”


July 1998

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Don’t Shoot the Dog
The New Art of Teaching and Training

by Karen Pryor, 1985.

Don’t Shoot The Dog is an excellent presentation of the basic principles of behavioral conditioning and how to use them. Ms. Pryor is an animal trainer, who applies behaviorism both to animals and—very respectfully—to humans.

Pryor discusses the types of reinforcement (positive and negative), and the subtleties of how they work: what the effects are of rewards, punishments, etc.

The most intriguing part of the book deals with “shaping,” the reinforcement of behavior a little bit at a time, which eventually produces substantial change. The shaping chapter was followed up by several examples of how the same behavior could be shaped using any of 10 different behaviorism principles. Interestingly, our society’s favorite principle, punishment, is one of the least effective ways to produce change.

“Don’t Shoot the Dog” taught me a lot about behaviorism. My only prior exposure to behaviorism was “anchoring:” connecting a stimulus with a response, and later resupplying the stimulus. This book started there, and took me far beyond anything I’d ever learned in an NLP seminar. It’s a great book.

ORDER “Don’t Shoot the Dog”


June 1998

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Due to my being out of town, there was no June selection.


May 1998

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The Art of Systems Thinking: Essential Skills for Creativity and Problem Solving
by Joseph O’Connor, Ian McDermott, 1998.

NLP’s early development was heavily influenced by Gregory Bateson and systems thinking. Systems thinking is somewhat the opposite of traditional Western scientific thinking. While the scientific method is about isolating parts of a system and understanding the pieces, systems thinking is about understanding the relationships within a system, and how all the parts affect the others. For example, a thermostat and heater must be analyzed as a system. There is no way to analyze the two individually and still understand the behavior of each; they only make sense as a system.

I was so intrigued by systems thinking that I went down the road to MIT and audited the System Dynamics class, an extremely rigorous version of systems thinking. It was an amazing experience.

In this book, Joseph and Ian manage the best introduction to general systems thinking I’ve seen anywhere in the NLP community. They address the major components of systems thinking step by step, making it very accessible. They explicitly tie it to NLP and self-improvement techniques, but the primary thrust of the book is learning to think about the world systemically.

ORDER “The Art of Systems Thinking”


April 1998

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Decision Traps : Ten Barriers to Brilliant Decision-Making and How to Overcome Them
by J. Edward Russo, Paul Shoemaker, 1990.

This book explores a field known as “behavioral decision theory.” It introduces several ways in which our brains seem almost hard-wired to reason certain (illogical!) ways in different situations. For example, when stating statistics, the way they are stated dramatically affects our interpretation. Reporting a drug as having “10% chance of adverse side effects” will cause people to make different decisions than if it’s reported that the drug has a “90% chance of having only the desired effect.” The book draws on many everyday phenomena to make its point, and is a fun read.

If you have prior NLP experience, here’s an instructive exercise: play around with each decision trap discussed in the book until you can produce it in yourself. Next, examine the submodalities of the experience and figure out what it is about the way you represent the data that causes you to engage in the fallacy. Now the fun begins: can you figure out alternate representations or strategies that would help you overcome that fallacy, or never fall prey to it? If so, send me a write-up and I’ll post it on the Web site.

ORDER “Decision Traps”


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