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Doing it in Style

"NLP at Work" by Sue Knight

Review by Mark McKergow

This book is pitched fair and square at the NLP beginner. It is by no means the first such work - so can Sue Knight make a space for herself alongside the other authors who have attempted to engage people coming to NLP for the first time? I have tried to answer that question by pulling a few other introductory NLP books off the shelf and comparing them with this one. The answer is a definite "Yes!".

The (nicely ambiguous) title "NLP at Work" is a clue to the fact that this book is intended primarily for those who might want to use NLP, in the first instance anyway, to help improve their performance at work and in business. Again, this is not the first book to tackle that particular area. It comes well presented in a low-key fashion, without the hysteria that sometimes dangles from the kind of business books that promise YOUR TOTAL GUIDE TO FAME AND FORTUNE.... This is a solid presentation of the NLP basics as they might be useful to someone who doesn't have (or isn't bothered about!) phobias and painful experiences, but who just wants to get on and do things better for themselves.

The author says that her aim has been to "provide a simple and usable guide to NLP at work". She has deliberately avoided jargon wherever possible, and if words like "universal quantifiers", "complex equivalence" and "metaprograms" are really important to you then you may find this book disappointing. However, the ideas and skills behind these words are most definitely present, and are communicated with sensitivity. There are many examples of individuals and groups in particular situations, some of the "NLP classics" and many more from the author's own experience as a consultant and trainer, which all help to convey the ideas and approaches under discussion. The whole book comes across to me as both sympathetic and clear.

The sequence in which the wide range of NLP is presented has obviously been carefully considered, and Sue Knight has chosen an interestingly different approach from other authors. She starts with a short "very big picture" section of a few pages to describe briefly what NLP is, where it came from and what it can do. This is not (as those of us who have attempted to do it can testify!) and easy task, and the description here is well up to the job. I was particularly pleased to see some of NLP's grandparents mentioned up front, including Bateson, Korzybski and Watzlawick, alongside the natural parents!

The first half of the book proper tackles "neuro", "linguistic" and" programming" in turn. Under the heading of Neuro, Knight covers preferences in thinking patterns, including representational systems and filters, including many metaprogram distinctions like match/mismatch and big chunk/small chunk. Incidentally, both big and small chunk thinking is wellcatered for - each section contains a "big picture"summary, the details are well layed out, and the space in thebook is used to present an interesting visual aspect (for my money sometimes ignored in some cases) as well as useful words. The illustrations are uniformly of high quality, useful and relevant - again, this is not always the case.

The "linguistic" section covers sensory language, precision questions and the power of metaphor. Under "programming" comes modelling, some key points on how to get somone else's strategy for something. It's good to see this being handled so early and up-front, rather than being mystified and left for the Master Practitioners to do. In fact the whole book makes NLP sound reasonable, achievable and common-sense, which will no doubt help the business-folk who may buy it.

The second half of the book is mainly given over to "Managing with NLP". This is a neat way to cover the things which don't fit so well into the first half. There are six sections, covering matters like well formed outcomes, rapport, perceptual positions, anchors and the standard NLP set of logical levels from Robert Dilts. The section on "Beliefs of Excellence" is the most novel. Here, Knight has reworked the presuppositions of NLP into nine beliefs, as well as having a discussion about beliefs in general and hop theyaffect the way we operate. I was interested to see "Everyproblem has a solution" as one of these beliefs - this has been clearly present in NLP since the outset, but more usually as a presupposition of the presuppositions. I wonder whether people who hold the opposite belief find it helpful to be told this, or have it presupposed to them?

The final part of the book is a series of question sets to help the reader identify their thinking patterns, outcomes, filters, stoppers to change and so on. There are also "thought-provokers" at the end of each chapter- a set of questions to be answered by the reader and thus more actively stimualte their thinking. This is a useful step towards involving the reader, and as such is an excellent step forward from the simple "read-it-so-what" pattern that we find in most books.

So that's what is in this book. What's missing? The "therapy" patterns (V/K dissociation, swish, etc) are not here, and quite right too. For this audience there are more important matters, and just because NLP came from therapy doesn't mean we always need to start there. There's also no mention of reframing - this is more of a surprise, since the ideas around reframing have found some favour with organisational consultants, particularly regarding innovation and change.

I do have a couple of reservations. Firstly, there is no mention of the importance of doing NLP as opposed to reading about it, and I would have expected the author to recommend that interested readers get some training. Also, this is a safe and solid exposition of NLP. When I started investigating NLP, I read the Bandler/Grinder books. Although in many ways they are infuriating and badly presented, I felt excited that, just around the corner, something outrageous was about to happen. Perhaps as NLP gets more mainstream, some of the irreverance and unexpectedness gets lost. Does it have to be so, or is there room for both?

In summary, this book meets its own remit excellently. If a good visual presentation, jargon-reduced descriptions and lots of fine examples of NLP at work in the workplace are your desire, this is a great place to start.

"Doing it in style", NLP World, 2,No 2, pp 83 - 85 (1995) (Book review)