The Origins of Neurolinguistic Programming

Back in 1976, I read a book published one year earlier entitled – – “The Structure of Magic” – – written by two researchers, John Grinder and Richard Bandler. It arose out of a study of the process they would later call Neuro linguistic Programming – – or N.L.P.

John Grinder and Richard Bandler were fascinated by the ability of certain psychotherapists to establish almost instant rapport with patients or clients and to create rapid changes in the thinking and behavior patterns of most of them. These outstanding therapists included well known leaders in the field such as doctors Milton Erickson, Virginia Satir, and Fritz Perls.

Bandler and Grinder’s studies revealed that most of these therapists seemed to have an innate ability to “read” verbal and physical cues which sped up the process and enabled them to create desired changes, which ultimately benefited their patients.

Your first reaction may be: “So what?” or “What has this got to do with me?”

Examine for a moment the role of the psychiatrist. He can’t put a stethoscope to your head as a conventional doctor does to your heart to find out what’s going on. He can’t use an E.K.G. or an M.R.I. to achieve a rapid diagnosis.

The process of psychiatric counseling frequently takes long periods of discussion and discovery to uncover causation – thus even longer to effect change. Can you see the similarity to what you may be attempting to do in your profession, or occupation? If you work with people – – if your work requires you to manage or convince others, or, if your profession requires you to learn effective communication skills, you are aware of how important it is to understand how others are feeling, what they are thinking, how they are reacting to your statements, what their value systems are and other similar issues.

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Grinder and Bandler studied the methods of successful psychotherapists (and some who were less successful), their methodology, their patients’ reactions, and then they measured the systems being used. They came to the conclusion that these methods could be replicated, not only by other therapists, but also by those in other professions.

Soon, other researchers extended the understanding and use of Neuro linguistic Programming to other fields.

Think about it for a moment – – These famous psychiatrists were attempting to establish rapid rapport with patients and then, while maintaining a high level of confidence, create changes in thinking and behavior. Isn’t that what most executives, managers, or salespeople want to do?

Abundant research has proven that the same skills are to be found in many successful managers, executives and salespeople, as well as those who seem to be able to “read” their employees, associates and customers and respond to them warmly and openly, thus creating rapport, trust and inevitably stronger confidence.

In fact, some highly skilled salespeople seem to have a natural ability to establish rapport by matching a customer’s behavior, style, or even their value system, then adapting their presentation to these traits.

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As early as 1976, two researchers by the names of Busch and Wilson theorized that certain skilled salespeople were unconsciously practicing methods similar to those used by N.L.P.-trained therapists, leading to outstanding sales records. Their research indicated that customers who purchased products and services from these salespeople perceived themselves as being more similar to the salesperson than customers who did not buy.

Further research concluded that to a large extent, rapport building as utilized by top salespeople involved establishing those similarities in the mind of the prospect or customer early in the relationship and then continuing to build rapport as the process continued.

During the late 70’s and early 80’s, continuing research produced a steady stream of information regarding the results achieved when N.L.P. techniques were utilized in sales training.

For reference, here are but a few of the outstanding research papers:

  • “The Making of a Super Salesman.” Los Angeles Herald Examiner, September 5, 1982,
  • Vol. 112, No. 126, Section B, p. 3. Alex Ben Block.
  • “To Trust, Perchance to Buy.” Psychology Today, August, 1982, pp. 51-54.
  • “Successful Salespeople: Are They ‘Svengalis’?” Training Magazine, March 1982,
  • Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 78-79. Rom Zemke, Research Editor.
  • “Influencing with Integrity.” Dr. Genie G. Laborde, Syntony Press, 1983.

This represents only a small part of the representative research and articles. Check out your library and the internet, search for Neuro linguistic Programming, and you will be amazed at the information available.


by Dave Yoho