NLP Techniques 

There are many techniques associated with NLP. The following section introduces you to a number of techniques to give you with a sense of how NLP works in practice.

Representational Systems

In NLP, representation systems refer to the five senses that we have previously discussed: visually (we see), auditorily (we hear), kinaesthetically (we feel and touch), olfactorily (we smell), and gustatorily (we taste). 

In the last edition we considered our five sensory input channels in terms of their external function. In this section, we consider their internal function:

  • When I imagine the layout of my home – I am using my visual sensory channel, to make an internal representation.
  • When I imagine the sound of bells ringing – I am using my auditory sensory channel, to make an internal representation.
  • When I remember how cold I felt in Canada – I am using my kinaesthetic sensory channel, to make an internal representation. 
  • When someone is accessing an internal representation, it is likely he/she will use language associated with that channel.  If (for example) I am utilising information I have stored in the visual channel, I will use visual language, such as “I see” and “I get the picture”. The words that a person uses to describe an event, thing or experience gives the listener clues as to what sensory channel the person is thinking in. 

Here are some examples: 

Visual: “I see what you mean”; “I get the picture”.
Auditory: “I hear what you’re saying”; “Sounds good”.
Kinaesthetic: “I didn’t catch that”; “I get your drift”.
Olfactory: “I smell a rat”; “I can smell victory”.
Gustatory: “It’s all turned sour”; “It left a bitter taste in my mouth”. 

The olfactory and gustatory sensory channels are used less frequently than the other channels to create internal representations. It is thus less likely that reference to these senses will appear in conversation – although they do occur occasionally. 

Most of us use all of the sensory channels to take in information and make internal representations. Usually, however, we prefer one or two channels – such as the visual or auditory channels. 

Technique 1 – Developing Rapport

Rapport, as we know, is used as an essential part of the coaching process to develop a relationship between coach and client. Involved in developing rapport in the NLP process is to consider that the words a client uses in conversation reflects the ‘sense’ (i.e. visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory) through which they are thinking, we can then (as the coach) use that information to help create a deep rapport.
If you keep using auditory words with people who are in visual mode, they will unconsciously feel out-of-sync with you. This is because they need to unconsciously translate the information you provide into their preferred channel. This takes time and subsequently results in a loss of rapport.

Technique 2 – Manipulating Sub Modalities

Sub modalities are the descriptive qualities that are directly linked to a sensory channel. For instance – linked to the visual sensory channel are the sub modalities of colour, size, shape and distance. This means that when I look at something I can assess it based on these features. Alternatively, when I hear something, I can assess its volume and tone. Therefore, volume and tone are examples of sub modalities of the auditory channel.

So if somebody says…’I imagine it will be very difficult’, don’t say…’Let’s talk it over’, instead say… ‘Let’s have a look at this’. (Visual example)

If somebody says… ‘I just want to talk about it’, don’t say… ‘Okay, fill the picture in for me’, instead say… ‘Tell me about it’. (Auditory example)

If somebody says… ‘It doesn’t feel right’, don’t say… ‘Let’s view this differently’, instead say… ‘Okay, let me try and get a hold of this’. (Kinaesthetic example)

Following is an activity you can do to get an idea of what your own sub modality is:

  • Step 1 – Imagine a day at the beach. 
  • Step 2 – With that image in mind, I want you to mentally turn up the intensity of the colours. Imagine the sky a bright, bright blue, the sand a bright yellow. Every colour is very vivid and intense.
  • Step 3 – Now, in your mind, turn the image black and white. (Does this change your response to the scene?)
  • Step 4 – Return the scene to its original colours and move it further away from you, way away into the distance (how does it change your response when the scene is so distant from you?).
  • Step 5 – Now bring the scene closer, really close.
  • Step 6 – Now return the image to its original form.

You have just manipulated the sub modalities of an internal visual representation (i.e. you have played with the way an image is represented in your mind). Specifically, you have manipulated:

the intensity of colour
colour vs. black and white
near vs. far

But we could have also manipulated the  

Auditory: volume (e.g. turn up the sounds of the crashing waves and the children playing)
Kinaesthetic: movement (e.g. speed up the whole scene and make everything super fast – then turn it down to a snail’s pace)

Manipulating sub modalities is a foundational strategy that forms the basis of a variety of NLP techniques, including the Circle of Success (see Technique 3) and Reframing (see Technique 4). By facilitating the manipulation of sub modalities, coaches enable coaching clients to intensify preferred feeling states, such as confidence, success and achievement. Alternatively, the manipulation of sub modalities can assist in distancing a coaching client from less useful states, such as lethargy or apathy.

Technique 3 – Circle of Success*

Another activity that requires you to manipulate submodalities is the Circle of Success. Read and have a go at the Activity below:

  • Step 1 – Remember a time when you felt a sense of pride in your achievements. Choose a significant memory – perhaps one in which you exceeded your own expectations! Take the time to recall the event clearly. See what you were seeing, hear what you were hearing and feel what you were feeling.
  • Step 2 – Now imagine a circle on the floor in front of you.
  • Step 3 – Give the circle a colour. You can make it bright, shiny, patterned, whatever you chose to make it visually attractive.
  • Step 4 – Choose a word that goes with that proud state you imagined – such as “success”, “yes!” or “you can do it”.
  • Step 5 – With your memory of success foremost in mind (as though you are re-living it), take a deep breath, say your code word and step into the imaginary circle in front of you.
  • Step 6 – Stand in the circle and intensify the memory. Make the colours more vivid, the sounds clearer and the feelings more intense.
  • Step 7 – Stay standing for a moment inside this circle of success. Really see, feel and hear that state of success and achievement.
  • Step 8 – Now step out of the circle, pick it up from the floor and fold it up so it fits in your pocket. Anytime you need to feel that sense of pride and achievement – throw the circle on the floor and step back into it – this is your Circle of Success.

*Circle of Success modified from – Tompkins, P., & Lawley, J. (1993, November). Change your thinking: Change your life with NLP. Personal Success Magazine.

Technique 4 – Reframing by Altering Sub Modalities

Another technique that can be used to alter submodalities is through reframing. The point of this technique is to alter the way in which you see a situation that bothers you. Read through the following instructions and have a go at altering a situation that bothers you.

  • Picture yourself in a theatre.
  • See an experience that is bothering you as a movie up on the screen. [Start with a minor experience. It may be something that has already occurred or something that you are facing ahead of you, such as a nerve-racking presentation or a difficult conversation you anticipate having].
  • First you might want to play it in fast forward, like a cartoon.
  • You might want to put circus music to it, the sound of a calliope.*
  • Then you might want to play it backwards, watching the image become more and more absurd.

*Note – A calliope is a type of organ composed of a set of whistles that sound as steam flows through creating loud, often boisterous sounds, often associated with the circus.

Extracted from Robbins, A. (1986). Unlimited Power. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

This technique affords coaching clients a sense of distance from the bothersome event (by projecting it on to a screen) and creates a new way to view or store the experience. By altering the way in which the event is perceived, clients may experience a shift in the way the event influences their future behaviour, thoughts and/or emotions.


NLP is predominantly used in coaching to examine a client’s habitual patterns of behaviour and to enhance performance. This is accomplished through investigating a client’s beliefs and belief systems and to help change these where appropriate.

In this resource you have examined some of the commonly used techniques in NLP including developing rapport, manipulating submodalities and reframing by altering sub modalities.