Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a popular theory used in coaching. It focuses on how people perceive and make meaning of their world and works with perceptions to help people understand and make changes to the way they perceive their world.

Here we will focus on how we process information to create such perceptions. James & Woodsmall (1988) proposed the following:

“After the external event comes in through our sensory input channels, and before we make an Internal Representation (IR) of the event, we filter the event. We run that event through our internal processing filters. Our internal processing filters are how we delete, distort and generalize the information that comes in through our five senses.”

Deletion involves the process of selectively paying attention to specific aspects of an experience (James & Woodsmall, 1988). Through deletion we fail to notice particular sensory information.

For example, Ben’s sister is picking him up from a concert. He is looking out intently for her car which he knows is a bright red hatchback. Because he is so focused on seeing a small red car, he fails to hear his sister calling him from a blue sedan (which she had borrowed from a friend).

As you can see from the example, Ben is so focused on the visual aspect of his experience (see a red car) that he fails to notice (or deletes) the auditory aspect of his experience (his sister calling him).

Distortion occurs when we misrepresent the sensory data received. For example, Juanita thought she heard rain falling. She ran out to take her washing off the line only to discover that it wasn’t rain at all – it was the sound of the neighbour’s air conditioning starting up. This is an example of auditory distortion where Juanita thought she heard one thing when in fact it was something completely different. 

Generalisation is the process of making a judgement based on a limited number of experiences and attributing that judgement to a broad array of experiences (James & Woodsmall, 1988).

For example, Tyson and Nicky are looking to rent a new home. They visit their local real estate agent. Tyson feels as though this particular agent is only interested in working with people who are seeking to purchase a home, rather than rent one.

Nicky later overhears Tyson say to a friend, “real estate agents are all the same. They only want your business if you’re buying!” As you can see from this example, Tyson has had one experience with one real estate agent and generalises this to all real estate agents.

Filters

Filtering of the information occurs before an internal representation of an event is made. James & Woodsmall (1988) list six examples of filters we use to delete, distort and generalise information.

Metaprograms are one type of filter and they are styles of thinking (or mental programs) that operate like filters across many contexts of an individual’s life. For example, the metaprogram General vs. Specific characterises whether a person processes information by focusing on the details or on the broader picture.

Other metaprograms include: Frame of Reference (external vs. internal, or in other words, whether you assess your performance based on your own internal standards or through the feedback you receive from others) and Option vs. Procedures (also described as whether you like to look for new ways of doing things or prefer to stick with established procedures).

Sub Modalities

Sub modalities are the descriptive qualities that are directly linked to a sensory channel. For example – 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.

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References

  • James, T., & Woodsmall, W. (1988). Time Line Therapy and the Basis of Personality. Capitola: Meta Publications.