Understanding NLP Coaching: A Guide to Growth and Transformation

Jun 1, 2021

Neuro-Linguistic Programming – popularly known as NLP – is a powerful supplementary skill for coaches to acquire. Developed by Grinder and Bandler, NLP has many concepts and techniques borrowed from Milton Erickson, Fritz Perls’ Gestalt,  Jungian and Freudian psychology, and even Eastern scriptural wisdom. As the name implies Neuro Linguistic Programming combines neuroscience with linguistics in understanding how what we think and speak, and therefore act are influenced by our brain or the larger mind intelligence.

Let us look at some ways in which NLP supports coaching.

1. Presuppositions

One of the fundamental assumptions of NLP is that ‘map is not the territory’. Map is the mind map, based on our perceptions. This is often at variance with the reality of the territory. The same situation can be viewed by a dozen people differently, leading to misunderstanding and often to conflict. Religious and ethnic conflicts are classic examples of how this presupposition or assumption works.

Some other powerful presuppositions are:

  • The body is the mind
  • People are not their behaviours
  • Any behaviour is the best choice one had at that time
  • Behind every behaviour there is a positive intent
  • Past is not the future
  • Failure is feedback etc.

These are converted into reframing techniques of many types in Neuro Linguistic Programming. Coaching is reframing, nothing else. The coach partners the clients in helping them reframe and view their situation and behaviour in a more empowered manner. NLP supports coaching in this.

Here’s a good resource on NLP.

2. Reframing

Reframing is the greatest value that Neuro Linguistic Programming offers coaching. Reframing is about changing the mind map to align with situational reality. Dissonance of perception and reality disempowers. Empowerment follows alignment through reframing. Generally, reframing is classified as content and context reframing. NLP techniques with applications to coaching that help reframing are:

  • 6 step reframing: This is the core process originally developed by Grinder and Bandler to move from a disempowering behaviour pattern to a more empowering pattern, till it becomes an unconscious habit.
  • Timeline: Timeline therapy was developed by Tad James , using reframing concepts, and is a regression technique. In coaching, this can be used in a limited way to help create one’s future direction without past analysis.
  • Core Transformation: Developed by Connie Rae Andreas, this is a powerful process of questioning the value of one’s behaviour in positive terms till one reaches a core state of peace and stability. This is a healing technique as well.
  • Change of State: An amazing resource from Bandler. In this book Bnadler describes multiple applications og how to reframe a negative disempowering behaviour into an empowering positive habit. This should be part of every coach’s staple.
  • Perceptual Positions: Also known as Empty Chair in Gestalt, one can use this in coaching in eliciting empathetic views from the client about situations in which they are in conflict with someone. This is a subconscious awareness creation process and can be used in coaching format.
  • Visualization etc. I would recommend Visualization as a basic skill set for every coach in helping clients resolve confusion in the client’s mind. One can use this while contracting, during exploration, in creating awareness and in designing actions.

3. Meta Models

The concept of Meta Model as Generalisation, Deletion and Distortion is key to NLP and very helpful in coaching. Generalisation is something we routinely engage in, ‘everyone does that (does everyone though?), ‘nobody loves me’ (no one, really) are classic examples. These often follow or are followed by Deletion , leaving out those examples that do not suit us, and Distortion through white lies and misrepresentations. Understanding meta models is a powerful tool in listening while exploring a client.

 4. Meta Programs

Metaprograms are filters that shape our perceptions, often polarised. Understanding these programs  helps to understand how people are structured and can often be useful in coaching people at work.

A powerful meta program is towards/ away. This determines our levels of motivation and threats, what attracts us towards and what repels us away. Some coaching models are exclusively based on this meta program.

5. Mirroring, Matching, Leading & Anchoring

Mirroring, Matching and Leading are helpful in establishing rapport with clients and then partner empathetically. It is about creating a state of harmony in working together.

Anchoring is used to embed a refarmed state to create a habit of unconscious competence in coaching.  This is often a repetitive and time based process working on the neuroplasticity of our brains. Client creates a kinesthetic anchor that helps the body memorise a powerful empowered response, in order that the anchor is used again and again to create the empowered response at will, till it becomes habit. Anchoring is used with reframing techniques such as 6 Step, Change of State, Visualization etc.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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