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HOT BUTTON EFFECT: Understanding Complex Equivalence

HOT BUTTON EFFECT: Understanding Complex Equivalence and Behavioral Complex Equivalence by Rachel Hott, Ph.D. Source: Anchor Point Magazine

Why read this article? Well if you are new to NLP this article is directed to you, the newcomer. If you are old to NLP then this article is the equivalent to Monarch notes. In 1000 words or so I explain a NLP concept that in a practitioner training may take three to six hours or even more. Thus the power of words.

This article is an explanation of the concepts, Complex Equivalences (C.E.) and Behavioral Complex Equivalences (B.C.E.). These terms make everything complex and gives those who don’t understand a complex. When I learned these terms I emphasized the word eqivalence. When asked what my C.E. was for, support, independence, aggression or hunger, I was able to explain easily because I knew what C.E. meant. Several practitioners have been confused because they tried to learn the label instead of understanding its meaning.

As was stated in the “Models of The World” article (Anchor Point June 1989), each person represents experiences through their five senses. When working with therapy and business clients it is critical to determine how they represent their experiences so that as a NLP practitioner you can best understand their subjective reality. One of my recent consulting jobs was with a group of directors. One of the directors had be told that she was not assertive enough. I directed the group to describe what each person meant by assertive. One director said it was showing that you can’t be stopped even if you are told “no.” Another said it was the way you enter a room and if you have something important to say you let everyone know. Another said it was forcefully putting out your viewpoints. The director who received the feedback felt that assertive was stepping over other people’s toes and therefore was not respectful. Since respect is her highly valued criteria (we will cover criteria in a future article) it prevented her from being assertive. However when she heard each person’s equivalences for the same word, she was able to reexamine her own model of the world and question her C.E. This group process was valuable for everyone because it brought to light the that each person is an unique individual. As each person listened to the other they could have made several choices: To listen and say that the other people were wrong, to listen and be curious about the other definitions or to listen and continue to think they understood the other person.

Thinking thay you understand the other person relates specifically to C.E. Every time a person makes an utterance they are coming from their model of the world. Rarely do we have the same pictures, sounds, feelings, tastes or smells as another person. Unless they are a NLP junkie I recommend asking them what do they mean by “commitment” or what’s your perception of “commitment” or how do you represent “commitment” (represent may not be meaningful to someone outside the NLP circuit). If they are a NLP junkie then go right ahead and say, “So what is your C.E. for commitment?”

The difference between Complex Equivalence and Behavioral Complex Equivalence is the word BEHAVIORAL. When you are exploring the C.E. of a word you may get an example, several examples or a simple definition. In the examples you are listening for the sensory based descriptions. For example, A client of mine wanted to be more confident in front of his peers. His C.E. of confidence was to look, sound and act like Sir Galahad. He recalled a time when at a professional meeting he was able to make some comments that were opposing many other viewpoints. He labeled this experience confident behavior. After gathering information regarding his C.E. for confidence I had an understanding of his meaning, not label. This will be discussed further in a future article on the Meta Model.

On the otherhand, a B.C.E. for confidence only describes the behavioral representation. Behavior includes actions and words. To elicit this information you can ask, How would you know if you were X? or What does someone do to be X? His B.C.E. for confidence was to be grounded in his body, full deep breathing and to remain outwardly focused. He did not know how he would sound and this became an area to work on. In my management workshops identifying participants B.C.E. for listening has proven to be a valuable learning for all. It is insightful to explore people’s B.C.E.s because it quickly identifies the millisecond ability to make generalizations.

How often do you look at someone and simultaneously you have labeled their behavior. They look attentive, patient, bored or confused etc. If you ask yourself what is my B.C.E. for these states you may find that you are imposing your model of the world on others. Just because someone is sitting back, looking up at the ceiling, and tapping their foot does not particularly mean that they are impatient, bored or concentrating. As a skilled observer you can notice whether these behaviors occur as a pattern. You can describe these behaviors to the other person and ask them what it means. It is valuable for the other person to receive feedback about their behavior and the responses that it elicits in you and others. Let’s say for example that it is your own self improvement that you want to work on. You have decided to become outrageous.

#1. Identify your B.C.E. for outrageous.

#2. Behaviorally demonstrate what you do now that is closest to outrageous.

#3. Shape your behavior to match what you have identified as outrageous.

#4. Demonstrate the behavior in front of others and ask them to label it.

Remember they may have a different label for the behavior. Use their perceptions as feedback. Ask them what would they need to see it as outrageous. Then of course you are shaping your behavior according to their model. That becomes the dilemma. However it is essential that you remember that you and everyone else are labeling behaviors based upon perceptions. When you are in a personal or professional relationship it is helpful to know what an individual’s B.C.E. is and if necessary you will shape your behavior accordingly. I worked with a husband and wife who were trying to improve their relationship. She felt unappreciated. He said he appreciated her by consistently sending flowers to her office. When we discussed her B.C.E. for appreciated she said she wanted to be told how attractive she was. This was very unnatural for her husband to verbalize this regularly. However when he realized that in her model of the world that would mean he appreciated her he felt that it was worth changing his behavior to please her.

I remember when a friend had told me that I had really hit her hot button. I was confused because I had not recalled saying anything to stir up controversy. She elaborated and said that I had shown her respect and support in my behavior and that really let her feel appreciated. Now I was even more confused. How had I hit her hot button if she recounted all those things. Then I had a momentary chill up and down my spine. Aha, hot buttons are not necessarily negative charges. I never knew that because my C.E. for hot button was about being irritated. However here was another being thanking me because I hit her hot button. My C.E. was expanded. I felt like a new person.

Originally appeared in Anchor Point Magazine. Used by permission

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NLP 4 TH GENERATION: Reported by Rachel Hott, PhD with additional commentary from Colette Normandeau. Rachel Hott wrote this article after she and Steven Leeds attended the NLP Leadership Summit in A


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