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NLP Presuppositions

The NLP Presuppositions Part I by Rachel Hott, Ph.D. Source: Anchor Point Magazine

Part I

As some of you may know this column is for the beginning NLPer. If you are already a Practitioner or more, you may want to practice your speed reading. Before you learn and practice any of the NLP techniques it is important to understand the underlying beliefs of this model. I would like to introduce you to the basic presuppostions that underly the NLP model After you have read this article you should be able to integrate these presuppostions into your behavior. A presupposition is a concept that supports your behavior, internal processes and internal feelings. When you listen to a person’s content you can identify many personal presuppositions. In the beginning of the paragraph I presuppose that someone reading this already knows that this is a back to basics column. I also presuppose that someone can speed read and that you will learn and practice NLP.

Imagine that you have just traveled to another planet. You push the button that automatically slides your rocket ship door open. You peer out and on the terrain is a large sign. You cautiously ( you wouldn’t want to trust a new planet so readily would you?) float over to the sign and read:

I. Communication is the response you get no matter what your intention.

II. There is a positive intention for every behavior.

III. Everyone has all the resources they need.

IV. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback

V. We are making the best possible choices at the time.

You say to yourself. “Hmmmm. These are some interesting ideas. Perhaps I can find a being who will explain them to me.” At that moment a voice from above calls to you and begins to whisper the meanings of these phrases. These are the whisperings that I heard from the being as well.

I. Communication is the response you get no matter what your intention. When we are interacting with others we are constantly getting responses. Sometimes we elicit a response that we did not expect or plan. For example, anger, hurt or confusion. In order to be a more precise communicator it is important to both pay attention to the responses you receive as well as being clear about your intent. In Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I use to live, on every tree or telephone pole there would be some type of flier. One day I saw a very creative flier for a lost dog. I was impressed with the flier and thought my mother’s boyfriend who loves animals and also found his dog on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway would be interested in seeing it. So I removed it from the tree and and mailed it to him with a short note. (I was thoroughly impressed with myself for having mailed the letter. Sometimes it is so hard to lick a stamp.) My intention was to share something with him and let him know that I was thinking about him and his concerns. The response I got was a real surprise. He was insulted and felt that I was making fun of him and cruel for removing the ad from the pole, in case the owner was to have passed by. I was told all this by my mother. I called him and explained that although it was not my intention to hurt him I understood that he felt insulted. He accepted my apology.

In our work with trainees and clients we have found that it is essential to separate out the response and the intention. The essential element is that you acknowledge or validate the response. Typically people get into who is right/wrong statements instead of identifying the response as something very real for the other person. After you validate the response you can restate your original intention The effect of this style is that the person feels “listened to”. Once you have restated your intention there is a more clear communication interchange. In order to get the response you want you need to think more deliberately about the other person’s model of the world. (See June issue). If I had thought more strategically about his model of the world I would have called him up and told him about the poster and how it made me think of him. This would have been acceptable to him because the flier would still be on the pole.

Often times people say, “It’s his/her problem” or “They are the one who needs to work on communicating.” These phrases indicate a lack of taking responsibility for their communication. If you experience a situation in which the response was not what you wanted then notice the response you did get and use that as a clue into the other person’s model of the world. The key element in this presupposition is to pay attention to the RESPONSES you get. Take responsibility for the responses you receive.

II. There is a positive intention for every behavior:

The Random House Dictionary definition of intention is: An intention is the act or an instance of determining mentally upon some action or result. In the NLP model the positive intention does not have to be conscious. It may very well be unconscious. How many times have you said that you would stop; drinking coffee, create failure fantasies or cynical inaternal dialogues? There is probably some behavior that you can identify that you would prefer to change. A first step for you is to identify the underlying positive intention of the behavior. “What is this behavior doing for you?” would be a way to begin uncovering the positive intention. As a communicator if you recognize that there is a positive intention for every behavior you have an easier time separating one’s essence from his/her behavior.

Seven years ago when I began my NLP training I found this presupposition very helpful in understanding my mother’s behavior. Did you ever have the phone conversations with your mom where she was telling you what to do with your life. For example, “Well Rachel I don’t think you should live with someone before you are married,” or “I don’t want you to be a waitress forever.” Those type of phrases were instant rapport breakers for me. Wham I was sunk in fury because someone was telling me what to do or not do with my life. Then I became familiar with this idea that there was a positive intention underneath my mother’s behavior. Now what could it be. I was challenged to find out or prove that the presupposition was false. I asked myself if there were really such a thing as a positive intention what might it be for my mom’s behavior. I realized that her positive intention was about care and concern. If she didn’t care she wouldn’t be telling me how to live my life. I decided to test out my hypothesis. The next time we spoke I waited for her to say something that normally would trigger my fury. “You should really keep your own apartment.””Mom, I know you really care about me. Thank you.” Recognizing her positive intention helped me feel more calm, enabled me to remain an adult and helped me separate her from her behavior. After that she did express her intentions more directly. Pick a behavior that is really disturbing to you. Perhaps it is someone whining, yelling, cutting in front of you in line or stealing your wallet. What do you think the positive intentions would be? When I first learned this presupposition I found it difficult to believe that there was any positive intention in a violent act. For me the best answers I have come up with is that someone is calling out for help and asking for attention. Many times the positive function is linked with a behavior that seems inappropriate, like attention and robbery. It is possible that the intention-receiving attention never got met. Therefore the behavior-robbery had to be created in order to truly receive attention. When you recognize a positive intention directly to the other person you are also communicating with the unconscious. It is the unconscious that directs our actions. When the unconscious receives acknowledgement the behavior will no longer be necessary and will stop or change.. Some examples of positive intentions would be: Protection, Motivation, Concern, Security, Expression and Loving Oneself. The key point with this presupposition is that you recognize and separate positive intentions from behaviors. This well help you maintain a broad perspective on many issues.

The whisperings stop. “Hey what about the other presuppositions?”you cry. A new voice from another location sings to you about the seeds being planted and invites you back another day. You reenter your space ship and automatically the door closes behind you. Back to your own planet you begin to whisper to yourself……..Communication is the response you get no matter what your intention…..There is a positive intention for every behavior.

Presuppositions on The NLP Planet By Rachel Hott

The NLP Presuppositions Part II by Rachel Hott, Ph.D. Source: Anchor Point Magazine

Part II

Some of you may recall a visit we took to the NLP planet to discover five presuppostitions of the NLP model. On our first visit we learned about Communication is the response you get no matter what your intention and There is a positive inention for every behavior. We are now travelling back to the planet to explore three more presuppositions:

III. Everyone has all the resources they need

IV. There is no such thing as failure only feedback

V. We are making the best possible choices at the time.

Your spaceship gently lands on the soft green grass. Once again your automatic door slides open and the whisperings begin…….

III. Everyone has all the resources they need;

The resources that this presupposition is describing is one’s inner resources. For example, confidences, patience, humor, joy, perspective, capablitity and passion. With all the resources, each person has the potential to become and do whatever they dream to do. However, many times people do not feel resourceful, they feel resourceless. If you integrate the belief that you have all the resources you need then even when you feel resourceless you will have the ability to reach deep into yourself and find some resource. I worked with a manager who had received feedback about his communication style. He was not going to be promoted unless he improved. I observed him in his staff meetings and I noticed that his presentation lacked flexibility. When I gave him this feedback he described another meeting, with peers and superiors, where he was told he was almost too energetic. He had identified that he did have the resources to be more flexible and it was separated in contexts. Therefore I recommended to him to bring this high energy resource into his staff meeting. When he did he had much better results with his people.

Sometimes you might say to yourself well I would like to be confident but I really know there has never been a time that I experienced confidence. You now have a couple of choices. You could break down the word confidence and figure out what components make up confidence. For example, courage, intelligence and risk taking. Now reevaluate and ask yourself if you have ever experienced these three components. If not keep breaking them down until you have a strong yes. Anchor each experience separately. After all three are anchored say the word confidence and fire off the three anchors simultaneously. Or you can imagine someone you know who has confidence and model their behavior. Another way to rekindle your resources is to do the Reclaim Personal HIstory technique. In this technique you identify a resource you want or want more of. Anchor that experience to a specific time that you had that resource. Then fire the anchor. Your unconscious will discover all the other times you had this resource. This technique is an excellent way to replenish yourself. The key point in this presupposition is that deep within the self are all the resources you need to become or do whatever it is that you want.


If only I had had this presupposition when I was growing up. (Does that mean I have grown up?!). Between the ages of eleven and fifteen while some people were riding horses I was falling off of them. I was told that when I fall off I am suppose to get right back on the horse. So I did and I would continue to fall, fail. My internal voice said, “You are a clutz on a horse.” Several years later I challenged myself to ride a horse and I stayed on the . The reason I managed to remain on the saddle was becuase I finally reviewed and analyzed what had occurred in my past. I used the past as feedback to improve my present and future. Initially just following the old “get back on the saddle” philosophy did not teach me anything. Each time was a successive failure.

When you use experiences as feedback you open more possibilities for growth and personal success. It has helped me to accept feedback as information. This allows me to separate personally from the mistake. When I don’t take it personally I am able to evaluate the situation or hear the feedback. Of course there may be experiences that touch personal issues. In those cases I concentrate on all of my NLP skills to help my senstitive part maintain the separation. One thing that helps is if I repeat the phrase, “Don’t take it personally, it’s information it’s not about you. After receiving the feedback I then can chooose new actions to demonstrate. One of my friends designed a toy product. Although new to the toy industry she was able to present her product to one of the largest toy companies for a possible buy out. The company declined to take her product. At first this was looked upon as a major set back, then she researched why they had not accepted her product. She utuilized the information from the research in her own campaign to manufature the product on her own. Rather than giving up she used the experience to give her a greater edge on the outside world. Her ability to utilize the experience as feedback enabled her to do even a better job.

Whether or not you fully believe tha there is no such thing as failure is not importatn. The main point is to pay attention to the responses you get as feedback (information) and then utilize this feedback to achieve your desired goals.


This presupposition is a total acceptance statement of self and others. Although I may not like the choices I or someone else has made, if I believe that they are the best “at the time,” then I am presupposing thta there can be better choices made at another time.

When I think back to my relationship with my father I wish that I could have known him better. If I had only related differently with him perhaps I now could say I knew him. This presupposition supports me in knowing that whatever choices I made during his lifetime were the best choices for me. In learning from thoses choices I can make changes with other people in my personal life. Knowing that I chose and continue to chooose allows me to feel more resolved about my actions.

The whisperings stop. You say to yourself these ideas are new to me and a lot to digest at once. So you leave the planet taking with you what is useful.

These presuppostions form a basic framework for the NLP model. A practitioner does not need to believe them, however they do need to act as if they believe them.

Originally appeared in Anchor Point Magazine. Used by permission.

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