Coaching Type Development with NLP

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Helping clients explore and develop the eight functions in their attitudes is a common type application, and a perennial question is how to make function-development faster, easier and more effective. NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Programming, is a giant diverse toolbox of techniques often used by therapists, salespersons, professional coaches and others to catalyze learning, problem solving and communication. After 7 years of research I have located some NLP techniques that seem to fit with and really catalyze type development.

Why NLP?
I identify with INTJ preferences and often wonder how I can better connect in a healthy way with introverted Feeling and extroverted Sensing, two of my non-preferred functions. One way: I can engage in activities that evoke these functions. For example, playing guitar or surfing at the beach both tend to evoke in me Fi and Se more than writing a research article. In fact, engaging in certain activities is a common time-honored approach to encourage type development. However, I’ve found it is often hit or miss. With clients, activities like these place them in a promising environment but do not give them any tools or resources to engage in or even recognize the signs of their non-preferred functions. Fortunately, this is the domain of NLP. The following exercise gives a taste of what NLP can offer.

An Introspective Exercise
Take a minute to relax. You may want to read the entire exercise first and then reread at a slower pace as you go through step by step. You may close your eyes.

  1. Remember something, maybe from this morning, last weekend or even years ago. Pick a neutral or somewhat positive memory that includes someone else.
  2. 2. Now, from what perspective do you see that memory? From what perspective do you find yourself “re-viewing” the memory?
    • Can you see yourself in your memory, as if you are a “fly on the wall” or spectator watching yourself on film? (This is called third person.)
    • Do you re-experience your past events through your own eyes as if you are there again reliving it? (This is first person.)
    • Can you “empathize” with the other person in the memory, seeing through his or her eyes and physical point of view (This is second person.)
  3. Now try out other memories in more detail. If you see yourself “on screen” (third person) can you hear what is said? When stepping into yourself and seeing through your own eyes again, what sensations register? For example, where you hungry? Try comparing that feeling to now. People often discover “new” details or make new connections when reviewing a memory! Or, as you try stepping into someone else’s shoes, do you hear or feel from the other’s perspective? Maybe even a “story” comes to mind.
    • A fourth “meta” point of view is also possible. It is the point of view that allows us to know about, understand and shift between the other three points of view!

Most people experience memories from a default point of view and can shift or clarify when directed. Sometimes a perspective comes only with effort or gives partial information. Many people also describe one perspective as unbelievable or hard to attain. The points of view also relate to how we experience the present and future as well as the past. Consider, what is your client’s experience of his or her future?

From Four to Eight Points of View
After first exploring the four points of view, I recognized another level of detail. For example, with the third person point of view, some of my students reported they could fly around the scene and examine it from various angles, each angle revealing something different; in contrast, other students reported one fixed angle, but they could progressively step outside the scene – Mary in the film projection booth watches Mary the audience member who in turn watches Mary the character on screen. Both of these modes foster detachment and objectivity so I linked them to introverted and extroverted Thinking. In fact, students often reported two strikingly different experiences with all four points of view, for eight total. I suspected a link to the eight functions in their attitudes and began gathering data.

Type Clarification
When I began research, I hoped to discover a solid link to type – a simple visualization exercise that could act as a data point along with the MBTI and self-selection to suggest someone’s type. I’ve determined this is not the case but there is still a very interesting and useful link.

A recent student of mine identified with INFJ and reported third person point of view as his “default” perspective. I link third person with Thinking but INFJ prefers Feeling. What’s going on? Remember everyone has all the functions potentially available and Thinking is INFJ’s third or “tertiary” function. I asked him to describe this third person perspective in more detail. Did he experience it as multiple movable angles (more introverted Thinking) or as progressively distant frames (more extraverted Thinking)? His response: different angles. This did not surprise me. My analysis to date of this NLP exercise supports the hypothesis that the third function is in the same attitude as the dominant function. For INFJ, the function attitudes would rank Ni, Fe, Ti, Se, Ne, Fi, Te and finally Si. I would expect Ti for INFJ and that’s what I found with him. (However, this link is statistical and not prescriptive for everyone!)

Learning about NLP
I use the four/eight viewpoints with students to encourage flexibility and discovery, and one effect of NLP is to increase the number of “inputs” and “outputs” a client has, so the client doesn’t just have new perceptions and choices but new kinds of perceptions and new kinds of choices – a sign of genuine growth! I have received positive feedback, and I encourage type practitioners to try NLP for themselves.

References
1) O'Connor, J and Seymour, J. “Introducing NLP: Psychological Skills for Understanding and Influencing People.” Thorsons Pub, 1993.
2) Nardi, D. “Multiple Intelligences and Personality Type.” Telos Publications, 2001.