Written by Teresa Goertz
People like people who like themselves. It was the first quote—though not the last— that Master NLP Trainer, Lindagail Campell, used to kick off the evening’s presentation, Picking up the Cues. Lindagail describes Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) as a comprehensive set of skills for personal growth and professional development, including verbal and nonverbal communication, psychology, language, modeling, strategic thinking, and perception. These skills are “the difference that makes the difference” between poor to mediocre performance and excellence both at work and at home.
Circling back to the first quote, let’s see how it applies to technical writers. Technical writers like other technical writers because they share similar traits or behave in a similar fashion. That’s great, but what’s a technical writer to do when they encounter SMEs, execs, bosses, coworkers, and others who aren’t like themselves? Here are a few simple NLP exercises you can use right now to improve your communication skills.
One of the easiest things to try is to establish rapport with another person by observing their body language, the tone and cadence of their voice, and the words they use. Building rapport is like a dance. If one partner is mismatched, rapport goes down, but if partners are on or about the same level, rapport goes up. For example, you dread your Thursday morning teleconference because a coworker practically bellows into his speakerphone. Sound waves hit our larynx and hurt our eardrums, and our instinct is to retreat, but that doesn’t help us when we want to be heard. Modulate the tone, raise the volume, and change the tempo of your voice. When you take your cues from the other person, you can drive the outcome of a situation to one that better suits your needs.
Many of us have probably noticed that when we make a slight change in our behavior, it can create a significant shift in another person’s behavior and often tips the fulcrum of any relationship toward a positive slant. For example, if your boss walks into your office and stands over you during the conversation, you might feel she might has the upper hand. You probably sense that there’s an even greater imbalance of power than normal, but if you stood up, you’d be on a more equal footing. Your boss would probably sense the shift and without mentioning what she was feeling, she would react accordingly. She might surprise you and offer you an opportunity to influence a new project that was previously out of your reach.
When you’re caught in conversations with people who always drone on and on, and you can’t get a word in because they never seem to draw a breath, make sure you have a plan. While they’re talking, look closely at them and listen for a gap, even a small one, usually when the person pauses slightly or takes in a little air. That’s when you can interject with a question that interrupts their train of thought and makes them think differently. For example, you might ask them a leading question, such as ‘which part of this conversation do you want me to be sure to remember’? The person might react by being pleased that you think what they’re saying is important. Moments later, you’ll often hear them quickly summarize the salient points so you can be on your way. You’re interrupting the pattern and reframing the conversation. Here’s another example. Let’s say you receive a call and you know you won’t have much time to talk. Right away, share your agenda and set a time limit. You’re bringing the rules of engagement up front so that there’s no misunderstanding and everyone is aware of the parameters.
NLP offers some good building blocks for improving how you communicate with others. You don’t have to remain stuck in old patterns that don’t work for you and often hinder a relationship from moving forward. Try a few of these exercises and see if just a slight change in your behavior doesn’t shift a situation in your favor. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: There are no victims, only volunteers.