In this short series we’re exploring various aspects of neurolinguistic programming. This time we’re looking at ‘every behaviour has a positive intent’. 

What is neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and why is it relevant? 

NLP is an approach to communication, personal development and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California in the 1970s.  

It is based on the idea that there is a connection between the neurological processes, language and behavioural patterns that have been learned through experience. 

NLP can be used to achieve specific goals by raising self-awareness and changing established patterns of behaviour. 

Every behaviour has a positive intent

It’s difficult to be positive when you perceive a colleague’s behaviour as the exact opposite. So can it be true that even apparently negative behaviour is rooted in a positive intention of some kind? This idea is key aspect of neurolinguistic programming and can transform your approach to ‘difficult’ colleagues.

For NLP purposes, the idea that ‘every behaviour has a positive intent’ is referred to as a ‘presupposition’ (an underlying belief or assumption). Even apparently negative actions are presumed to have their roots in a positive intention of some kind. 

“A belief in the positive assumption that ‘every behaviour has a positive intent’ may improve communication and mutual understanding,” says Austin Wedge, Impellus Leadership, Management & Commercial Skills Trainer. 

“It can help to promote a non-judgemental and open-minded approach when dealing with other people. We should not take people’s actions at face value but dig below the surface so we can react with understanding and empathy while working towards appropriate outcomes or solutions.” 

What does this mean in the workplace?

The ability of a person to communicate brilliantly is much more about their perceptiveness of others than anything else. When we are able to 'read' others better we can work with them, motivate them and get on with them better. It takes effort but it pays dividends.

If we start by wondering what the positive intent is to their behaviour then we can start to treat them differently or start better conversations with them. This can lead to the openness that builds rapport.

Is what you read as stubborn their fear of letting go of their work?

Is what you read as stroppy a cry for friendly attention?

Is what you see as solemnness a way of protecting themselves from the fear of being wrong?

Is their seeming self-centred conversation because they feel under-rewarded or are trying their best at humour?

Your ability to read these behaviours through the presupposition that there's a positive intent behind them is a practiced skill. Using that knowledge to change your communication towards them is how you start to change the behaviour.

Neurolinguistic programming: part one

This blog is the second in our three-part series on neurolinguistic programming.

Part one explored ‘the map is not the territory’: a term originally coined by the scholar Alfred Korzybski in the 1930s. However, in the context of NLP it has a straightforward meaning:

The ‘map’ is the way we see the world (the territory). It is subjective and therefore everyone sees and interprets things differently based on their own life experiences, perspectives and beliefs.

The ‘territory’ is objective reality: how things actually are in the world. This can be very different to our individual perceptions.

“Gaining an understanding of the disconnect that exists between individual perception and external reality can be invaluable in improving everyday communications in the workplace, reducing conflict and promoting greater understanding,” says Austin Wedge, Impellus Leadership, Management & Commercial Skills Trainer.

Find out more.

You may find useful: 

Neurolinguistic programming is explored in our Effective Communication Skills course. You will find out how your conscious and subconscious behaviours, actions and communication methods affect and influence others and how to use this knowledge to achieve a positive response from your team.