Recently a thread has begun on the CNVC Certified Trainer listserve concerning NVC and NLP. One trainer asked for feedback about any common ground or connection between the two models. I decided to reply and wanted to share my thoughts with a wider audience, so I'm publishing it here.
I've been studying NLP since 1979, became a certified Practitioner in 1991 with Robert Dilts and Todd Epstein, studied at the Master's level in 1996, and participated in 3 NLP Comprehensive Trainer Trainings in 1997-99. I met Marshall in November 2000, so I already had "NLP ears" when I first learned about giraffe ears.
I'm guessing a book could be written comparing and contrasting NVC and NLP, but since we giraffes love brevity, I'll try to keep this to less than 1000 words.
NLP emerged from the efforts of Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the mid 70's. Their early work was built on modeling Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls, as well as Carl Rogers and Milton Erickson. Before the term NLP was coined, they created the "Meta-Model", within which can be found the distinctions between "Life-alienated communication" and "Nonviolent Communication" at the linguistic level. (See the Structure of Magic Vol 1 and 2, as well as Patterns Vol 1 and 2)
NLP is much, much more than eye movements and representational systems (visual, auditory and kinesthetic).
There are 2 main presuppositions to NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). A presupposition is an underlying "belief" or axiom upon which the rest of a system (or epistemology) is built.
1. The Map is Not the Territory. (I have heard Marshall say this on at least a half dozen occasions.) This idea seems to have originated from the mind of the early 20th century linguist Alfred Korzybski. Another way of looking at is, the menu is not the meal. We all see the world as we are, not as the world is. In other words, we all use language to create internal "representations" in order to make meaning of the much bigger world "out there". By there very nature, the representations are inaccurate, partially true images of "Reality". The only complete and accurate map would have to be as big as Reality itself! One goal of NLP is to make the richest map possible.
For me, this is also a foundation of NVC. When I remember that my view of the world is of my own making (emerging from the state of my needs and my conditioning) and remember that that is also so for you, it helps me to move from a right-wrong paradigm and into a "yes-and", needs-focused view where connection can be made in spite of disagreement or conflict about strategy or belief.
2. Biological Interactions are Systemic (Cybernetic) as opposed to linear.
One aspect of this idea is that if you exert change on one part of a system, the entire system will be affected. This seems to me to be the heart of empathy, healing, reconciliation and social change. If I approach myself or another with giraffe ears (the intention to connect and a focus on ofnr) it changes the dynamic between us and creates a context for connection and deepening of connection to occur.
A corollary of this presupposition in NLP is that "all behavior is motivated by a positive intention". In NVC we simply clarify that the positive intention is to get a need met.
I tell myself that NLP (and NVC) are both powerful skill sets. In NVC, with the deep and important focus on the intention to connect, abuse of the tools is less likely. This is what I think Marshall means when he speaks of "Spiritual Clarity"- Do I want to live compassionately? Do I want to connect? Are your needs and my needs both important? This is the lynchpin of NVC consciousness.
In NLP, intentions can be much different, and that gives rise to my concern. I may intend to get my needs met without regard to your needs, and NLP offers a powerful array of linguistic strategies that could be used in this way. I have seen NLP-based "pick-up guides" and have personally experienced the power of NLP-based sales techniques. Anthony Robbin's book Unlimited Power gives a flavor of this range of intentions. If all NLP trainers taught with the care and attention to "ecology" and spiritual clarity as Robert Dilts, I would not have as much concern. (Ecology means an awareness that the choices I make affect the rest of the system and that there is a need to protect the integrity and well-being of the system and all of its component parts. I think the words we use to describe this concept in NVC are mutuality, well-being and interdependence.)
For now, I have decided that NVC is "enough". The four components of NVC, the three modes of self-connection, empathy and honesty, the focus of intention on connection and attention on the present moment, define a simple yet profound model to facilitate human development, healthier relationships and life-affirming social change. I like that the basic skills of NVC can be understood (and experienced) by almost anyone in as little as an hour or two, yet the integration of the skills and consciousness is a lifetime's work. I appreciate that NVC can be practiced alone or in groups, that peer led groups can be as life-enriching as groups led by "Certified" trainers. NLP, to be really understood, takes a minimum of 3 weeks intensive training with a Master Trainer like Dilts, Bandler, Grinder, or a few others. The expense of such training makes it virtually impossible for all but the affluent to get the training. And I feel scared that the outcomes may not all be life-affirming.
NLP continues to inform my understanding and integration of NVC, although I am not attracted to the idea of trying to teach it to anyone. When I become clear that connection is what I need, I want a set of easy to learn skills to enhance the possibility that connection is what I will get. NVC offers me these skills. Now its up to me to do the work to integrate the consciousness with ever-increasing ability and awareness.
I'd like to hear from folks any reactions they have to what I have shared here.
PS A treasure trove of NLP information is available free of charge at Robert Dilt's nlpuniversitypress.com For a complete list of NLP presuppositions go to: http://www.nlpuniversitypress.com/html2/PrPu24.html