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Michael : I’m delighted that you’re going to be speaking to us about some of your experiences of using NLP. Would you give us a brief introduction about yourself?
Richard : I’m Richard Sanders, and my work title is the Group Strategy Director at the John Lewis Partnership, and that encompasses John Lewis and Waitrose.
I’ve got a daughter, another one of them coming in a few weeks. That’s taking up a lot of my thinking time at the moment.
And my career today has largely been as a business and change consultant for most of the last ten years – that was mostly in operations – actually factory management was where I started.
Michael : And during your career and now, what are some of the sorts of challenges that you’ve faced?
Richard : I think a lot of them would be around, certainly, influencing people as a consultant. Winning pieces of work as a consultant has been a challenge that comes to all consultants at one point or another. It came to me two-to-three years in my career there. And that was something where you really have to learn lots of new tools and approaches.
I think making decisions and helping other people to make decisions is an ongoing challenge. And a lot of my thinking time is spent actually developing solutions for problems and helping them make decisions that they perhaps already know the answers to.
Michael : Now moving on to NLP. How would you describe your experience with NLP?
Richard : I had a fairly odd introduction to NLP and a fairly rapid one.
I had been working as a consultant for three or four years and was looking for a way to channel my development, my influencing skills, listening skills, and came across NLP there, really from scratch. So I did the practitioner course as quickly as I could.
Having done the first session I realised that I had a number of the skills I needed, in part, already – and then built on that with the practitioner course, and then started to use that directly in my consulting career, and since then in my corporate career as well.
Michael : And what sort of things do you actually use?
Richard : I think it’s across the whole spectrum of NLP, certainly in language and the observation part that goes with that. I’m definitely aware of the reference system and the language that people use with me and mirroring back. Body language is another area that I’m very aware of, and again using very basic techniques to mirror.
Some other techniques that come in there are actually around the written use of NLP. Writing reports, writing emails certainly. There’s as much of an application there to get people to do what you need them to do, as anywhere else. On some levels you call that common sense for language, but actually a lot of it is picked up from the framework of NLP.
Michael : Sometimes when people hear things about NLP, and they hear things like mirroring, they think of manipulation – I have to say, that’s not my view myself – but what’s your view of this with communication?
Richard : I certainly don’t see it as manipulation. I think in the workplace there are so many barriers in terms of making logical decisions – history and politics, and personal preconceptions about a situation – Maybe you’ve tried a project before that’s failed.
The way I see NLP is unlocking some of that baggage, or at least understanding it – which can then help people get to the right answers – the logical answers.
Michael : So it almost ties in with what you’ve said before about helping people get the right answer.
Richard : Definitely. I was just thinking about the pictures that I have in my head. I definitely consider myself to be breaking down this big granite block, and the answer’s in there somewhere, it’s always been there – it’s not that you have to create it from fresh, it’s that you’re chipping away at what other people or history has put in place that prevents the solution from being obvious.
Michael : What sort of things has NLP helped you do?
Richard : There are lots of examples. Depending on which time period we talk about, you have different projects. So again I’d go into my consulting proofs for some more obvious, less sensitive answers. There are some recently, but they’re a bit more sensitive.
In my history, those projects where you’re dealing with highly sensitive issues, where the organisation structure changes, changing of ownership of business’s – what NLP has allowed me to do is to get past these individuals who have these big preconceptions about a situation, to help me understand where they’re coming from and also the reference system that would work particularly well to articulate to them a different view of the future – or at least to make sense of what they’re articulating to me, and kind of play that back.
So it’s given me the framework to break down some of the less tangible issues, as some people would see them – I actually see them as pretty tangible – and put them into an approach, and work with that approach to get a decision made.
So a specific example could be that we’ve decided to close down certain business units. The fact that some companies have elected to buy other companies – the big business changes that have quite a considerable people-impact associated with them. It tends to be those areas where NLP comes to the fall because they’re the ones that have got the difficult baggage’s, as I’ve said, associated with them.
Michael : I don’t want to give the impression that NLP is the only thing out there, looking back on your career, around this topic of communication, and change, and getting things done – what other things have helped you be this successful?
Richard : I think that’s right. I’ve used NLP, as I’ve said, as a framework, not the be-all and end-all. It’s just a good way of compartmentalising some things that we all think are common sense, and are basic skills.
I think other things with communication are about prioritisation. It’s about taking ten words and replacing them with five. I have to be careful that I don’t waffle now that I’ve said that.
But it’s the famous elevator pitch or the elevator speech. It’s really being hard with yourself about condensing your messages, summarizing issues, and only addressing the most important elements of a certain problem, and realising that you can’t afford to address everything all at once because you’ll lose your impact doing it that way.
It’s “hand in glove” with NLP, but there are some very practical frameworks that go well with NLP that really accelerate the learning and the impact.
Michael : Are you happy to mention some of them?
Richard : I think some of them are really simple. I’ve been on business courses for communications where you have to boil down your pitch or your project into ten words.
And the argument for those courses is that if you can’t get it across in ten words, then you haven’t understood it well enough. And I think that’s very much in lone with congruent goals and vision exercises with NLP, but it’s very direct, you don’t have to understand the rest of NLP to get that.
So that’s one thing I really value. The other things are really from consultancy and not from training courses. But in consultancy a very key thing is the “So what?” question.
So if you write a page or you have a discussion and you get to the end of that page or discussion, you ask yourself the question “So what?”.
And you have to think of the impact, of the implication, of what you’ve just done. And that forces you to land actual actions, and to come out with a succinct reason for the actions that you’ve just made. And in the case of written communication, the case of the “So what?” question is really brutal. If you put it down and really push yourself to say “Well, what does that mean?”
You find out that a lot of the communication that you create doesn’t address the “So what?” question – it doesn’t actually have an impact on the problem or project that you’re working on.
So that’s a great discipline. The mantra that I hold with me all the time is “So what?”
Michael : Before I ask for your contact details or anything else that you’d like to mention – is there anything else that you’d like to say abut NLP?
Richard : Yes. I’d encourage people to treat it as a tool, to keep on reading about it – but also to read around the subject. I was interested in it before, but there was something that I found post-NLP, and that was storytelling. And I know that there are books that link storytelling and NLP, and that’s nothing new, but actually going back to folk tales, myths – and actually seeing the power of something like that is something that I got into.
I actually did a course in storytelling for sort of therapeutic purposes and I got into it in a bizarre way. I started with storytelling for business that actually turned out to be an NHS course.
And that is really compelling. And if you go into a new area like I’ve done – about nine months ago into John Lewis Partnership – you can propagate stories, in a very natural way, about how to operate and how you now expect things to happen. It’s a really good mechanism for communication that goes really well with NLP and that I would recommend to anybody to look into.
Michael : Excellent. You’ve given us your experience for ten-eleven minutes – is there anything that you’d like to plug?
Richard : I’d just say – John Lewis and Waitrose, I don’t think that I can stretch NLP into what we’re doing there – but we’re continuing to improve the offers that we give there, and I’m interested in their longer term strategy – and with visions and strategies NLP is really up to form with that.
But no, I’d just encourage people into the shops. I guess that’s a direct plug!
Michael : That’s absolutely fine. And your contact details – if you’re prepared to give them?
Richard : Yes, absolutely. My hotmail address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael : Thank you very much for your time.
Richard : No problem at all, thank you.
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