3 Ways to Use NLP Techniques to Drive Change in the Workplace

In my last post, I talked about NLP “meta programs”, which essentially control how we think and process information.  However, while applying these formats to your own skills and development can be helpful, using them to uncover the hidden motivations of those around you to determine how to drive change in the workplace can be even more useful.

The following are three different NLP meta-programs that, when applied to your co-workers, can provide you with significant insight into how to improve your working conditions:

Technique #1 – Applying the Toward versus Away Principle

The “toward versus away” meta-program addresses whether individual people are more motivated by the potential to achieve a certain benefit or the drive to avoid pain.  NLP master Tony Robbins describes the distinction by saying:

“All human behavior revolves around the urge gain pleasure or avoid pain. You pull away from a lighted match in order to avoid the pain of burning your hand. You sit and watch a beautiful sunset because you get pleasure from the glorious celestial show as day glides into night.”

And while it’s useful to know which of these two motivating forces you, yourself, respond best to, identifying how your co-workers fall on this spectrum can also be incredibly useful in terms of driving change in the workplace.

For example, suppose you believe it’s in your company’s best interest to pursue a new segment of the market.  But since it’s never been done before, your manager is resistant – offering excuse after excuse as to why your proposal won’t work.  But if you knew more about where your manager fell on the “pleasure versus pain” scale, you’d know which of the two following arguments would be more likely to succeed:

“I really believe that, by targeting this new segment of the market, we stand to increase profits by as much as 20%.  Can you even imagine how much your boss would like that?”


“I know it’s a risk to pursue this opportunity, but the market segment I want to target is growing at 40% a year.  If we don’t act now, I’m afraid we’re going to miss a golden opportunity to grow our profits.”

Technique #2 – Understanding NLP Work Styles

Another NLP meta-program that can be extremely useful in driving change in the workplace is understanding the unique work style of each co-worker and manager you deal with.  NLP theory outlines three distinct work styles that you need to be aware of:

  • Independent – People who are independent workers have extreme difficulty participating in group projects and tend to do better when left to their own devices.
  • Cooperative – Conversely, some workers perform best as part of a group, where they have the opportunity to bounce ideas off other members of the team.
  • Proximate – Proximate workers take a middle-ground to this debate, preferring to work with others while still retaining personal authority over individual aspects of a project.

Attempting to drive change within the workplace means understanding as much about your fellow employees as possible – and work styles are a great place to start this analysis.

For example, suppose you’re attempting to convince your boss to consider a remote work arrangement that will add more flexibility to your schedule.  By understanding how your boss works in relation to others, you’ll be able to determine which of the following arguments will be most effective:

“I’ll be out of your hair more, so working independently from home will help us both to be more productive [for the independent boss.]”


“Even though I won’t be here in person, there are plenty of collaboration tools I can use from home that’ll make it feel like I’m still part of the team [for the cooperative boss].”


“As long as I handle my specific parts of our projects, there’s no reason I can’t collaborate with the rest of the team using teleconferencing tools [for the proximate boss].”

Technique #3 – Emphasizing Possibility versus Necessity

Another NLP meta-program that’s used to process information and inform life decisions is the conflict of possibility versus necessity.  A person’s who’s motivated by necessity makes decisions based needs that must be fulfilled – as an example, taking a stable, but unexciting job in order to pay the bills.  Others thrive off of possibility and require a set of stimulating options, experiences and choices in order to feel fulfilled.

Chances are you work with both types of personalities in your office.  In order to drive change within the workplace, you’ll need determine who’s who to uncover these employee’s hidden motivations.

In this case, consider the example of trying to convince your boss to enroll you in an expensive training program.  If you knew your boss was an analytic personality motivated by necessity, you could argue about how essential the skills you’ll learn through the course will be to your business’s future success.  On the other hand, if your manager was more possibility-oriented, asking him or her to imagine all the different ways your new skills could be used may be much more effective.

In all of these examples, applying the NLP meta-programs discussed in my last post helps you to determine how your co-workers think and what they’re motivated by.  Using this information should help you to come up with the most persuasive arguments needed in order to drive change within the workplace.

Image: Marie Carter

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