Are NLP Coaches limiting their clients by insisting on ‘Well Formed Outcomes’?

September 20, 2015

An article by Michael Carroll

In the previous editions of my monthly article I have written about the effectiveness of ‘Well Formed Outcomes” and how when this format was first introduced into NLP, it gave NLP Practitioners a way of coaching which was remarkably different from processes in other change systems.

Before NLP,  change agents primarily focussed on ‘the problem’ without giving too much thought for what the client actually wanted to achieve, or what the client was capable of achieving.  The format inherent in well formed outcomes puts the client’s attention on what he/she wants, gives a sensory description, a time frame, personal responsibility for the outcome and an ecology check.  Whilst outcome setting classic NLP style has its uses, any format which is overused has limitations.

The questions, I explore in this article are:

1. – “When coaching a client,  if you apply the well formed outcome ‘conditions’ explicitly and up front in personal change contexts are you limiting your clients to what they can consciously dream up?”

2. – On similar theme, when a client sets an outcome, is he/she working that is at the same logical level of the representations they experience associated with their present/problem state?

This article has come about from my involvement in an online NLP therapy and supervision group where several NLP Practitioners argue that well formed outcomes are a fundamental part of NLP, and are a key part of the testing process for a Practitioner.  Other people in the dialogue insist ‘well formed outcomes’ should be used in ‘all’ coaching sessions.

If you observe how NLP has evolved over 40 years you will notice that whilst the ‘well formed outcome’ steps were a ‘feature ‘ (not fundamental) of NLP 40 years ago, neither Grinder (whom I work with) or Bandler according to reports from his students, explicitly teach ‘outcomes in their NLP Practitioner courses.

Yikes, am I saying the people who invented the Classic Code patterns have dropped what others are saying are fundamental to the field? Yes, that is the case and perhaps it’s time for people to move on from the NLP of 40 years ago and current with the patterning the NLP co-creators are teaching in 2015.

The well formed outcome process has it s uses when applied to pragmatic goal such as the purchase of a car, a house or a holiday. These type of outcomes were not the original intention of the format when it was created, however many people use the format successfully for tangible goals.

As well as pragmatic goals in the personal life of a client, the outcome process has its uses in business settings, again for pragmatic business goals. Personal change in a client’s life is at a much higher logical level than a pragmatic goal and this where the outcome format has limitations.

When a client comes to a coaching session it can be questioned how effective a process is that engages ONLY the conscious mind. The conscious mind has limited scope, and when an outcome is established, a filter is set that is at the same or similar logical level as the situation the client is currently operating at?

I like to think, if a coach works on the premise a client has more resources then he/she is currently aware of and when a state is accessed where these resources can be tapped into, as result of the coaching session, the client can go out and discover what he/she is truly capable of.  Often the magic occurs in the real context of change, after coaching session where the client has access to a set of choices previously unavailable in the said context.

It may seem a surprise to some NLP Practitioners and coaches, in NLP there is set of patterning primarily created by Grinder and Bostic, post the Grinder/Bandler years and post Grinder/Delozier years.  I am delighted to have joined the Grinder/Bostic team in the development of this new patterning called ‘New Code NLP’. The difference in New Code NLP is the emphasis on state rather than behaviour, unconscious selection of resources rather the consciously mediated goals and the clients becoming independent of the coach as they have access to more choices in their lives.

The bridge pattern in classic NLP which started the journey away from consciously mediated goals was the six step reframe. The six step reframe was the first pattern to explicitly include ‘intention’ and accessing the unconscious through a signal with the unconscious providing the new choices in the ‘live’ context the next time the client walks into the context.

The aspect I really like with the six step reframe is, whilst the client knows the ‘new choices’ will be ecological, yet the client does NOT know what the unconscious will deliver in the situation where the original problem/challenge occurred.

Now, contrast the possibilities when the unconscious is engaged to deliver new choices compared with a goal extracted from the ‘conscious mind’.  I find that clients are often conform when setting conscious mind outcomes; they conform to their family and social situation and often come up with a goal that is logical in their current life, based on current and historic experiences.  With such an outcome the client is operating within the box.

On the other hand, the unconscious is not logical, nor does it conform to society’s expectations, and when tasked to create something out of conscious awareness that is ecological it more often than not delivers a choice that is surprising to the client and beyond what the client can construct consciously.

In New Code NLP (Grinder and Bostic) we have a variety of ways to access the resources of the unconscious mind to help clients tap into new choices that come from the unconscious mind. There are series of formats known as New Code games that engage the mind body system to create a ‘high performance’ state, The New Code games, utilise processing in the three major rep systems (VAK) and activate cross lateral processing so the non dominant hemisphere is equally engaged as the dominant hemisphere.

The state from New Code games is ‘content free’ and not contaminated by any historic experience. When the high performance state is brought to a context where the client lacked choice, the state automatically creates choices, generated from the unconscious mind. Like the six step reframe, when the client finds themselves in the context where choice was lacking, new choices emerge that are not likely to have come into being through a consciously set outcome.

I am not saying avoid outcomes or their synonyms completely, any NLP format has its uses. I am saying when overused, early on in the coaching session it is highly possible the client will be limited to conscious mind restrictions.  When new states are available and the unconscious has delivered new choices, an outcome can be set to be more specific in the area of life the client is working. I do recommend utilising an involuntary signal to ensure the conscious and unconscious are in alignment.

I recommend the signal is used to get full agreement from the unconscious to support the client achieving the outcome and ‘intention’ is explicit in the outcome process to ensure the goal is ecological and connected to a higher logical level in the client’s repertoire.

In this article I have presented a case, based on 18 years of experience in coaching and training that well formed outcomes have limitations on the premise they are created through the constraints of the conscious mind. I have argued that when a client accesses their unconscious mind either through signal agreement (6 step reframe and its variants) or through a New Code Game, choices will emerge that the client would not have constructed consciously.

If an outcome is to be used, my case is create the outcome when the client has choice through state and to bring the unconscious mind and intention into the outcome setting process.

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