SD in Action

What NLP Needs


A highly competent trainer practicing and teaching NLP provides a potentially life changing experience for clients and students. NLP is also powerful enough to make significant differences in the hands of a novice. Like many disciplines it is somewhat fragmented, and content differences between programs and trainers abound. Given the variation in programs and the uneven skill sets across trainers, “what is missing in NLP” is impossible to generalize to all NLP trainers and trainings. However, from our perspective, there are a few gaps needing closure. Filling them would help out potential students and trainers alike. These are:


Practice Needs Time

While NLP Trainings are already chock full of content, market pressures push trainers to shrink the number of training days, compromising student experience. To get full benefit, students need to be willing to put in the time, the effort, and to practice their new skills. You should investigate the qualifications of your trainer(s)-to-be and insist on getting the time to practice. Find out how many skilled assistants will be there to support the process. Supervised practice time is critical and some programs do better than others at emphasizing and providing it.


Beliefs, Values, Valuing, and Value Systems Need Distinction

Values elicitation and change need a solid foundation then clarification. Most NLP programs lump beliefs and values together. There is no differentiating the two, and there are no distinctions drawn between values, the process of valuing, and Value Systems. According to most theorists, there’s a limited number of values, whereas beliefs can be innumerable. Valuing is a verb not to be confused with the values themselves. Because a “values elicitation” can bring out what is important, what a person wants to achieve, their desires, their attitudes, their beliefs, and their needs , everything that is elicited gets lumped together as values even when it reflects a drive, need, motive, or objective. And our Human Spiral is about adaptive processing systems which choose values for particular reasons.  Because these four areas are commonly muddied in NLP programs, practitioners miss opportunities for change.


Some NLP Beliefs Need Challenge

The NLP attitude around state control and management, can harm users applying such techniques. The underlying beliefs need reconsideration, and the techniques need a framework for timing and implementation prior to using them. More on this with our next post.


A Serious Flaw Needs Attention

We’ve been teaching psychosocial development to NLP master trainers, trainers, and practitioners for over a decade and one small critical skill seems to be missing across the board. While most are convinced they are brilliant listeners and empaths, they turn out to be interrogators who steer the conversation and shape what their client says to them rather than facilitating a free flow. 70% of NLP trainers aren’t really listening even though they are convinced that they are. In the process they miss a lot of rich stuff. More on this topic and our research shortly.


NLP Needs a Framework for Transformation

While the tools, techniques, skills and approaches in most NLP programs can be powerful in the classroom, real life presents a different context. Fellow trainees primed and ready for change are easier to practice with. The very same techniques that rocked your world during training can be duds when used with clients.

Newer trainers without much client experience will also have times where their techniques fall flat. This can impact confidence, shake the willingness to experiment, create confusion, and cause the approach to be questioned. Clumsy, insistent, and failed attempts result in client reactions and beliefs that NLP is manipulative mind control. Some practitioners continue undeterred, believing in the technique, burning through clients, and rigidly certain of their effectiveness, while client evidence and results be damned.

Interventions are like tactics. They need a framework and strategy to know when, where, and how to apply them and with whom they will be effective. Spiral Dynamics Training offers that framework in the form of tools, models and maps to which the client, the approach, and the intervention may be plotted. These provide direction, guidance, and a plan to your change work.

Tools like the Spiral Dynamics Change State Indicator can tell you how much change your client can handle and what sized chunks and intensity they can manage. The Spiral Dynamics Discover helps you to identify the dominant operating system(s) in your client while aligning your approach, strategizing your interventions, and providing you the information you need to work congruently with your client(s). Models, like the Gravesian double helix, will help you develop a sense of each client’s context and know what is and isn’t ecological. They also help you to understand the subtle dynamics of group process. Together, when used well, NLP and SD can pack a powerful punch.

  1. Lloyd Johnson
    Lloyd Johnson08-01-2012

    *Note: I am an Australian NLP and Time Line Therapy(R) Trainer. Please read my comment in that context.

    I look forward to the mentioned future articles as this article is rich in accusations, yet poor in details. NLP is a very poorly regulated body of knowledge and the difference between the best and the worst trainers is huge (The same is true of most fields with more than a few trainers). It is unfair to suggest that attitudes around state control are causing harm – details please?

    I also wish NLP Courses were taught over a greater period of time – the human mind struggles to grasp new concepts and be able to implement them reliably with only a few days or weeks exposure to them. Recent research from Harvard University suggests 6 weeks is the optimal time period for humans to be taught related subject matter over. Though I notice the Spiral Dynamics courses seem to last only half a week? Could you please explain why a lack of practice time is a problem for NLP Courses (which are rarely less than 7 days), yet not for Spiral Dynamics Courses (that seem to last no more than 4 days)? Or is there a significant difference in the level of complexity between the two or something?

    • natasha

      Thanks a bunch for your willingness to jump in and get this conversation going, Lloyd. The quality of NLP trainings is very important to us for a few reasons. The first being that, as an important conduit to our courses, the introduction to “values” that participants receive in NLP training sets a baseline students bring into our programs. It can be a solid foundation of good information that makes clear what the Spiral Dynamics approach is and is not, or it can be a source of misleading nonsense rooted in projections and wishful thinking that is very hard to undo because those neural nets have “set” around certain erroneous ideas, especially in the hands of a powerful trainer. As such participants struggle with this in class, those around them also suffer and waste energy sorting facts from fictions.

      Thus, a solid foundation takes the individual, their classmates, and the program much further with far less repair work to do. Just like your vision is to make NLP available to large numbers of people, ours is to deliver a high quality understanding of Dr. Graves’s work along with customized, practical applications of it in Spiral Dynamics programs.

      Another reason for us to value high quality NLP trainings is what our participants are able to do outside the classroom environment. NLP training usually emphasizes skills and techniques, which is not the focus of our SD trainings. We rely on NLP and other programs to teach those which means we assume that some basic skills are present when participants join us. Our focus is quite specialized – identifying the Value Systems or the Gravesian Levels of Existence and then working with them effectively; that’s not as easy as most people seem to think or some trainers lead their students to believe.

      In our course work, four classroom days gets students started, and ninety percent take the time out to participate for the full seven days of our basic courses. That gives them a starting point, some tools to use, and enough of a foundation to practice. Those who are serious and who resonate with the material pursue it over a multi-year period via our more advanced programs. As you’d imagine, this number is smaller in a quick-fix nugget-minded world.

      Back to the point: effective observational, rapport, and interview skills make this journey much easier. We’re relying on those skills to be taught and transferred by excellent NLP trainers, so that our participants are able to “elicit” evidence of the dominant systems in their clients for more effective work and interventions. Our point is that seven out of ten students don’t get a full tool kit – or at least can’t utilize it in practice – so we have to add some skills training to flesh out competencies a great NLP practitioner should have.

      Hopefully you’ll see that this post isn’t intended to unfairly criticize NLP, only to say that a valuable chunk of responsive listening is often missing for the practitioners, master practitioners, and even master trainers we encounter. Stay tuned to this space for more where we plan to elaborate and respond to your questions. Thanks again for the opportunity to dialogue about these important issues!

  2. Shane Stevenson
    Shane Stevenson08-05-2012

    Sounds interesting. Just wondering how this course would benefit me as a Master Practitioner/Trainer of NLP having studied under Tad and Adriana James who deliver a version of the Clare Graves Values System? Is there a direct correlation between Spiral Colours and the Values Numbers or are there significant differences from your understanding? Thanks for your input.

    • natasha

      If you found what Tad and Adriana taught interesting, then it’s likely you will find ‘the real deal’ even more intriguing. If you’re asking the kinds of questions such a point of view can address, perhaps the time is right for you to go deeper. We’re in no way affiliated with the Tad James group – Adriana has never trained with us, and while we did a quick overview for Tad more than a decade ago, it seems that the introduction they provide to our material has been skewed and “force fitted” into “values”, thus we have diverged considerably.

      Two reasons for that: One, we’ve evolved our understanding quite a lot in the past ten years since this is a work in progress, so some of what we taught back then we now know to have been superficial and sometimes erroneous. We’ve mostly thrown away our old notes, so relying on out-of-date materials leads to out-of-date teaching and glib simplicity which simply is not there.

      Two, based on reports from our students who have taken the James’s trainings, and after listening to an audio program they offer discussing their take on Graves as a “values model”, we find some serious discrepancies between Tad and Adriana’s version and our current understanding of Dr. Graves’s work, its core, and its intentions. We found a number of factual errors and misleading claims in the audios and based on attendee feedback that we could not support.

      Thus, based on what we have heard, there are similarities and some very significant differences between what Tad is teaching as what you call “Values Numbers” and our view of Graves as taught in our Spiral Dynamics Programs. Since you’ve studied with them, you might find both the Theory Overview post and the FAQ section of this site enlightening for clarifying differences and fleshing out some concepts, along with our video on NLP. If you’ve not gone through some of Dr. Graves’s original writings at, we’d suggest that you do so. There is the “top 5 reasons” to train with us page, as well. Then sort it out and make up your own mind after you learn all you can. Stay tuned for a few more posts related to NLP in this space over the next weeks.

      For the specific colors versus numbers issue, go to the ‘SD in Action’ tab, scroll down to ‘Theory Overview’ post, then down to ‘Seeing the systems in colors.’ We largely abandoned the number system for serious discussions nearly two decades ago because it is so blatantly hierarchical and leads to typological thinking, one of the seven deadly sins we caution our own students against (ex: “a values level 5 says/needs/thinks/wants/does this” – not that easy to stereotype or categorize). We still teach Spiral colors at the most basic introductory levels and mention the numbers in passing since a few people – mostly in NLP so far as we know – still rely on that terminology. In our own work, we generally rely on Dr. Graves’s letter pairs since they designate both aspects of the emergent, cyclical model – existential problems on helix one and neurobiological systems on helix 2. They are more robust symbols and also permit greater nuance in discussions of transitional states, etc.

      If you are after more depth, breadth, tools and applications, and if you’re ready to take your knowledge and work to the next level, then Spiral Dynamics Level 1 and 2 Training would be your next step.

    • Rob Geurtsen
      Rob Geurtsen08-09-2012

      Having trained with Tad James intensively (NLP, TLT and Huna), I added the Gravesian Point of View on human development (ECLET, SD, or what ever nominator is used); thus, I guess, I have a little bit to offer in answer to your question:

      ” Is there a direct correlation between Spiral Colours and the Values Numbers or are there significant differences from your understanding?”

      Tad used to lump together a bunch of factors within levels/nrs. etc. The essence of the Gravesian point of view however is the match and mismatch of perceived and real life conditions and HOW we cope with them – how we shape life in creating and solving existential problems, not just a fight with your significant other.

      This combination of detail and unraveling that happens once you start with SD-trainings and in reading the articles on is something that adds so much to Tad’s training; it makes you a much better coach/helpers/trainer when you are able to delay conclusions and sit with observationing, listening, etc. Basically, you become aware that you’ve been seeing and helping your clients very much from your own level of existence (value number. etc) and that it requires thorough understanding and self-reflection to escape the trap of projection and reflection between coach and client.

      With the Gravesian Point of View (taught in Spiral Dynamics workshops) you can build on the nrs. as Tad presents them and start understanding the essential and useful differences between values, beliefs, drivers, motivation and VALUING.

      Go take SDL1 and 2, and get that integrated, it might work wonders.

    • Pip McKay
      Pip McKay08-11-2012

      I just thought I might comment on this one having done both. When I did my NLP Training with Tad back in 2000 I found the “spiral” one of the most profound models I had ever studied and an incredibly useful and challenging part of Master Prac. Then, I thought I had mastered it, and I shared it with others in a similar manner.

      A while later I felt it was important to go to the source and study with Chris and Natasha. Well I was blown away all over again. I had to unlearn some of my most cherished beliefs about Spiral and see it in a whole new light. The Spiral Dynamics workshop was very powerful and enlightening. I think that Chris and Natasha’s approach to Spiral is a more accurate tool for understanding what emergent trends are happening in our world, and where clients are at and how they can gain greater insights into what is happening for them. I had to let go of what my ego (for want of a better term) had become comfortable with and see greater complexity, profundity and paradox. I am so grateful for my SD training with Chris and Natasha and their compassionate, accepting and humour filled teaching style. Particularly their amused acceptance of my machinations as I gave birth to a new understanding of myself and those around me.

      Now in my trainings I present both understandings side by side. I explain why the first approach I learnt is appealing to business owners and some people at, what I call, “values level 5” because it gives them a hierarchy to follow and a way of their ego feeling comfortable with knowing they can be the ‘best’. I then teach what I understand of what I learnt from Chris and Natasha as a different more accurate point of view which deepens our understanding of the human condition and opens up that part of our awareness that can see beyond what our ego feels comfortable with. It really creates interesting conversations for the participants, and I think keeps it real for us as trainers.

      So I definitely recommend doing Chris and Natasha’s training. I think I am a better trainer, coach and human being because of it, and I feel my course participants gain a whole new dimension of understanding because of the influence of their approach. With warmth Pip McKay

    • Maisa

      agreed but I truly feel that its the therapy aspcet of NLP that is going to free the minds of so many. Modelling is fine and all but without the therapy before hand you still leave yourself open to distored perspectives and world views can you imagine someone with bad intent who decided to model excellent individuals? for me modelling is a byproduct after doing the therapy and the therapy is the most important as it clears out alot to make room for real change.

  3. Raff

    I would be much more careful about calling someone`s complementary/introductory teaching “a source of misleading nonsense rooted in projections and wishful thinking that is very hard to undo”.

    You see, I have the POV that the SD people got more positive attention (and business) due to the fact that my NLP Trainer gave a quick introduction to their wonderful model. As we’re talking about a man who’s definitely highly respected in the NLP community and a great opinion former, and I`d guess that he`s got a significantly stronger client database, and therefore, stronger voice, than (maybe combined with its partners) I would actually be honored to GIVE the man, absolutely for free, my specialized course, so he would be in synch with my latest discoveries and teachings.

    As for me, I`m just a guy who`s been in NLP for a long time, so I’d like to thank my NLP Trainer for his highly competent and incredibly inclusive/diverse NLP training. I truly prefer his teaching style to any other major master trainer in the current market and certainly wouldn’t have entered or paid any attention to this website if it weren’t for his misleading, nonsensical, wishful thinking, and hard to undo introduction.

    • natasha

      We appreciate your comment and your contribution to the discussion. It’s common to think of one’s NLP trainer with deep affection because of the intense experience, highly charged environment, and transformational context. It’s also common to be protective of how the field you care about is represented. We recognize that this can be a difficult conversation for some people because it brings up things they don’t want to look at or even acknowledge. Yet every discipline has challenges it needs to deal with. Are we better off looking at issues or trying to ignore them?

      Although you name one NLP trainer in your comment, we’ve changed it to “My Trainer” for the discussion. Just as we didn’t name the specific people included in our research – and we’ve had quite a few NLP trainers and Master Practitioners in our programs – it’s not fair to point out specific courses or trainers. What we can say is that some have attended our full SDL1 & SDL2, a few more than once, and they try to keep up to date with our work. The group you mention has not and is not licensed to use our materials.

      You cannot be familiar with our relationships with various NLP trainers around the world, including yours; but we’re sure this person(s), if sincerely interested in updating and getting deeper into Gravesian theory, would have the resources to make that happen. You might ask why your trainer hasn’t kept current and prefers to be “creative” with the work.

      After decades of experience training this point of view and working with it, we can say with great confidence that both a poor and an inflated introduction is extremely difficult to undo. Fiction doesn’t serve the learner very well; and we have seen the difficulty it can create both in the training room and later during client work and advanced training where lots of unlearning and relearning is needed.

      NLP trainers do many great things, and there are many excellent NLP trainers who make a tremendous difference in the lives of those they teach. Most are well-intended and work very hard to keep their skills well honed to serve their students. But that isn’t the point, here. When trainers advertise modules in communication and promise to help their students improve their skills, then doesn’t that mean the simple ability to listen should be present? It is merely one of the dozens of things that can be included in an NLP training, and only one thing we’re pointing out. Isn’t accurate listening as important as observing? Isn’t empathy as useful as congruent persuasion?

      Here’s one thing we would have included in this post: the same findings that apply to our sample group also apply to the average person, whether they were trained in NLP or not. NLP training doesn’t always make for excellence in communication. In-depth listening is so critical to spotting these systems accurately that it was worth our time and energy to dig further. But like leading a horse to water, we can’t force people to listen to others or hear them – what they say, how they say, and how they feel about it. At the same time, this lack of acute listening appears to be a general human tendency, so is it not incumbent upon those who advertise enhancing communication skills to actually model excellent listening approaches, as well as other skills?

      As we repeatedly say, we’re fans of NLP and believe it adds an incredible skills layer to Spiral Dynamics understandings. We are reporting the results of some research, nothing more. Just because a person is excellent at NLP skills doesn’t mean they automatically grasp our highly specialized material or the competencies to train it well. Credentials and skill in one area don’t automatically transfer to another.

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