SD in Action

Seven out of Ten NLP Trainers Don’t Listen


No doubt you believe you do “rapport” very well. You believe that you’re a great listener – one of the three out of ten who can listen well. So perhaps you’re reading this because you are curious to find out about your colleagues and competitors. Here’s a quick self-analysis to check. Do you:


  • Talk over others without being aware of it
  • Do most of the talking in an interaction
  • Jump to the intervention as quickly as possible to avoid “wasting” time and get on with it


  • Assume you already know what the other person will be saying or what they mean before saying it
  • Feel like you can almost “read minds” and know what others really need
  • Assert your way and keep pushing until you get what you know is “right” or “best” for the other person
  • Act like the cruise director and take over with your “better” approach
  • Tell others what to feel or attempt to change their reactions


  • Inject helpful tidbits relating your own experiences to others’ while they’re still telling their own stories
  • Ask questions to “elicit” and to help others “get to the point”
  • Direct and manage the conversation to maintain control
  • Offer judgments, evaluations, and suggestions before your client is ready for them


  • Experience discomfort with certain emotions and maneuver away from them


Consider these scenarios. Any of them sound familiar?


An NLP trainer, acting as an assistant in one of our courses, keeps interrupting a slow and quieter group process. He feels compelled to fill the dead air by telling them what to think through directive questioning. They listen politely; however, having been derailed, it takes a long time to get back on a slightly different track. The well-intended but authoritative interruption messes up their process because he can’t really listen to them and their needs; he imposes his own structure because he knows he knows best.


Another trainer cuts off a client to tell him what to do, proud she had solved the problem so quickly because it was a common ‘piece of cake.’ But the client walks off feeling discounted and he won’t return. For him, the problem was special and unique. She has made him feel ordinary and unheard.


Another speaks over his co-trainer’s explanations by injecting his own approach without noticing he’s repeating what was just said. The audience hears a pair of overlapping monologues, not an enriching conversation. It’s competition for ‘air time,’ not synergy.


During a brainstorming session a facilitator steps in to present his views because the group is neglecting to include his wisdom; they politely distance themselves from the poor results. Actually, they had given up trying to contribute when it became clear that he wasn’t really listening early on; they had shut down and just let him go with his approach. Brainstorm over. Wasted process.


Another trainer takes charge of setting up a room while brushing off direct requests from the co-training team. When he is done, they go back and redo things the way they need it for their group process. By not listening he cost the team three times the energy they would have spent if they had worked together – and if had he responded to their needs instead of imposing his will.


We train trainers, many of them NLP trainers who are supposed to have, and who also teach, communication skills that supposedly far surpass the average individual’s ability to connect with others. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that seven out of ten NLP trainers, including master trainers, don’t have all the skills needed to listen to their clients or each other sufficiently to conduct optimal analysis of a situation. They direct well enough, but often fall short in responsive listening, an often-overlooked aspect of real rapport. We’ve seen the problem during classroom activities and in field exercises. It’s real and largely unrecognized in the NLP community.

With all the pacing and leading, matching and mirroring, rapport, sensory acuity, and the “meaning of your communication is the response that you get,” where did the ability to listen and check those responses go? Do we take it for granted? Having ears isn’t listening. Seven out of ten NLP trainers have a hard time implementing the basic active listening skills we teach in our training. Most don’t know that they don’t know.

Many think they’ve ‘got it’ already – no need for a new skill. They don’t find it relevant until they realize later that responsive listening is very difficult for them, even though it seemed deceptively simple in comparison to the rest of their elaborate NLP skill set. Listening is a critical component in analysis preceding effective client work, interventions, training, and all other interpersonal and group interactions. Without it, these are less effective than they could be, often missing significant information simply due to closing off to important cues and clues.

Does this suggest something missing in most NLP training? We think it does. Open-ended elicitation is crucial for getting at what the client/student/colleague is really thinking and feeling rather than the practitioner’s projection of it.  Why rely on educated guesses or a belief that you know more about the client’s internal state than they do when all it takes is honing your listening skills to gather more data up-front? After all, even if you are spot on target with your observations, the other person won’t go much deeper with their process and let you into it unless you actively demonstrate that you are hearing their meaning and emotions. “I’m listening” and “I hear what you’re saying” don’t cut it. They prove nothing.

Hearing words, even repeating them accurately, is not the same as listening. Actual listening, real listening, acknowledges the legitimacy of the other, reflects their feelings, their experience, the content of their reactions and thoughts, and connects to the context of that relationship in caring and genuinely interested ways. It grants the person the right to think their thoughts and feel their feelings. This happens PRIOR to NLP directives and interventions. Learning some new communication skills, namely the balance between responsive and directive communication, has yet to be mastered, even by the masters. Together, Spiral Dynamics and NLP can be quite a powerful team, but not if the practitioner cannot (or will not) listen so as to understand what’s going on.

How NLP practitioners are taught to listen is part of the problem because it often limits them to those signals pointing to known techniques and interventions. “Peripheral” information tends to be discounted as irrelevant, no matter how critical it might actually be to the client and the outcome. To complicate matters further, the beliefs “you’ll know what to do” or “trust the process” or “trust your unconscious mind” all exacerbate the problem by keeping practitioners blind to its very existence. After all, if you can hear and you are certain you know what to listen for, then you are listening. Right?

One NLP Master Trainer proudly teaches that staying out of the content and the “muck of emotion” allows for more effective NLP interventions – “focus on the process, not the content” goes the conventional wisdom.  With such advice, is it any wonder that the core of connection and listening is regularly missed? In our trainings, many NLPers are unable to perceive their weak performance in listening activities. They don’t hear what they’re missing. Some see the blindspot in others, but not in themselves. Still others discount the whole notion until push comes to shove and the value of a more in-depth listening approach becomes apparent to them.

You know that pause that comes after you ask your client a “quantum linguistics” question? Sometimes it is a long one, long enough to give you time for a thought like: “How powerful. I’m making a real difference here.” Then they come back with an answer that blows you away, reinforcing your belief in your own prowess. You know what? That pause meant they had to stop their process, reorganize, focus on your needs to answer your question, and give you something they thought you needed/wanted rather than giving you deeper insight into their process.

So go back to the top, copy the points and be brutally honest with yourself. If you have three or more then you’re likely in the 70% and have some work to do. Listening with empathy and depth can be learned. You just need to choose to do it.

  1. paul

    this is only a reflection to a higher order often referred to as “the grid” or “social consciousness”. We are all plugged into it limited expression yet total control of peoples manner, thoughts and fantasies. While I agree the standard of NLP being taught has dropped, even since I completed my Master NLP certificate, which was about 14years ago. We have heard Grinder talk about this in great depth introducing his new code etc BUT what is being overlooked, is the overriding fact that people are becoming desperate. This is karmic evolution and is being forced upon us all via planetary influence and the result 2 paths are opening up.

    1. Those who have a sense or have an awareness that evolution is achievable through the emotional body and are self reflecting, growing and respecting our fellow brothers..
    2. Those fighting and suppressing soul learnings constantly grappling for control, power and wealth to feel safe.

    The gap is widening and these people only use NLP as a tool to better suppress, hide, avoid and dodge there own inner void of self rejection.

    While higher quality training and educational programs might seem like the solution for helping these issues, I can agree with this post that it is the discipline of self reflection that creates the greatest change. A truly flexible epistemology trumps over an expanded epistemological zone – there is a difference.

    good article, but will probably only give the ones that need it another tool to point the finger at someone else.


  2. learning covert hypnosis
    learning covert hypnosis02-12-2013

    Excellent post. I am experiencing a few of these issues as well.

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