Sunday, June 03, 2007

A really useful attitude

I've recently engaged in a foray into neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). This is due in part to my need to make explicit communication techniques for my collaborative governance program. I believe that tuning into other people is essential to success in this arena. Collaborative policymaking requires attention to details on more than just a policy level, and I think that it appeals to me more fundamentally because it ensures a greater degree of fairness in public decision-making than traditional methods. And since, ultimately I am still motivated by a strong desire to make the world a more fair place, I want to do this well.

I've begun my NLP discovery phase by listening to a book, read by the mellifluously-voiced author, Nicholas Boothman, entitled How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less. Having recently identified a strong personal need to put theory into practice, I like the way this book integrates research with experiential exercises. While I once fought a gut reaction to the idea that NLP is a manipulative practice, the book's exercises have helped me see how effective communication helps create a fertile environment for sharing information, thoughts and feelings in a more effective manner. I think this previous negative attitude stems from overhearing my mom make derisive remarks about NLP when I was young, and my being suspicious of anything that used the word "programming" in relation to human behavior. (Given my beliefs about behaviorism, I might have considered getting over this sooner.)

Boothman, a photographer by day--and as such, in need of building rapport very quickly, structures the book around several concepts encapsulated by catchphrases and acronyms. First, KFC, which stands for 1) know what you want, 2) find out what you're getting, and 3) change what you're doing in order to get what you want. He further illustrates the value of this by suggesting that the best way to get what you want is to "adopt a really useful attitude," because one is more likely to obtain information through a positive rapport. Things one can change to create a desired communication environment are: active listening, asking open-ended questions, synchrony, and tailoring one's communications to the sensory orientations of the other party.

I found the section on sensory orientation the most intriguing. I spend a lot of time trying to understand myself and how to better relate to the world, and as a student of the mind, fancy myself a quick study on learning modalities, which is analogous to the idea of sensory orientation in NLP. According to Boothman, 55% of the population is visually oriented, and thus processes the world through sight metaphors and thinking patterns. 15% of have a kinesthetic bent, considering their feelings and sensations as the point of reference for understanding. The remainder are categorized as auditory processors, contemplating the universe via verbal means. Boothman offers a quick self test, on which I scored highest for auditory, then kinesthetic and finally visual. Boothman suggests that these orientations correspond to certain preferences in communication, pastimes and conflict responses. I'm not willing to follow him completely down this path, as I had a very hard time answering some of the questions, but the gist of the idea provides a useful heuristic that will probably work in 90% of encounters.

I liked Boothman's closing statements, which stressed the importance of a useful attitude, and the idea that people are our most important asset. Inclusiveness is the key to satisfying the major tenets of democracy, and any communication techniques that support it are worth investigating.

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