NLP and Neuroleadership – What’s the Difference?

Posted on October 10, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized |

In this post, Tara Neven, the co-founder and co-director of neuresource group, looks at Neurolinguistic Programming and Neuroscience of Leadership and provides some interesting insight.


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I have been asked recently about the difference between neurolinguistic programming (often known or referred to as NLP) and neuroscience of leadership (NsL). Long before I knew much about the functioning patterns of the brain, I was actually an accredited NLP practitioner. Given this, together with my knowledge and qualifications in Neuroscience of Leadership, I believe I can provide a clear understanding of the differences between the two. Whilst the two have the word “Neuro” in the titles, NLP is often misinterpreted as being linked to neuroscience. It is not in the strict sense. It does link in the respect that it looks at how the brain works and how we process information, but not from a neuroscientific perspective. Having said this, it is fair to say that many NLP practitioners are also exploring the insights emerging from the field of neuroscience. NLP had its origins in the early 70s (well before the development of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI’s) in the 1990’s which measure brain activity by detecting associated changes in blood flow). Bandler a student at University of California and Grinder a linguist studied speech patterns which led to the formation of their meta model. Their model showed a model of language structure and they coined the title to denote their belief in a connection between neurological processes (‘neuro’), language (‘linguistic’) and behavioral patterns that have been learned through experience (‘programming’) and that can be organised to achieve specific goals in life. What is my Personal Take on NLP? I would suggest that the practice of NLP can be greatly enhanced by understanding and incorporating the insights emerging from the neuroscience field. Aside from having my first introduction to “communication skills“ through a particularly good NLP trainer and coach. I quickly saw the implications, relevance and power of many of the techniques. I find that NLP has some very apt approaches for dealing with many communication and language issues. It is not the whole answer but there are plenty of useful materials and techniques in NLP. What might neuroscience offer? We are learning more about the brain than ever before and cognitive social neuroscience is emerging as a major force in research psychology. This field is contributing to our understanding of the process behind social behaviour, important given work is a highly social context. Currently we are seeing many aspects of the work world benefiting from our increased understanding of the brain seen for example in the development of more practical applications through NeuroMarketing, NeuroEconomics and Neuroleadership where there is a natural cross over with NLP in an indirect form. What can Neuroscience do that NLP can’t? Neuroscience focuses on the brain at its functional level.  So we could say that Neuroscience is at the base of our understanding.  Neuroscience provides us with much broader insights and therefore has wider implications.   Understanding fear in the brain and how it affects our processing of information can lead us to more powerful fundamental solutions than NLP techniques, as good as they may be. I see Neuroscience as the scientific foundational understanding –and NLP as one of the many techniques to apply this, particularly around communication. The future lies in neuroscience – but more importantly it lies in those who can give practical application to the findings in neuroscience and develop the right interventions.

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4 Responses to “NLP and Neuroleadership – What’s the Difference?”

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When i talk to people about my interest and expertise in Neuroscience they often say “Ah NLP – i know that”. Explaining the difference isn’t always easy. You have provided a simple answer to catpure that difference – thank you.

Hi Jennie, Glad you found the blog useful.

Hi Tara,
I have been studying David Rock’s work on neuroleadership and became a member of his organization. I just returned home from an NLP training and wondered, “how does neuroschence fit with NLP tools and practices?”. Looking for answers, I stumbled on your post. What a great explanation.
Thank you so much,
Bart Harris

Hi Bart, great to hear you found the blog useful.


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