NLP jargon we love to hate

It always amazes me that NLP, a field that studies and teaches good communication, uses so much confusing jargon. Including the name “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” itself, of course…

I like jargon — when it’s useful. Words like “submodalities” and “anchor” express distinctions that otherwise might take a paragraph to explain.

However, I object to jargon that causes communication problems.

NLP jargon that causes problems

  1. Unnecessary jargon makes it harder to communicate with non-NLPers — your clients, for instance. (Why confuse a client with the word “submodalities,” when you can instead specify submodalities such as brightness, loudness, and temperature, and get the client into state?)
  2. Confusing terms makes it harder for NLPers to communicate with each other. People also find confusing NLP terms difficult to learn and remember. (Quick: is through time when the timeline goes through the person’s body… or is it when the person observes their timeline from outside?)
  3. Ambiguous jargon omits important distinctions. (If you tell a client to “chunk up” petting dogs, do you want her to consider a larger scope of sensory information, such as petting dogs in more contexts, or over a span of many years? Or do you want her to consider more categories of what to pet, such as cats, plants, and fuzzy blankets? What if you mean one, and she picks the other? Some NLP processes only work if the client chooses the correct option. Vague language may leave the client unsuccessful and the practitioner puzzled why the technique failed.)
  4. Misleading NLP terms gets NLPers to make potentially inaccurate assumptions. (As Steve Andreas pointed out here, the term “timeline” presupposes a linear time representation. But some people don’t code time in a line. They use time tubes, time panoramas, or other time representations. A NLPer who presupposes a time line may not notice the actual time structure a client uses.)

NLP jargon that works

In my experience, jargon is useful when:

  1. it adds distinctions not available in ordinary vocabulary (break state, sequential incongruity);
  2. it provides shortcuts to quickly describe what would otherwise require a long explanation (ecology check, driver submodalities);
  3. the terms clearly describe their subject matter (Self position and Other position, rather than first position and second position); and
  4. the terms distinguish related concepts from each other (in time and observe time, rather than in time and through time).

NLP jargon to change

I started eliminating jargon from my own speech because so much NLP terminology confused me, my clients, the NLP students I taught, and non-NLPers.

Since I like words that aid good communication, I suggest:

  • Instead of through time, say observe time.
  • Instead of 1st position, 2nd position, 3rd position, 4th position, etc., use descriptive names: Self position, Other position, Observer position, Group position…
  • Instead of meta-program, say preferred attention strategy. (Most non-NLPers don’t know what “meta” means. The word “program” has so many meanings that “meta-program” could describe almost anything: a computer program, a personal or business strategy, etc.)
  • Instead of timeline, say time representation.

What NLP jargon would you like to change?

  • What NLP jargon do you hate, and why?
  • What term(s) do you prefer to use instead?

Post your ideas and suggestions in the Comments. If I like your idea, I may cite it in the article or post about it.



NLP jargon we love to hate — 4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Living Well NLP » Dejargonizing NLP --

  2. One of the words that I found as difficult to describe to a client is Neuro Linguistic Programming.

    Programming is what is done to a non living electronics device such as a computer.

    I use neuro logical language repatterning.

    Just as confusing? perhaps, although I do have better responses from clients as to what they think this means rather than the look of a deer in the path of an oncoming car.

    It seems difficult enough saying I am a hypnotherapist – that has produced fear in more clients than i would have expected.

    I refer to my self as a facilitator, then include the comment “how can I be of assistance to you?

    I ‘calibrate’ the response I receive and will ‘match & mirror’ to be in ‘rapport’

    So we can set up a linguistics class to teach perspective clients how to understanding NLP practitioner.

    Or perhaps even how to understand you physician of choice.

    Hmm, perhaps not, after all, the physician needs to offer the impression that he is well educated by the use of fancy words. ‘I believe you may either have IBS or acid reflux’

    I am glad back in the days I just had the stomach flu and not food poisoning {Mom?}

    Are we not taught to embed uninteligable comands into their sub conscious mind?

    Perhaps not, we do want our clients to understand what we are doing, at least consciously,


    Still having lunch on this one while I read a book on Quantum Mechanics to find out “Who did it”

    The boson, the lepton, the quark or that Higgs guy they are still looking for.

    Guess I am just a mis-matcher after all

    ‘Sacred Reality’

  3. A nicely written article.

    Overall, I think NLP seems so ‘digital’. there are few Visual representations of models.

    Regarding Jargon:

    ‘Lesser included structures’ = a clause or sub-clause. Why not call it that?

    ‘Trans-Derivational Search’ = Remembering or Imagining!

    I could go on!

  4. Good points, Steve!

    Overall, I think NLP seems so ‘digital’. there are few Visual representations of models.

    I’ve made a few visual representations of models, and found them illuminating. Often they revealed information about the model that I didn’t get from a verbal description.

    Steve Andreas would like to see NLP patterns presented as demonstration videos, with follow-up, so other practitioners can (a) see and hear what the presented actually does with clients, vs. what they say they do; (b) see and hear each client’s response, and evaluate it for themselves; and (c) learn about the long-term effects (or lack of effects) that the client experiences after the intervention.

    I like your jargon examples. Please do go on!

    While I do find it useful to have one word that encompasses both remembering and imagining, ‘transderivational search’ has got to be one of the worst pieces of jargon ever devised. Another example of NLP borrowing an obscure term from computing/cybernetics (or possibly psychology) rather than inventing clear terminology laypeople and practitioners can easily understand and remember.

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