How to Create Well-Formed Outcomes in NLP

Identifying and establishing outcomes is a central and first step in NLP. If s easy to say what you don’t want. Focusing on an outcome you do want creates a much more engaging concept and gives you a clear indication of your commitment. If you don’t make the choice for yourself in any aspect of your life then, by default, someone else will make it for you.


Creating well-formed outcomes


1. Positive

Every time you focus on what you can’t do or don’t want, you are creating a negative outcome and reminding yourself of what you want to avoid. How would you react if someone said to you: ‘Don’t look behind you!’? I know I would immediately turn my head. In order to avoid something, I have to think about it, and then to react to it. A much more useful instruction would be: ‘Keep looking ahead.’


Divya, a manager in a busy customer-care office, agreed to reduce poor timekeeping in the office as part of her annual appraisal. This was a negative and restrictive outcome. When she decided to put a positive angle on it, she considered the question: ‘What do I really want to happen?’ She was then able to think about the real issue. Poor timekeeping meant the office was sometimes empty. An empty office ted to the ‘hotline’ phone ringing continuously without being answered, meaning lost customers. What Divya wanted was to maintain existing customers and increase the number of new ones who joined the ‘hotline’ service. She was now able to think about changing conditions and creating flexible working patterns that would lead to at least one phone being operated all the time – a more creative and outward-looking outcome. She decided to introduce flexible rostering, particularly at ‘twilight” and ‘sunset’ shifts.


2. Specific

Be specific in describing your positive outcome, and use as many questions as you can to check how specific you are. Moving from general to specific enables you to concentrate on answers and solutions.


Divya asked herself the following:

Where? – in the red office.

Who?  – I need at least one member of the team to be available for customer calls.

When? –  from 0800 until 2200 hours.

What? – I will arrange a change of working hours.

How? – in individual and team discussions and meetings. We will review after the first three months.


3. Evidence

To enhance the energy and application of your outcome, it is useful to imagine as much sensory-based evidence as you can. This will increase your motivation too. If you don’t know when you’ve achieved your outcome, you could still be using up resources long after you’ve actually succeeded.


For Divya, this meant asking: what will I see, hear and feel, and how will others know this has been achieved?


- I’ll see at least one dedicated phone operator in the red room at all times.

- I’ll hear only three rings before the phone is answered.

- I’ll feel confident and relaxed about covering the lines.

- They’ll be able to see the roster every week, they’ll hear words of encouragement from me and they’ll feel acknowledged in their needs.


4. Ownership

Whose outcome is it? Be aware of whether you are dependent on someone else for your success. If you are waiting for others to change, you risk becoming a passive spectator. Consider your own part in and contribution to the process.


Divya’s key contribution is to identify what she wants, initiate discussion and, having agreed the procedures, to put these into practice.


5. Fit

How does the outcome fit in with other aspects of your life and your overall plan? Are there other people or factors to take into account? If you were to achieve your outcome, how would you feel about it? The response to this last question will indicate how important the outcome is.


In terms of Divya’s ‘fit’, knowing that customers’ calls would be answered and that staff would be clearer about their responsibilities tied in with her being a constructive and collegiate manager. Other areas of the company would be positively affected by additional orders, and they would need to consider the additional administrative impact.


6. Resources

Sometimes, we forget that our resources are internal as well as external. A well-formed outcome will include consideration of both for initial achievement and then continued maintenance. If you accept that you have all the internal resources you need, the skill is to relate them specifically to your outcome. The acquisition of external resources may need greater planning. If you know what you need, you have a much better chance of designing the means of acquiring the requisite resources.


Divya remembered the time she was on the receiving end of changes at work. She had felt involved and valued when Toby took the time to ask for her ideas and suggestions. She knew she had used his example to create an atmosphere of trust in her team, and felt confident of her ability to listen to their views.

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