Steve Andreas’ NLP Blog

NLP Articles, News, and Tidbits about Psychotherapy and Personal Development

This blog post from Steve began as an email to family members written in the last few months of his life, with some messages he wanted to pass on. Realizing it might be of wider interest, he asked me to be sure to share it with you. I’ve enjoyed re-reading it now, and I hope you do also. It’s a parting gift to us, and I feel his presence in it.

–Connirae Andreas


I want to share with you some tips that Connirae and I have found useful over the years, and wished that we had learned earlier! It would have saved us a lot of unpleasantness — and therapist fees. This may seem like a lot to read, but I think it will pay off in reduced confusion/friction, and increased satisfaction/happiness. There is nothing really new here, but hopefully you will find something that you haven’t seen before, or that you once knew, but that has slipped into disuse, and worthy of being revived.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of putting this all together years earlier, but I didn’t; hopefully later is better than not at all.

I suggest that you try these out one at a time. You don’t need to do them all at once. Experiment with each one. Find out how well it works for you before going on to another one.

Three Little Words, “Tell me more.”

When discussions slide into arguments, we tend to think in terms of winning and losing, instead of working together to find a mutually beneficial solution, and we tend not to listen very well. Thinking that if we just get our own point across, that will do the trick.

Whenever things get difficult, pause and ask the other person, “Tell me more,” and really try to understand what the other person is saying. Virginia Satir used to say, “Peace comes through understanding, not agreement.” We can understand another person fully, and not necessarily agree with what they are saying. And if you really try to understand the other person and their point of view, it goes a long way toward a solution.

Positive Intent:

One of the main principles of NLP is that every behavior has at the root a positive intent. This isn’t always obvious, and it’s often not something that can be observed from the outside. There is lots of experimental evidence that we tend to evaluate others by their behavior, and ourselves by our positive intent. So the more you can make the positive intent of your actions or words, evident or obvious to the other person, the better the chance of coming to a good conclusion. Another word for positive intent is positive outcome or positive purpose.

Once you’ve determined a positive outcome that’s acceptable to both parties, that means you’ll be allies working together to find a solution, in contrast to being adversaries.

So when something seems amiss, you can simply ask the other person “What’s your positive outcome?” And/or you can let the other person know your positive outcome. If the first outcome you get seems negative, simply ask again, “What will that outcome get you?” You can repeat this question until you get to something positive.

Once you’ve got something positive, usually the two people already begin to feel like allies. You both want the positive thing.

Here’s a simple example:

Person A: When you talk to me loudly like that, I feel uncomfortable. What is your positive outcome in what you are saying?

Person B: I want you to know how upset I am.

Person A: (taking a moment to just take in this statement.) OK, I get you are really upset. (speaking with some understanding.) And if I really know how upset you are, what do you hope will happen through that? (speaking with curiosity)

Person B: Then I’m hoping you’ll listen to me about what’s important to me here.

Person A: OK. I want you to know I’m willing to listen to you and hear what’s important to you. And it will be easier for me to listen if you would be willing to talk to me in a softer and more friendly voice tone. Would that work OK for you?

Another Example:

Person A: You’ve been repeating the same thing over and over and I’m feeling frustrated listening to this.

Person B: (backtracking): So you’re feeling frustrated hearing me say the same thing again and again.

Person A: Yes.

Person B: I guess I haven’t told you what my intention is. Sorry about that. What I was wanting to get across is blah blah blah.

Either person can shift the conversation to make clear what the intention is, and move towards a solution. Person B can share their intention, and this can help the conversation get back on track. But if person B forgets to do this, then person A can ask, “What is your intention in doing this?”


To demonstrate that you really are listening, it is very useful to “backtrack,” by saying back to the person what they just said to you. “So what you’re telling me is….”

When Connirae and I first did this with each other, it felt silly to us, but it really did make a difference to know that we were being heard accurately. The other thing backtracking does is it slows the conversation down, and often makes both people feel calmer. The issue becomes simpler — It’s just “Do I understand what you’re saying? Are you saying X?” This is much easier to deal with than whether or not you agree with X. You can completely disagree with what your partner is saying, and yet both of you can agree that they are saying it and that you understand it.

To make this really work, after you backtrack, ask, “Did I get it? Is that what you are saying?” The other person is likely to feel respected that you are taking the time to check if you understand their message. It also gives the other person the chance to add to it a little bit, or to correct anything you may not have understood the first time, or that they may not have expressed clearly or fully.

Often it’s more important to know that we’re being heard, than whether the other person agrees with what we’re saying. It’s particularly important with small children. If a child says “I want more candy” and the parent simply says, “You can’t have any,” the child doesn’t know if their message has gotten across. The whole interaction becomes one of disagreement. And often the child will just repeat the demand over and over again. “I want candy.”

If instead you start by backtracking and saying to the child (with some kindness/empathy if possible) “You want more candy, don’t you,” it’s clear to the child that he’s being heard and understood. This can be of some comfort even if the child doesn’t get the candy.

Then the parent can go on to give a simple explanation of some sort: “I don’t want you to eat candy now, because it’s almost dinnertime.” Or “I don’t want to get out the candy because it isn’t healthy for you (or me either). And I want us to be healthy. Is there something else you would like to have for a snack right now? You can have some apple or orange if you want.”

Since the child feels heard and understood he’s less likely to persist in his demand. He may give it a try to see if the “No” really means “No,” or not. But once the child learns that he can count on you to still say “No,” he is more likely to shift attention to other choices that are available. It’s an easier shift for the child to make because you acknowledged his/her want first.


Whenever possible, process a troubling communication right away, when the details — especially the nonverbal aspects — are fresh in your mind, before the memory has a chance to fade or change. When that’s not possible, think about when in the near future might be a good opportunity to discuss it, and make a mental note to remind you to bring it up for discussion.

Time Out:

If the discussion isn’t going anywhere useful, it can be helpful to have a nonverbal signal that can let the other person know you need a time out. (You can use something simple, such as making your two hands into the form of a “T.”)

The person requesting the time out can say something like,“I’m feeling totally overloaded, and I don’t feel resourceful enough right now to help things go in a positive direction,” and then request a time out. The person who requests a time out has the responsibility to suggest another time within a reasonable period of time. “Let’s discuss this when we’re both in a better state. Would you be OK with that? Will tomorrow afternoon work for you?” It needs to be clear that this isn’t a way of avoiding the discussion, only changing it to another time and place when listening to each other and perhaps coming to a solution might be more likely.

Avoid discussions in enclosed spaces:

In general, don’t have a heated discussion in an enclosed space where one or both people can’t physically leave if they want to, for example in a moving car or airplane. If one or both people feel trapped the discussion can get much more charged than necessary.

Change the context:

Sometimes changing context makes a big difference. If people typically argue over a dining room table, try out having the discussion on the living room couch, or in any different area, such as the bathroom, or even under the dining room table. Sometimes having a new context can make it much easier to find a new solution.

Avoid certain contexts:

Don’t argue in public, where it’s more likely that one or both of you may feel the need to be “right,” and become entrenched in your position.  It’s good not to argue in bed. Save the bed for sleeping and other more dependably positive activities.

The importance of the nonverbal:

Often what is said isn’t nearly as important as how it’s said. I can say, “A whale is not a fish” in an even, matter-of-fact tone, or I can say it in a judgmental tone that implies the listener is stupid, or in a tone that implies I’m unsure of myself. The nonverbal behavior carries more information about the relationship, which is often much more important than the factual information being discussed.

This is true of nonverbal posture and gestures as well. “Looking down your nose,” with head tilted back, or a dismissive hand gesture “waving aside” what the other person said, carries a tone of judgment that will get in the way.

It’s useful for each of us to be aware of this in ourselves to the degree we’re able. When one person feels uncomfortable in an interaction, often they are responding to the tone of the other person rather than the content. If this can be brought into the discussion in a non-blaming way, it can be useful. One of the examples above has an example of this: “When you talk to me in a loud voice like that, I feel uncomfortable.”

“I” vs. “You”:

Whenever possible, talk about your experience, rather than focusing on what the other person may have done to “cause” your experience. “Yesterday you scared me,” can sound like blame and lead to defensiveness. If you say, “Yesterday when X happened I was scared,” or even “Yesterday when you said/did X, I felt scared,” it’s easier to listen to, and your partner is more likely to feel empathy and want to do something to help you feel better.)

“I don’t believe you,” may seem similar to “You are lying,” but there is a world of difference between them. The first describes your own experience, which you can know. The second describes the other person’s experience, which you can’t really know; you can only guess at it. Stick with expressing your own experience and you can avoid a lot of misunderstanding.

Use “You” only when you are talking about a specific action that happened, like, “This morning when you answered the phone, . . .” can be a useful way to identify the situation you’re talking about. Then you can go on to add your experience, such as “This morning when you answered the phone, your voice sounded kind of sharp and I wondered if you are annoyed with me about something.”

Talk about a specific incident, not a generalization:

Sometimes couples fall into the mistake of saying “You always…” or “You never…” which is a big generalization, unlikely to be true. Even when it seems to be “always,” working with a generalization usually doesn’t yield good results. The other person usually feels blamed, and/or might feel the need to prove that it’s not really always.This gets things off track and away from any productive problem solving.

If instead you use a particular example it’s much easier to stay in problem-solving mode and find a solution. (“Yesterday afternoon when I picked up the kids, . . .”) And usually any solution will automatically generalize to other similar examples of the problem. This is particularly true if you problem solve with the worst (most emotionally intense) example.

Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

NVC provides a 4-step format that combines many of the principles described above, and adds to it. Following is a summary of the principles of NVC. (Drawn from here, with some editing and added examples.)

  1. State concrete actions you observe in yourself or the other person.
  2. State the feeling that the observation is triggering in you. Or, guess what the other person is feeling, and ask if your guess is correct.
  3. State the need that is the cause of that feeling. Or, guess the need that caused the feeling in the other person, and ask if your guess is correct.
  4. Make a concrete request for action to meet the need just identified.

The Components of Nonviolent Communication

Doing these steps can be fairly easy, with some fleshing out to understand them. (Connirae and I used to sit down with notes to help us when we first learned this.)

1. Observations.

Observations are what we see or hear that we identify as the stimulus to our reactions. Our aim is to describe what we are reacting to concretely, specifically and neutrally, much as a video camera might capture the moment. This helps create a shared reality with the other person. The observation gives the context for our expression of feelings and needs.

The key to making an observation is to separate our own judgments, evaluations or interpretations from our description of what happened. For example, if we say: “You’re rude,” the other person may disagree, while if we say: “When you walked in you didn’t say hello to me,” the other person is more likely to recognize the moment being described.

When we are able to describe what we see or hear in observation language without mixing in evaluation or judgment, we raise the likelihood that the person listening to us will hear this first step without immediately wanting to respond, and will be more willing to hear our feelings and needs.

Learning to translate judgments and interpretations into observation language moves us away from right/wrong thinking. It helps us take responsibility for our reactions by directing our attention to our needs as the source of our feelings, rather than to the faults of the other person. In this way, observations — paving the way towards greater connection with ourselves and with others — emerge as a crucial building block towards more meaningful connection.

2. Feelings.

Feelings represent our emotional experience. They are the physical sensations associated with our needs that have been met or that remain unmet. Our aim is to identify, name and connect with those feelings. The key to identifying and expressing feelings is to focus on words that describe our inner experience rather than words that describe our interpretations of people’s actions.

For example: “I feel lonely” describes my inner experience, while “I feel like you don’t love me” would be interpreting the other person’s actions and making a guess about how he/she may be feeling. When we express our feelings, we continue the process of taking responsibility for our experience, which helps others hear what’s important to us with less likelihood of hearing criticism or blame. This increases the likelihood that they will respond in a way that meets both our needs.

A list of feelings to explore is available here.

3. Needs.

Our needs are an expression of our deepest shared humanity. All human beings share key needs for survival: hydration, nourishment, rest, shelter, and connection, to name a few. We also share many other needs, though we may experience them to varying degrees, and may experience them more or less intensely at various times.

In the context of Nonviolent Communication, needs refer to what is most alive in us: our core values and deepest human longings. Understanding, naming, and connecting with our needs helps us improve our relationship with ourselves, as well as foster understanding with others, so we are all more likely to take actions that meet everyone’s needs.

(Common human needs include need for love, for connection, need to know if my actions are valued, need to be treated as an equal, need for respect.)

The key to identifying and expressing needs is to focus on words that describe shared human experience rather than describing a particular strategy to meet those needs. For example: “I want you to come to my birthday party” is a particular strategy. The need might be for love and connection. Whenever we include a person, a location, an action, a time, or an object in our expression of what we want, we are describing a strategy rather than a need. In the “birthday party” example, the statement includes a person, an action, and an implied time and location.

The internal shift from focusing on a specific strategy we believe will meet our need, to connecting with the underlying need itself, often results in a sense of power and liberation. We are encouraged to free ourselves from being attached to one particular strategy by identifying the underlying needs and exploring alternative strategies.

Feelings arise when our needs are met or not met, which happens at every moment of life. Our feelings are responses to the event or action that triggers them, but they are not caused by the trigger: their source is our own met or unmet needs. By connecting our feelings with our needs, we take full responsibility for our feelings, freeing us and others from fault and blame.

And by expressing our unique experience in the moment of a shared human reality of needs, we create the most likely opportunity for another person to see our humanity and to experience empathy and understanding for us.

A list of needs to explore is available here. It is offered as a resource for identifying and experiencing your own needs and guessing others’ needs. The needs on this list appear in their most abstract, general and universal form. Each person can find inside herself or himself the specific nuance and flavor of these broader categories, which will more fully describe her or his experience.

4. Requests.

In order to meet our needs, we make requests to assess how likely we are to get cooperation for particular strategies we have in mind for meeting our needs. Our aim is to identify and express a specific action that we believe will serve this purpose, and then check with others involved about their willingness to participate in meeting our needs in this way.

In a given moment, it is our connection with another that determines the quality of their response to our request. Therefore, when using NVC, our first requests are “connection requests,” intended to foster connection and understanding and to determine whether we have sufficiently connected to move to a “solution request.”

An example of a connection request might be: “Would you tell me how you feel about this?” An example of a solution request might be “Would you be willing to take your shoes off when you come in the house?” The spirit of requests relies on our willingness to hear a“No” and to continue to work with ourselves or others to find ways to meet everyone’s needs.

A request is not a demand. Whether we are making a request or a demand is often evident by our response if our request is denied. A denied demand will lead to punitive consequences; a denied request most often will lead to further dialogue. We recognize that “No” is an expression of some need that is preventing the other person from saying “Yes.”

If we trust that through dialogue we can find strategies to meet both of our needs, “No” is simply information to alert us that saying “Yes” to our request may be too costly in terms of the other person’s needs. We can then continue to seek connection and understanding to allow additional strategies to arise that will work to meet more needs.

To increase the likelihood that our requests will be understood, we attempt to use language that is as concrete and doable as possible, and that is truly a request rather than a demand. For example, “I would like you to always come on time” is unlikely to be doable, while “Would you be willing to spend 15 minutes with me talking about what may help you arrive at 9 am to our meetings?” is concrete and doable.

While a person may assent to the former expression (“Yes, I’ll always come on time”), our deeper needs — for connection, confidence, trust, responsibility, respect, or others — are likely to remain unmet. If someone agrees to our request out of fear, guilt, shame,obligation, or the desire for reward, this compromises the quality of connection and trust between us.

When we are able to express a clear request, we raise the likelihood that the person listening to us will feel that they are given a realistic choice in their response. As a consequence, while we may not gain immediate assent to our wishes, we are more likely to get our needs met overtime, because we are building trust that everyone’s needs matter. Within an atmosphere of such trust, goodwill increases, and with it a willingness to support each other in getting our needs met.

Learning to make clear requests and shifting our consciousness to making requests in place of demands are very challenging skills for most people. Many find the request part to be the hardest, because of what we call a “crisis of imagination” — a difficulty in identifying a strategy that could actually meet our needs without being at the expense of the needs of others.

Even before considering the needs of others, the very act of coming up with what we call a positive, doable request is challenging. We are habituated to thinking in terms of what we want people to stop doing (“Don’t yell at me”), and how we want them to be (“Treat me with respect”) rather than what we want them to do. (“Would you be willing to talk in a quieter voice?” or “Would you be willing to check with me before agreeing to an invitation for us both?”)

With time, and a deeper connection to our needs, our creativity expands to imagine and embrace more strategies. This fourth step in NVC of making a concrete request is critical to our ability to create the life we want. In particular, shifting from demands to requests entails a leap in focus and in faith: we shift from focusing on getting our needs met, to focusing on the quality of connection that will allow both of our needs to truly matter, and ultimately also to be met.


Expressing our own observations, feelings, needs and requests to others is one part of Nonviolent Communication. The second part is empathy: the process of connecting with another by guessing theirfeelings and needs.

In times of conflict, letting another person know that we understand their feelings and that their needs matter to us can be a powerful turning point in problem situations.

When we use NVC to connect empathically, we use the same four components in the form of a question, since we can never be certain of what is going on inside the other. We respect that the other person is the ultimate authority on what is going on for them.

We may ask something like:

Observation: When you [see, hear, etc] …
Feeling: Are you feeling …?
Need: Is it because you need …?
Request: And would you like …?

For example, imagine a parent on a camping trip with their teenager. They begin setting up camp. The teenager is having difficulty with the tent, and throws it down on the ground and says…

Teen: This is stupid!

Parent: (observation) I notice you threw the tent down, and said “this is stupid,” (feeling) are you feeling frustrated? Or missing home?

Teen: I just don’t understand why we’re going to all this work when I have a nice bed at home. Why do we have to sleep out here?

Parent: (need) So you need comfort, that’s really important to you isn’t it? Especially when you’re sleeping?

Teen: Yeah, duh.

Parent: (request) Would you like help setting up your tent in a way that it can be most comfortable to you? Maybe we could find a flatter place? Or get some more blankets from the car to make it softer to sleep in?

Here’s another example of a couple at a restaurant. Sally looks over at Joe and says, I’m so glad we could be here together.

Joe: (with sarcasm) Yeah, such incredible quality time.

Sally: (observation) When I hear you say, “yeah, such incredible quality time,” with that tone of voice, (feeling) I wonder if you’re feeling upset about something?

Joe: I never have any say about where we go, and then you expect me to enjoy it.

Sally: So you have a need to have an equal say in where we go when we spend quality time together?

Joe: Yes, that would be nice for a change.

Sally: So would you like me to ask your opinion first, next time when we schedule a date night? So we can make sure we go to a place we both like?

In an ongoing conversation, we might not always need to mention the observation (since it may already be clear in the context), or the request (since we’re already acting on an assumed request for empathy). And we might wait to guess a request until after we’ve connected more and are ready to explore strategies.

Empathizing in this way may meet the other person’s need for understanding, or it may spark their own self-discovery.

Empathizing doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice our own needs. The ability to understand and express the other person’s feelings can aid us in finding strategies that meet both of our needs. It can be a way of meeting our own needs for understanding, connection, or contribution. It can also be a powerful tool to meet the other person’s needs.

In the process of sharing empathy between two people, if both parties are able to connect at the level of feelings and needs, a transformation often happens in which one or both parties experience a shift in attention. This can lead to a shift of needs or generate new reserves of kindness and generosity. In seemingly impossible situations, it can even open us to remarkable bursts of creative solutions that were unimaginable when clouded by disconnection.

The language of NVC often helps us relate with others, but the heart of empathy is in our ability to compassionately connect with our own and others’ humanity. Offering our empathic presence, in this sense, is a means through which we can meet our own needs. It is a gift to another person and to ourselves of our full presence.


Both expression of our own feelings and needs, and empathic guesses of others’ feelings and needs are grounded in a particular awareness that is at the heart of Nonviolent Communication. This awareness is nurtured by the practice of self-empathy.

In self-empathy, we bring the same compassionate attention to ourselves that we give to others when listening to them using NVC. This means listening through any interpretations and judgments of ourselves that we are making in order to clarify how we are feeling and what we are needing.

This inner awareness and clarity supports us in expressing ourselves to others, or receiving them with empathy. It allows us to make a request to ourselves about where we want to focus our attention.

The practice of NVC entails an intention to connect compassionately both with ourselves and with others, and an ability to keep our attention in the present moment — which includes being aware that sometimes in this present moment we are recalling the past, or imagining a future possibility.

Often self-empathy comes easy, as we access our sensations, emotions and needs, to attune to how we are. However, in moments of conflict or reactivity to others, we may find ourselves reluctant to access an intention to connect compassionately, and we may falter in our capacity to attend to the present moment.

Self-empathy at times like this has the power to transform our disconnected state of being and return us to our compassionate intention and present-oriented attention. With practice, many people find that self-empathy alone sometimes resolves inner conflicts and conflicts with others as it transforms our experience of life.

Steve Andreas’ passing

Dear Friends,

It is with a full heart that I am letting you know that our beloved Steve passed away last Friday morning, September 7th. We will miss him greatly. It is some consolation that he went quite peacefully — which is the kind of “exit” he was wanting. He was surrounded by family: Present in the room were myself (Connirae), along with our two oldest sons, our daughter-in-law, and young grandson, plus one close family friend. Our third son plus other two daughter-in-law’s and grandchildren were able to be with us through Zoom. I was grateful for each of their presence in holding the space for Steve’s transition and passing.

Some of you may know that Steve had been feeling ready to go for some time. (He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and his condition declined faster than we expected.) A few days before he died, Steve said he was feeling like a prisoner in the body he had, which could now do almost nothing. He was spending almost all the 24 hours lying down in bed, and even the smallest movements took huge effort. He said to me that it was difficult for him to get across to those of us around him how difficult his experience had become.

He made the choice to use Medical Aide in Dying, which became legal in Colorado about a year ago. On the morning of the 7th, he confirmed to us that it felt like the right choice for him. After his final goodbyes, he took the medicine, took a deep breath, and almost immediately let out a big sigh that looked like relief. He looked more relaxed than I’d seen him in a long time. We don’t know exactly when the end came, but probably within 15 to 45 minutes.

We want to thank those of you who have emailed with condolences and love. Some of you have shared touching stories of how Steve and/or Steve’s work has had a positive impact on your life. These emails definitely touch us, and I like to think these heartfelt expressions also find their way to Steve, wherever he may be now. (One writer expressed that perhaps Steve is now in heaven, laughing because he never believed in any of that.)

Who knows. But we do appreciate the wide community of people who are generously extending their kind intentions our way and Steve’s way. (We hope you understand that our reply to you is likely to come “invisibly” through our felt appreciation, rather than a written response.)

Steve’s life mission was to understand human nature, and to make the most effective methods of personal transformation and change widely accessible. Fortunately Steve’s work can live on: through the many examples of his trainings and client work recorded on video, through the books, and also through those of us who continue to utilize this work.

Steve has always been devoted to precision in his work, recognizing that this holds the key to getting significant and reliable results.

He considered his most significant contributions to be his Transforming Your Self work (which will continue to be available on streaming video), and the understanding of scope and category he lays out in the books, Six Blind Elephants.

While he was still alive, Steve told me many times that he is thankful that Mark, Tamara, and I will be continuing this work in our own way, through Real People Press, Andreas NLP Trainings, and our other trainings and client work. While each of us has a unique personal style, we share the same commitment to precision and effectiveness. We will do our best to continue being a resource for the good.

And what about the blog? Our plan is to continue this blog: Steve wrote one more blog post which will go out soon. After that Tamara, Mark, and I expect to make posts, with occasional guest posts. All of Steve’s posts will remain available here as a resource.

We have been taking some quiet family days, spending time in nature with the children and grandchildren and local friends. It’s a beautiful fall here in Colorado and as we spend time in nature with the children and grandchildren, perhaps Steve is smiling at us through the leaves of the trees.

Connirae, Mark, & Tamara

The Structural Patterns of Change:

(A reorganization of reframing patterns)

Steve Andreas

Revised 5/28/18


       Note: I have revised this presentation repeatedly since I first offered it several years ago, trying to make it clearer and more “user-friendly.” It is an attempt to summarize what I presented in my two-volume book, Six Blind Elephants (578 pp.) but which I failed to provide in those books. So it inevitably leaves out a lot of detail—and almost all of the examples. Please consider this a “work in progress” to be further refined in the future.

You can download this article as a PDF here:
The Structural Patterns of Change

Reframing is usually thought of as a relatively small part of NLP, originally divided into content reframing and context reframing, and later further divided into the 14 “sleight of mouth” patterns. However, I think that all change can be usefully described using one or more patterns of reframing, and all of these different patterns derive from only three variables. Every change of experience changes one or more of the following:

  1. A scope of experience in space or time,
  2. The categorization of a scope,
  3. The logical level of categorization.


What is a Scope?

NLP is often defined as “The study of the structure of subjective experience.” The main difficulty in describing the structure of an experience of scope is that usually a scope is immediately categorized, and that nearly all the words we have to use to describe a scope indicate categories (except for proper nouns such as “John Smith” or “New York City”). Scope is what is experienced (seen, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted) before it is categorized or identified.

An example of this is hearing someone speaking a language you don’t understand; you can hear the sounds perfectly well, but you don’t know how to punctuate the stream of sounds into separate scopes of sounds, or what those scopes indicate. Or think of a time when you didn’t know what you were seeing or hearing; you could see it or hear it, but you couldn’t immediately categorize it. Usually an experience of this kind is immediately followed by a vigorous effort to identify what it is, because that is so useful in responding appropriately.

For simplicity, let’s first explore scope in a moment in time, as if the flow of time were stopped:

  1. Modality. Each of the five sensory modalities is a process that is sensitive to certain aspects of our experience, providing a scope of raw data or information of a certain kind. A useful metaphor for a sensory process is a pipeline or conduit that transports some content, such as water or electricity. Awareness is a process that is always aware of something, before it is categorized as a particular something. A modality is not a scope, but it is a conduit for a scope. For instance, the auditory modality is not a scope, but a particular sound or set of sounds is a scope.

Each modality provides information that is different from the other modalities—though there is some overlap, such as location. (If there were no overlap, we wouldn’t be able to integrate the scopes from the different senses into the unitary experience we usually enjoy.)

  1. Submodality. Each submodality is a subdivision of each modality, a smaller conduit that is sensitive to a narrower aspect of a modality and offers a certain scope of raw data or information. A large image carries more information than a small image, and a color image carries more information than a black/white image. A submodality is not a scope, but it is a conduit for a scope. For instance the submodality “color” is not a scope, but a particular color or set of colors is a scope.
  2. Submodality Part/Whole. A submodality may only apply to a part of an experience, rather than the whole. Part of an image may be larger, closer, clearer, more colorful, more in focus, etc. “Figure/Ground” is the simplest example, in which the “figure” is seen as somewhat closer than the rest of what is seen, emphasizing the “figure.”

Every still image will have submodalities, but only some will have partial enhancement that “highlights” one (or more) aspects of an image, drawing attention to it. This effect is often a factor in internal representations of importance or values, which are motivating (toward or away from) and if out of balance, may result in compulsions or addictions.

  1. Time. All the factors described above presuppose an unchanging scope in space, as if time did not exist. However, a still image is an artificial (though often useful) representation of the flow of events, whether external or internal, or both. In reality, the flow of events is a changing movie, not a static momentary snapshot, even when changes are very small, as in “boredom.”

Even the shortest movie changes the scope of time, and this usually changes the scope of space. We typically punctuate our experience of time into segments of different length, with somewhat arbitrary beginnings and endings. The span of an “event” can vary from a “split-second” to days or months, or even a lifetime, before categorizing it, as in “That was a tough interview,” or “He had a good life.” A longer scope in time provides a larger context, similar to that provided by a larger context in space, the “bigger picture.” However, a larger context in either space or time usually makes it harder to notice the smaller details, unless you “zoom in” to magnify a part of the image.


What is a Category?

A category is a group of two or more scopes selected according to one or more criteria that they all possess, and represented by a “prototype” that represents the category. In humans this category is often indicated by a word. If I say the word “chair,” the image that appears in your mind is your prototype for that category. Any comparison creates a category, because even though it focuses on differences between the experiences compared, that presupposes that the two are similar (“comparable”) in some way.


What is a Logical Level?

The sensory-based experience of a “chair,” before it is categorized, is a scope, which becomes an example of a basic category, such as “chair,” or “furniture,” or “household belongings,” or any other category. A sensory-based scope example is arbitrarily designated logical level 0.

A category like “chair” that includes a group of sensory-based scopes is called a basic level category, at logical level 1.

However, the category “chair” could be included in a more general category “furniture,” including tables, beds, desks, etc. A category whose members are also categories (rather than sensory-based scopes) is at logical level 2

The category “furniture” (at logical level 2) could be included in a yet more general category like “household belongings,” along with other level 2 categories such as “clothes,” “clocks,” “shoes,” etc. A category whose members are categories at logical level 2 is at logical level 3.

However, the category “chair” could also be divided into more specific basic level categories at logical level 1, such as “antique chairs,” “modern chairs,” “lawn chairs,” etc. In that case, the category “chair” would be at logical level 2, rather than 1.

If “antique chairs,” “modern chairs,” “wooden chairs,” were not basic level categories, but were further subdivided into yet more specific categories, then they would be at logical level 2, and “chairs” would be at logical level 3.

From the foregoing it should be clear that logical levels are not fixed, but reflect how someone categorizes, a way to track how someone categorizes, which has many uses. One is that the prototype image for a higher logical level will be less specific (more abstract) than the prototype image for a lower level. This has both advantages and disadvantages.

A major advantage to making a change in a more abstract behavior like “honesty” is that it will generalize much more widely (to more contents and contexts) than a more specific behavior, such as “speaking in a loud voice.” This makes it possible to predict—at least in a general way—how widely a change will generalize. Some behaviors (like sex) are usually more useful if they are somewhat narrowly contextualized, while others (like being observant) are useful in a much wider range of contexts.

A major disadvantage of working at a more abstract level is that the prototype for a behavior like “honesty” is much less detailed and sensory-specific than “speaking in a loud voice,” which is much less ambiguous. That makes it hard to know what specific behavior constitutes “honesty” in a given situation—intellectual honesty, emotional honesty, financial self-disclosure, etc.? The highly abstract category indicated by the words “collateral damage” doesn’t include vivid images of screaming, bleeding, burning flesh.

Knowing this trade-off between wide generalization and specificity can sensitize us to the likely consequences of working at different logical levels, and makes it possible to choose the logical level at which to make an intervention. A general principle is to work at the most specific logical level that will get the desired outcome. For instance, if a client is distressed because they can’t spell well, teaching the successful spelling strategy will be more useful than teaching them “how to feel comfortable about making mistakes.”


Each of these is a pure process intervention that changes what a client attends to, and that elicits a different (and hopefully a more useful) experience and response. The different reframing patterns provide a familiar window for understanding how these three fundamental processes underlie all change work. This greatly simplifies the task of characterizing a client’s experience, and also indicates what kind of intervention will be most useful.

Most of the reframing patterns below are content-free processes, meaning that the therapist doesn’t introduce content into the client’s experience. However, as the client shifts attention in response to an intervention, they will attend to different content out of their own experience, and this will often change their response.

This reorganization helps you understand how all the different reframing patterns are related, what kind of change of experience will result from using each, and points out ambiguities in earlier presentations of reframing patterns.

Whenever a pattern has previously been named (for instance in Robert Dilts’ “sleight of mouth” descriptions) that name is used. Dilts lists 14 different patterns; the list below contains 24, but some are different names for the same kind of scope/category/logical level distinction, and some differ only in content. The number of fundamental patterns is not written in stone; that depends on how specific you make distinctions in creating categories.

A simple sentence stem is used to exemplify each intervention, to make it easy to distinguish the different patterns listed (sometimes this restriction results in somewhat awkward sounding sentences).


  1. Change of Scope:

      A. Space

Expand frame (larger scope) “And the larger context around that is. . . ?”

Shrink frame (smaller scope) “And part of that is. . . .”

Change frame (different scope) “And something entirely different than that is . . . .”

Perceptual Position (self, other, observer) “And how s/he would see this is. . . ?”

      B. Time

Prior cause (earlier scope) “And that’s because. . . ?” Notice that “And what happened before that was. . . ?” is much subtler because it implies prior cause (causality), rather than presupposing it.

Consequence (later scope) “And the result of that is. . . ?” Notice that “And what happened after that was. . . ?” is much subtler because it implies consequence (causality), rather than presupposing it.

Expand frame (larger scope) “And if that still picture were expanded into a movie to include what happened before, and what happened afterward. . . .” Often a traumatic memory is seen as an unchanging still image “frozen in a moment in time.” Seeing that horrible moment of peak emotion in the longer context of a movie is a powerful intervention that provides a larger perspective, while presupposing that the static moment will change into something else.

Shrink frame (smaller scope) “And a part of that event is. . . .”

Change frame (different scope) “And a very different period of time is. . . .”


  1. Change of Categorization: (at the same logical level)

Redefinition or Redescription “And a different way to describe that is. . . ?”


  1. Change of Logical Level of Categorization:

       Lower Logical Level.

Eliciting a more specific category or an example (scope):

Category to more specific category “And that is what kind of. . . ?”

Category to scope And an example of that is. . . ?”

Counterexample category (Category to specific category with negation) “And an example of when that isn’t true is called. . . ?”

Counterexample scope (Category to scope with negation) “And an example when that isn’t true is. . . ?”


       Higher Logical Level  

       Eliciting a more general category:

Meta-frame The prefix “meta” alone has been used ambiguously in the past to indicate either a larger scope or a more general category. Since “Expand frame” already describes a larger scope, I will use “meta-frame” to mean a shift to a more general category that includes the original scope or category. “And that is an example of. . . ?”

There are many such meta-frames, and many specify content. Some of the more useful and familiar ones that have been described previously are listed below:

Positive Intent “And the positive intent of that is. . . ?” Positive intent creates a category of which this experience is an example. (“I did that to make you happy.”)

Learning “And what you learned from that is. . . ?” elicits a more general category of “learnings.”

Curiosity “And what was most interesting to you about that is. . . ? elicits a more general category of “interesting things.”

Hierarchy of criteria “And what is more important to you than that is. . . ?” elicits a more general category of “things that are important.”

Metaphor/Analogy “And that is like what. . . ?” Metaphor elicits a category that an experience is “like,” in some way or ways, meaning that it satisfies one or more (but not all) criteria for inclusion in the category.


       Self-reference elicits a category that includes itself as an example) These patterns are seldom applicable, but very useful when they are, because they are logically “airtight.” Both of these loop between logical levels;

Apply to self (applying a category to itself) “And is what you just said an example of itself?. . . ” “You said that you hate complaining; is what you said a complaint?”

Paradox (apply to self with negation) “And is what you just said not an example of itself?. . . ” “You said, ‘I won’t communicate with you,’ but what you said is also a communication.”


       Ambiguous Reframing Patterns (in addition to meta-frame (described above) Each of the categories below is an example of one of the previous categories described.

Outcome “And the outcome of that is. . . ?” An outcome can be either a scope of experience (a specific new car) or a category of experience (status). Asking about an outcome could shift from one scope to another scope, one category to another category, from a scope to a category, or a category to a scope (four possibilities). Notice that an outcome could be in the past (“What I wanted to achieve”) the present (“My outcome is”) or the future, (“What I hope will happen is”).

Another Outcome Just as an outcome is ambiguous, another outcome could also yield the four possibilities listed above.

Meta-outcome (outcome of the outcome) Again, asking about a meta-outcome could also yield the four possibilities listed above. When the prefix “meta” a used in other ways, it is also ambiguous in regard to scope and category.

“Chunk down” can mean either going to a smaller scope or to a more specific category, or to a specific example (scope) included in a category.

“Chunk up” can mean either going to a larger scope or to a more general category, or from a scope to a category.

Reality Strategy asks for the evidence (the epistemological basis) for their experience. “And the way you know that is. . . ?” The responder may tell you a category (“That is one of the things my parents told me.”) or a scope of experience (“I saw it happen,” or “It’s in the Bible.”).


Practicing and using this information

There are many ways to use the information in this very brief outline; here are just a few:

You can examine the individual steps in any standard NLP intervention (such as the Meta-Model questions, change personal history, or the phobia cure) and notice which reframing pattern occurs in each.

You can write down examples of what you have said to clients, and discover which patterns you typically use. The ones that you don’t use indicate where you can expand your range of skills and flexibility.

You can think of things clients have said to you that you found difficult or confusing, and find out what patterns they exhibit. How does that suggest to you how you might respond the next time a client says something like that?

Better yet, make a transcript of a short recorded segment of a session with a client, and notice which patterns you use, and which patterns your client use in response. Do they respond appropriately to the pattern in what you said, or not? If not, did you repeat what you said, or did you accept their inappropriate response?

You can do the same with transcripts of different therapies, to notice how they are biased, and how this limits what they can accomplish. For instance, psychoanalysis mostly asks for an earlier scope of time (“prior cause”) and the tired old, “How do you feel about that?” asks for a higher category, what is often called “meta” (All emotional feelings are categories that include the experiences they include and evaluate.) directing attention away from practical problem-solving.

You can practice using different patterns together for greater effect, for instance: “When you see the larger context around that memory, how else could you describe that situation?” first asks for an expanded scope, and then for a recategorization of the larger scope. “Give me an example of that, and tell me how you responded?” first asks for a specific scope included in a category, or a smaller category, and then asks for a report of the consequences later in time.

As an exercise, pick any two patterns at random, and create a sentence that uses both; then notice how hearing that sentence changes your experience.

You can say to a client, “Tell me more about that,” which is ambiguous, and notice which patterns they use in response. That will tell you something about how they are processing a problem or outcome—or how a previous therapist has trained them to respond in the therapy context.

This article has described verbal interventions, but the same principles apply to the nonverbal aspects of a communication. For instance, if you ask, “How else could you describe that situation?” while gesturing broadly with both arms expansively, that is an invitation to expand the frame in space to include a larger context, and then to recategorize it. Using a gesture in which both hands move together indicates a smaller context, a smaller scope of space, instead of a larger context. If you ask the same question with a sweeping horizontal gesture, that’s an invitation to expand the scope of time to include what happened before and after an event, while a shorter gesture invites attending to a smaller scope of time. Asking the same question while raising a hand vertically is an invitation to think of a more general category at a higher logical level, while a downward gesture would invite the client to think of a more specific category. These are only broad generalizations of course; utilizing the gestures a client spontaneously uses to indicate these kinds of shift will be much more dependable.


A friendly challenge:

In this short article I’m claiming that every intervention that changes subjective experience—whether officially designated as “NLP” or not—can be usefully described using this set of reframing patterns, which are based on only three fundamental process variables—scope, categorization, and logical level. As you experiment in the ways I have suggested above, if you find an communication that you have difficulty characterizing (or you think you have found an example of a pattern that isn’t listed above) read my two-volume book, Six Blind Elephants, which provides much more detail, and many more examples.


Third Interview with Damon Cart

1st video here.
2nd video here.

Interview with Steve and Connirae (21 min.):

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Second Interview of Steve Andreas by Damon Cart

First video here.

This is the 2nd interview of Steve by Damon. Next week will be the 3rd interview with Steve and Connirae.

Interview with Steve part two (23 min.):