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NLP coaching techniques can be an effective way to change how we do our work. We spend a lot of time in meetings. UX teams specifically invest in workshops, follow-ups, and check-ins to communicate goals, shifts in priorities, and clarify changes. On my teams, I have also had to have debriefs to digest what people discussed in previous interlocks. The work we do to decode communication is time-consuming and frustrating. How can we communicate effectively and efficiently?

What if we can use specific techniques to elicit clear communication? Enter NLP linguistic programming.

In this post, I will outline how to use simple NLP coaching techniques to help with coordinating and aligning with your extended team (i.e. Product managers, developers, and their leadership).

Learn more about building trust with stakeholders.

What is NLP linguistic programming?

NLP stands for neurolinguistic programming. Not to be confused with natural language processing. Most NLP practitioners I have worked with would admit that the name is dated and confusing. However, the techniques are useful for effective communication and empathy building. How does it work? In short, it helps you understand how emotions and mental states affect how we communicate. If we are bringing emotional baggage to an interaction (and we are), how can you work through it?

The issue with communication

Our common and short-sighted goal about communication is to get our point across. This ignores the person we are trying to connect with and it often neglects to address the thoughts we are trying to process in our heads at the same timed.

A common interaction is of people spending their brain cycles looking for an appropriate response to something the other person said. Those responses are tailored to back up one’s own position. As a result, we rarely listen and we walk away no not feeling heard.

Key NLP coaching principles

In order to navigate the emotions that you and your communication partner bring to an exchange there are key principles to acknowledge. These are the foundation of the NLP approach.


Presuppositions are “truths” that you accept as the realities of how people behave. Below are key presuppositions that have helped me move on to better communication.

All things have a good intention behind them

Another way to say it is that everyone has a good intention behind their decisions. This means that while certain actions may not have a positive impact on you, they have been made with the intent to better something. Seek what that good intention is. Then you will understand the motivation behind people and their decisions.

All maps of the World are different

Everyone has a view of the world that is different from our own, and you can add that they are out of date too. Go back to the time when we had a limited view of Earth. Cartographers created competing views of unexplored oceans and continents. We have our diverse views of how the World “should” operate. The conflicts happen when we try to impose our map over other people’s maps.

All results are good feedback

Whether your efforts result is perceived success or failure, it is all feedback. It is feedback to continue what you are doing or to adjust your approach.

How to easily apply NLP coaching techniques

Now that you have exposure to key principles. How can you actively apply NLP techniques with your interactions? One of the impactful activities that I learned was how to help myself and others get to what they want with the following activity.

Well formed outcomes

Well-formed outcomes is a simple activity that you can do for yourself or with another person to help get ourselves what we really want. There is a resistance to truly thinking about what we want. People are often guarded with exploring and pursuing their dreams. Therefore you can imagine that doing this exercise with another person requires trust and a safe environment.

Learn more about cultural dimensions and organizational culture types.

Common fears of remote teams

Steps to a well-formed outcome

The following are key questions that you can ask to help define the outcome. I have put them in a logical order to unwrap a big goal, the steps needed, and the intended and potential unintended impact on you and the people around you.

What do you want?

It is a simple question. However, it can throw people off because of all of the directions it could take you. One way to help is to frame the issues you are dealing with. In the context of work, perhaps you are trying to tackle the following issues.

  • Too many meeting
  • Too much time talking about problems with the project
  • Too much time talking about potential upcoming projects

Now that you know what you do not want, you can stay within this context with what problem you want to solve? For example, if you do not want more meetings, then ask, “what would you like to happen?” One can say that I want more time to focus on important work. For the remainder of the example let us focus on this.

Example: I would like us to collaborate freely and openly.

What will that get you?

When you achieve the goal of getting more time to focus on important work, what are the results? This answers the question, “why”? Why is it important to focus on this? Is there actually something more important you can focus on?

What does it look like when you get what you want?

What does success look like? If we are trying to collaborate in a free and open manner, have your partner describe or visualize that scenario. How are we doing it? Are there things that do not exist today?

How will you feel when you achieve that?

Here is something we often do not focus on at work. But it feels great to get things accomplished. What is the emotion you are going after? Once you accomplish the goal, imagine what that feeling will be like. If you cannot find a compelling emotion from completing this goal, then perhaps you need a more compelling vision.

What steps do you need to take to get what you want?

In terms of work, what is the definition of done? This helps draw a finish line that you can visualize. I often start with what are the next steps. If we are to work more openly and freely, what do we have to start doing and what should we stop doing?

How do these actions impact the people around you?

Often our actions will have an impact on the people closest to us. If we need to start or stop doing certain actions that involve other people, who are they? How will this impact their work?

Closing thoughts

The UX design team is already in the position to understand the problems of the user. Often the team has to barrel through the problems of the team. Before you start drawing lines and pitching your position. Work to understand the problems the team can solve together.

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.