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First presented at The Developing Group 9 May 2015

 Getting to ’It’: First Words – First Questions

James Lawleyand Penny Tompkins

We spent many an hour with David Grove modelling how he “mused” on the first words out of his clients' mouths (and even what happened before these words – but that’s another topic). Later, while training people new to Symbolic Modelling, James and I noticed that the value of the session can depend on the direction set by the facilitator’s first few questions.

We all use the same clean questions, but experienced symbolic modellers can facilitate a client to get somewhere significant more frequently than novices. How do they do that?

They ‘decode’ the embedded information in a client’s first words, and are guided by the information these words reveal. They notice ‘how’ as well as ‘what’ the client is responding – and employ a ‘trial and feedback’ heuristic as the session unfolds.

The topic for the May 9th Developing Group will be how we can develop our skills to model a client's first words so that our first questions can be of maximum benefit to them. This ability goes by various metaphors, e.g. ‘getting to it’; ‘sorting the signal from the noise’; and ‘having a high hit rate’.

The context for the day will be coaching/therapy, but of course the skills from the day can be applied by managers, colleagues, parents, etc etc!

Please bring along any of your client's first words or a transcript of the beginning of one of your sessions.

We have touched on this topic a number of times but not with quite the same frame as we will use on Saturday. As preparation, any or all of the following articles will prove useful. If you only have time to read one we would recommend the first one about musing.

Generalised model for modelling symbolically with extended example:

Background reading about the construct "start":

General review of "it".

The Problem - Remedy - Outcome model:

Has a worked example:

A description of the PPRC model and how it can be used for modelling:

Technical article about modelling embodied schema:

Example 1

Note: The facilitator’s repeating back of the client’s words have been left out of the transcript.

1 And what would you like to have happen?
I want to layout the problems and pick one. Maybe it’s wishful thinking that they are all connected.
2 And how many problems do you want to layout?
About four
And when you layout about four problems, where do you lay them out?
In front of me, there [sweeping gesture].
And where is the first problem?
[Points to left.]
And where’s the second problem?
And the third problem?
And the fourth?
Are there anymore?
Draw those problems as you have laid them out.
[Takes big sheet of paper and draws four shapes in different colours.]
Where are you drawn to?
That one [points to the first shape]
And now you have laid out those four problems, there, and picked that one, what would you like to have happen?
It doesn’t let me grow and I want to remake it into something safe that I can put on or take off as I need to.
12 And then what happens? Then I have energy .
And what kind of energy?
It will be warm and light.
And that’s warm, light energy, like what?   
Burning coal.

Penny Tompkins & James Lawley
Penny and James are supervising neurolinguistic psychotherapists – registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy since 1993 – coaches in business, certified NLP trainers, and founders of The Developing Company.

They have provided consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Yale University Child Study Center, NASA Goddard Space Center and the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

Their book,
Metaphors in Mind
was the first comprehensive guide to Symbolic Modelling using the Clean Language of David Grove. An annotated training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation demonstrates their work in a live session. They have published over 200 articles and blogs freely available on their website:
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