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Neuro‐linguistic programming (NLP) is an approach to communication and personal development focusing on how individuals organize their thinking, feelings, and language. While a growing number of academic articles highlight the application of NLP in organizational settings, a systematic review synthesizing and evaluating the quality of this evidence has not been conducted to date. The aim of this article was to follow the preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta‐analysis (PRISMA) guidelines and conduct a systematic review of empirical studies evaluating the application of NLP in organizational settings. Targeted outcomes included self‐esteem, trustworthiness, organizational commitment, and occupational stress. Academic research databases used to identify articles included ProQuest, PsycINFO, Science Direct, Google Scholar, and a specific NLP database. The literature search yielded 952 titles from which seven studies met all of the inclusion criteria. Findings indicate that NLP can be effective for improving a wide range of work‐related psychological outcomes including self‐esteem and occupational stress. However, there were concerns regarding methodological rigor. In general, the benefits of NLP were both overpromised and undersupported. Implications for future NLP application and research, with a focus on the relevance to current issues in the field of human resource (HR) development, are discussed.
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ACCEPTED MANUSCRIPT
The Applications of Neuro-Linguistic Programming in Organisational Settings:
A Systematic Review of Psychological Outcomes
Citation:
Kotera, Y., Sheffield, D., & Van Gordon, W. (2018). The applications of neuro-linguistic
programming in organisational settings: A systematic review of psychological outcomes.
Human Resource Development Quarterly. doi: 10.1002/hrdq.21334
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Abstract
Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is an approach to communication and personal
development focusing on how individuals organise their thinking, feelings, and language.
While a growing number of academic articles highlight the application of NLP in
organisational settings, a systematic review synthesising and evaluating the quality of this
evidence has not been conducted to date. The aim of this article was to follow the preferred
reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analysis (PRISMA) guidelines and conduct a
systematic review of empirical studies evaluating the application of NLP in organisational
settings. Targeted outcomes included self-esteem, trustworthiness, organisational
commitment, and occupational stress. Academic research databases used to identify articles
included ProQuest, PsycINFO, Science Direct, Google Scholar, and a specific NLP database.
The literature search yielded 952 titles from which seven studies met all of the inclusion
criteria. Findings indicate that NLP can be effective for improving a wide range of work-
related psychological outcomes including self-esteem and occupational stress. However,
there were concerns regarding methodological rigour. In general, the benefits of NLP were
both over-promised and under-supported. Implications for future NLP application and
research, with a focus on the relevance to current issues in the field of human resource
development, are discussed.
Keywords: Training/Training and development, Coaching, Organizational Performance,
Workplace Stress, Human Resource Management
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Introduction
While there is debate concerning a precise definition of neuro-linguistic programming
(NLP) (Grimley, 2016; O'Connor & McDermott, 2001; Sturt et al., 2012), NLP researchers
usually regard it to be a methodology to model human experience and communication
(Bandler & Grinder, 1979). NLP focuses on determining how outstanding results are
achieved in both the personal development and psychotherapy domains, and uses these
insights to foster continuous improvements in human functioning (O'Connor & McDermott,
2001). NLP has its origins in observations that Richard Bandler made about specific
linguistic structures used by the psychotherapists Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton
Erickson, to increase the effects of positive suggestions on patients (Bandler & Grinder,
1979). A key assumption of NLP is that there are common linguistic patterns, that were used
by these successful psychotherapists, to elicit successful outcomes during therapy (Bandler &
Grinder, 1979).
NLP has been used to treat a variety of clinical symptoms including depression,
anxiety, and stress (Simpson & Dryden, 2011; Stipancic, Renner, Schütz, & Dond, 2010), and
has been used in a wide range of fields worldwide including management, business,
education, and sports (Karunaratne, 2010; Tosey, Mathison, & Michelli, 2005; Zastrow,
Dotson, & Koch, 1987). In the UK alone, over 100,000 individuals have attended NLP
training courses (Tosey & Mathison, 2009). Between 2006 and 2009, 326 National Health
Service (NHS) trusts and strategic authorities spent more than £800,000 on NLP-related
training that included delivering the programme to more than 700 NHS employees (Sturt et
al., 2012). In Japan, the NLP Connection organisation has certified 1,725 practitioners, 1,321
master practitioners, 373 trainer associates, and 40 trainers (C. Hall, personal communication,
March 15, 2016).
NLP is also used as a coaching method in organisational settings, including by (for
example) organisations such as the BBC, Metronet Rail, AstraZeneca, British Telecom, and
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Burton Foods. Anecdotal reports indicate that within these organisations, NLP led to
improvements in work engagement, work motivation, and job performance (Abrams, 2004;
Human Resource Management International Digest, 2010; The Association for NLP, n.a.).
One of the key applications of NLP techniques in organisational settings relates to effective
goal-setting and strategies to maximise goal-attainment (McDermott & Jago, 2006). While
goal-setting methods used in organisations tend to be cognitively-oriented (e.g., the SMART
goal), NLP’s unique approach to goal-setting, such as the well-formed outcome (O’Connor &
McDermott, 2001), invariably makes use of the five-sensory domains as well as include body
movement exercises as a means of helping people envisage how a successfully implemented
goal might impact various aspects of their life (e.g., the Disney strategy; Dilts, 1995). These
unique NLP features are understood to improve goal ownership and motivation, as well as
foster more adaptive psychological strategies relating to goal attainment (Kotera & Sheffield,
2017).
NLP has also been used by organisations across the remits of self-management,
presentation, negotiation, interviewing, team building, leadership, and self-appraisal
(Grimley, 2016; O’Connor & McDermott, 2001; Tosey & Mathison, 2009). For example,
feedback-seeking (i.e., asking for feedback from colleagues to identify areas of improvement;
Anseel, Lievens, & Schollaert, 2009) corresponds to an NLP presupposition (i.e., the guiding
principle that practitioners act upon; O’Connor & McDermott, 2001) that ‘the meaning of
communication is the response you get’ (O’Connor & McDermott, 2013, p.35). Similarly,
reflection refers to NLP’s strategy that involves closely analysing one’s subjective experience
in a certain work-related context (O’Connor & McDermott, 2001). These philosophical
approaches and specific skills of NLP, that aim at translating structured learning into applied
skills by facilitating informal learning, are critical for human resource development (HRD),
as many organisations still heavily orientate their staff development around formal learning
(Kock & Ellström, 2011). Furthermore, a translational approach – comprising translation of
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knowledge from science into the development of new models, and translation of research into
practice (Woolf, 2008) – is achievable in, and aligned with the values of NLP, because NLP
is established on communication models (e.g., adaptation of the TOTE: Test, Operation, Test,
and Exit; Miller, Galanter & Pribram, 1960) geared towards implementing evidence-informed
personal and professional development strategies.
Despite its popularity in healthcare and organisational settings, the science of NLP
has been criticised for being underdeveloped (Pensieri, 2013; Sturt et al., 2012; Thompson,
Courtney, & Dickson, 2002). These criticisms not only relate to a poor level of
communication between scholars and practitioners that is observed elsewhere within the field
of HRD (Brown & Latham, 2018), but also to issues concerning the methodological quality
of NLP research. For example, a systematic review that investigated the effects of ten
healthcare-setting NLP studies concluded that the quality of the research was weak and that
key reporting items were absent (Sturt et al., 2012). Another NLP literature review
highlighted issues relating to researchers’ understanding of NLP and whether empirical
studies were assessing NLP interventions or individual NLP skills delivered in isolation from
the guiding NLP framework (Pensieri, 2013). This is deemed to be a key methodological
limitation because many NLP skills need to be delivered as part of a complete NLP teaching
framework (Dilts, 1983; Robbins, 1995; Witkowski, 2010). Furthermore, a meta-analysis
focussing on NLP-based psychotherapy (Zaharia, Reiner, & Schutz, 2015) concluded that
more large-scale randomised controlled trials (i.e., a means of reducing selection bias by
randomly assigning participants to either an intervention or control condition; see Jadad &
Enkin, 2007), are required to endorse NLP. These methodological concerns were further
substantiated by a focus group of 15 NLP experts who claimed that there is (i) a poor quality
of empirical evidence and academic rigour, (ii) a lack of standardised definitions, (iii)
ambiguity in the training curriculum, (iv) an undefined professional practice code (in some
cases leading to NLP being associated with incompetent practice), and (v) a commercial
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agenda (Grimley, 2016).
Notwithstanding concerns over the methodological quality of NLP studies and the
aforementioned interest into the applications of NLP in organisational settings, a systematic
review evaluating the quality of this evidence in organisational settings has not been
undertaken. Given that NLP applications within HRD contexts were first implemented more
than two decades ago (Tosey & Mathison, 2009), rigorously evaluating the outcomes and
methodological quality (Zaharia et al., 2015) would be useful to researchers and
organisations.
Methods
According to the HRD hierarchy of evidence (Kepes, Bennett & McDaniel, 2014) that
has been adapted from evidenced-based medicine (Sackett, Straus, Richardson, Rosenberg, &
Haynes, 2000) where practitioners and scholars are arguably more integrated (Gubbins &
Rousseau, 2015), a systematic review is recommended as the optimum means of evaluating
an evidence-base as a precursor to practice implementation (Gubbins & Rousseau, 2015;
Rojon, Mcdowall & Saunders, 2011). Within the field of HRD, systematic reviews that focus
on practicality and utility aim to make findings accessible, palatable, relevant and useful
(Denyer & Transfield, 2009; Tranfield, Denyer & Smart, 2003). Consequently, the present
article aimed to follow the aforementioned recommendations for synthesising HRD-related
evidence, as well as the preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis
(PRISMA; Moher, Liberati, Tetzlaff, Altman, & The PRISMA Group, 2009) guidelines, to
systematically review the literature and evaluate the quality of evidence relating to the
applications of NLP in the workplace. Additionally, Klassen, Jadad and Moher’s (1998)
framework – focussing on question, criteria, missing articles, quality of the studies,
assessment, and results – was used to help structure and maintain the validity of the
systematic review. The extended version of the PICO (population, intervention, control, and
outcomes) format (Boland, Cherry & Dickson, 2013) was used to identify the research
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question (Table 1). The PICO format is a strategy to formulate a researchable question by
breaking the question into four components to help identify relevant information (Sackett et
al., 1997). The extended version of PICO was used instead of CIMO (Context, Intervention,
Mechanism, and Outcome; Denyer & Transfield, 2009) because NLP originated in clinical
practice and is often used in one-on-one settings in workplace contexts.
The primary research questions were (i) how effective is NLP in helping to improve
work-related psychological outcomes? and (ii) what quantity and quality of evidence is there?
Literature Search
Following Callahan’s (2010) recommendations, the literature search focussed on
criteria of where, when, who, how, what, and why. A comprehensive literature search was
undertaken using the following electronic research databases following consultation with a
subject librarian (Rojon et al., 2011): ProQuest, PsycINFO, Science Direct, and Google
Scholar via EBSCO. A dedicated NLP database (Hücker, 1995) was also searched. The
search was conducted for articles published before the 31 October 2017 (searched in
December 2017). The search terms ‘NLP’, ‘neurolinguistic program#ing’, ‘neuro-linguistic
program#ing’ and ‘neuro linguistic program#ing’ were combined using the ‘OR’ Boolean
operator (n=2567). Searches including ‘natural language process*’ and ‘non#linear
program#ing’ were then excluded (n=1231). Among the remaining articles, those that had
‘work*’, ‘occupation*’, ‘profession*’, ‘staff’, ‘job’, ‘employee*’, ‘management’, ‘business’,
and ‘organi?ation*’ in the title or abstract were retrieved (n=952). This is consistent with the
approach followed by other systematic reviews concerning psychological interventions in the
workplace (e.g., Ravalier, Wegrzynek, & Lawton, 2016). The first author conducted the
search and then the search results were reviewed by a second author. NLP associations,
research groups, and social network forums were also contacted to identify any additional
research papers. Manual reference searches (Rojon et al., 2011) on previous systematic
reviews on NLP (i.e., that were not directly focussed on the organisational setting; Pensieri,
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2013; Sturt et al., 2012; Zaharia et al., 2015) were likewise undertaken.
Selection of Studies and Outcomes
In order to be eligible for further analysis, studies had to (i) be published in a peer-
reviewed academic journal using English language, (ii) report an empirical intervention study
(utilising pre- and post- intervention measures of dependent variables) and/or qualitative
research study (using an appropriately implemented qualitative analytical technique) of an
NLP intervention, and (iii) involve individuals working in fulltime or part-time roles. Articles
were excluded from further analysis if they (i) were not interventions (e.g., articles that only
introduced skills or concepts, or discussed theories or models), (ii) employed a single-
participant design (i.e., case studies), and (iii) did not assess work-related psychological
outcomes or work-related performance outcomes (see Table 1 for full details of the eligibility
criteria).
Outcome Measures
‘Work-related psychological outcomes’ were defined by reviewing articles published
in human resources journals, defined by the Scimago Journal & Country Rank (including the
Human Resource Development Quarterly and Journal of Occupational and Organizational
Psychology) during the past five years (this time period was selected to ensure that the
outcomes were aligned with current directions in HRD research and practice). Eligible work-
related psychological outcomes were determined by identifying the following key words in
the article titles: engagement, stress, distress, well-being, security, safety, satisfaction,
burnout, resilience, efficacy, caring, trust, mindfulness, creativity, hope, and emotional
intelligence.
[Please insert Table 1 about here]
Data Extraction and Synthesis
The first author compressively reviewed all of the search results and studies were
shortlisted for possible inclusion if the title of the article indicated that the study fell within
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the scope of the review. Given the first author has first-hand experience of using NLP, the
entire selection process was reviewed by a co-author to mitigate against any potential bias.
Following this initial selection process, full-texts of shortlisted articles were independently
assessed by all authors involved in the selection process. A discussion was then held among
the authors to determine if a given study met each of the eligibility criteria. Forward and
backward reference searches of relevant articles revealed no additional studies.
Details of the included studies were arranged using an extended version of the data
extraction template developed by Sturt et al. (2012). This covered the following key
information: publication details (authors, year, and country), study design and setting,
participant characteristics, details of demographic data, intervention details, intervention
facilitator, outcome measures, and study findings (see Table 2).
Quality Scoring: Assessing the Risk of Bias
The quality of the included studies was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale
(NOS), as it is an established means of assessing the risk of bias in non-randomised trials
(Wells et al., 2000). The NOS employs a star system, rating the quality of studies from 0 to 9
stars (high risk: 0-3, medium risk: 4-6, low risk: 7-9). NOS assesses the following three
domains: (i) representativeness of study group selection (maximum of four stars), (ii)
comparability of groups (maximum of two stars), and (iii) ascertainment of either the
exposure or outcome of interest (maximum of three stars). Because NOS was originally
developed for medical research, some adjustments were made in the current study that
concerned organisation-based research: (i) the word ‘exposure’ was changed to
‘intervention’, (ii) the fourth scale item was changed from ‘Demonstration that outcome of
interest was not present at start of study’ to ‘Demonstration that the measured outcome was
assessed before the intervention’ (because work-related psychological outcomes often exist
before the intervention, e.g., stress), and (iii) in respect of the first item in the outcome
assessment section, a star was awarded if the outcome was assessed using a validated
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psychometric scale (i.e., as opposed to medical records). The CASP (Critical Appraisal Skills
Programme) checklist (Public Health Resource Unit, 2013) was used to appraise the quality
of qualitative studies (high risk: 0-4, medium risk: 5-8, low risk: 9-12). These assessments
were conducted by two co-authors independently (YK & DS; kappa = .96), who discussed
any disagreements.
Results
Search Results
The initial comprehensive literature search yielded a total of 952 articles. Expert
consultation (e.g., with The Association for NLP), enquiries in social media forums, and
manual searches of previous NLP reviews did not yield any additional articles. A total of 96
articles were identified as being potentially relevant to this study. A subsequent review of
titles and abstracts identified that 18 articles warranted a full-text review based on the
predetermined inclusion and/or exclusion criteria outlined in Table 1. A total of seven studies
met all of the eligibility criteria. Figure 1 shows the PRISMA flow diagram for the article
selection process.
[Please insert Figure 1 and Tables 2 and 3 about here]
Characteristics of Included Studies
Six studies were quantitative (Ashok & Santhakumar, 2002; Duncan, Konefal &
Spechler, 1990; HemmatiMaslakpak, Farhadi & Fereidoni, 2016; Rao & Kulkarni, 2010;
Sahebalzamani, 2014; Thompson, Courtney & Dickson, 2010) and one was qualitative
(Tsimtsiou, Stavropoulou, Papastefanou, Lionis, 2017). In the quantitative analyses, three
studies used a non-randomised controlled design (Ashok & Santhakumar, 2002;
HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016; Rao & Kulkarni, 2010), and the other three studies used a
within-subject pre-post design (Duncan et al., 1990; Konefal et al., 1992; Thompson et al.,
2010). None of the quantitative studies used a randomised controlled trial design. The
qualitative study used thematic analysis (Tsimtsiou et al., 2017). Three studies were
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conducted in Europe (Duncan et al., 1990; Thompson et al., 2010; Tsimtsiou et al., 2017),
three studies were conducted in Asia (Ashok & Santhakumar, 2002; HemmatiMaslakpak et
al., 2016; Rao & Kulkarni, 2010), and one study was conducted in the USA (Konefal et al.,
1992).
Targeted work-related psychological outcomes included (i) self-actualisation
(Duncan, Konefal & Spechler, 1990), (ii) anxiety (Konefal et al., 1992), (iii) kaizen (i.e.,
continuous improvement on efficiency and quality) behaviour (Ashok & Santhakumar, 2002),
(iv) fear of punctuality and responsibility (Rao & Kulkarni, 2010), (v) self-esteem, self-
efficacy, adaptive selling, and organisational commitment (Thompson et al., 2010), (vi)
occupational stress (HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016), and (vii) training satisfaction
(Tsimtsiou et al., 2017). One quantitative study conducted follow-up assessments at six
weeks and six months post training (Thompson et al., 2010). Employees in the seven eligible
studies worked in civil engineering, hospitality, education, and health fields (Ashok &
Santhakumar, 2002; Duncan et al., 1990; HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016; Konefal et al.,
1992; Thompson et al., 2010; Tsimtsiou et al., 2017; Rao & Kulkarni, 2010). Five studies
provided detailed participant data including age, educational background, marital status, and
religion (Duncan et al., 1990; HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016; Konefal et al., 1992;
Thompson et al., 2010; Tsimtsiou et al., 2017). The remaining two studies provided little or
no participant demographic data (Ashok & Santhakumar, 2002; Rao & Kulkarni, 2010). A
total of 29% of all participants were male and 71% were female (i.e., based on the
assumption that nursing participants in Iran were all female, as Iran bars males from working
in this role; Sadeghi, 2012). The age range of participants was from 20 to 50 years and older
(Duncan et al., 1990; Konefal et al., 1992). Five of the studies were conducted in the past ten
years.
Interventions
All of the studies employed NLP training (Table 1). The duration of the intervention
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ranged from 21 days (Duncan et al., 1990; Konefal et al., 1992) to six months
(HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016). Tsimtsiou et al. (2017) provided a series of eight one-hour
training sessions, Thompson et al. (2010) provided seven sessions over six months, and
HemmatiMaslakpak et al. (2016) provided 18 three-hour sessions over six months. One study
employed licenced counsellors and psychotherapists (Konefal et al., 1992), one study was
supervised by two NLP trainers (Duncan et al., 1990), and the other five studies either
provided no information about the intervention facilitator or did not provide details of the
facilitator’s level of experience (Ashok & Santhakumar, 2002; HemmatiMaslakpak et al.,
2016; Rao & Kulkarni, 2010; Thompson et al., 2010; Tsimtsiou et al., 2017). Specific NLP
skills used were related to stress reduction (Duncan et al., 1990; Konefal et al., 1992; Rao &
Kulkarni, 2010), communication (Duncan et al., 1990; HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016;
Konefal et al., 1992; Thompson et al., 2010; Tsimtsiou et al., 2017), and goal-setting (Duncan
et al., 1990; HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016; Konefal et al., 1992). Ashok and Santhakumar
(2002) did not report the contents of the intervention. In the three studies focussing on stress
or anxiety reduction (Duncan et al., 1990; Konefal et al., 1992; Rao & Kulkarni, 2010), NLP
anchoring – that involves triggering a desired affective state (e.g., relaxation) by applying a
specific stimulus (e.g., a touch on the shoulder, certain words, or a certain picture; O'Connor
& McDermott, 2001) – was used. Among the studies focussing on NLP skills for
communication (Duncan et al., 1990; HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016; Konefal et al., 1992;
Thompson et al., 2010; Tsimtsiou et al., 2017), representational systems were often
introduced and these involved analysing others’ dominant sense (visual, auditory,
kinaesthetic, olfactory, or gustatory) as a means of fostering better communication (Bandler
& Grinder, 1979). Lastly, none of the studies focussing on goal-setting (Duncan et al., 1990;
HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016; Konefal et al., 1992) described the details of their goal-
setting skills.
Outcomes
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Based on comparison tests, NLP training was found to (i) significantly decrease
occupational stress (HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016) and mental health problems such as
trait anxiety (Konefal et al., 1992), and (ii) significantly increase internal locus of control
(Konefal et al., 1992), time competence, inner-directedness, self-actualisation, existentiality,
spontaneity, self-regard, self-acceptance, and capacity for intimate contact (Duncan et al.,
1990). The effect sizes of all of the interventions were large (d .6), however two studies that
used t-tests (Duncan et al., 1990; Konefal et al., 1992) did not report whether the data
satisfied the assumption of normality. The other study (HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016) used
a Mann-Whitney U test, as the data were not normally distributed. Changes in all other
outcome measures were assessed by comparing mean scores and on this basis, it was reported
that NLP training improved participants’ levels of (i) kaizen behaviour (Ashok &
Santhakumar, 2002), (ii) self-esteem, adaptive selling, and organisational commitment
(Thompson et al., 2010), and (iii) stress (Rao & Kulkarni, 2010). In the qualitative study,
NLP communication training was reported as enhancing dermatologists' job satisfaction
(Tsimtsiou et al., 2017). Increases in self-esteem (Duncan et al., 1990; Thompson et al.,
2010) and decreases in stress (HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016; Rao & Kulkarni, 2010) were
reported by more than one study. No study examined the organisational psychological
constructs of mindfulness, work engagement, or resilience, which have been the focus of
recent HRD organisational studies.
Risk of Bias
In the non-randomised controlled studies, the risk of bias was deemed to be high for
two studies (Ashok & Santhakumar, 2002; Rao & Kulkarni, 2010) and medium for one study
(HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016). None of these three studies commented on the
representativeness of the cohort or conducted follow-up assessments. In the within-subject
pre-post studies, the risk of bias was high in two studies (Duncan et al., 1990; Konefal et al.,
1992) and medium in one study (Thompson et al., 2010). None of these three within-subject
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studies considered the representativeness of the cohort (Duncan et al., 1990; Konefal et al.,
1992; Thompson et al., 2016) and two did not conduct follow-up assessments (Duncan et al.,
1990; Konefal et al., 1992). In the qualitative study, the risk of bias was medium (Tsimtsiou
et al., 2017). The qualitative study employed convenience sampling and did not report biases
due to the researcher-participant relationship. Moreover, there appeared to be no mention of
ethical approval. See Tables 4 and 5 for a detailed assessment of the risk of bias for the
quantitative studies and qualitative study, respectively.
[Insert Tables 4 and 5 about here]
Discussion
The present systematic review followed the PRISMA guidelines and evaluated the
quality of evidence relating to studies assessing the applications of NLP in the workplace. A
total of seven studies (six quantitative and one qualitative), comprising 190 participants, met
all of the eligibility criteria for in-depth review and assessment. While findings indicate that
NLP can be effective for improving work-related psychological outcomes including self-
esteem and occupational stress, both the quantity and quality of evidence was weak.
Contribution of This Study
This study is the first systematic review to assess the utility of NLP in organisational
settings, which in addition to clinical settings, are reported to be a key field where NLP is
currently applied (Tosey & Mathison, 2009). The seven articles reviewed reported that a
variety of NLP skills (e.g., timeline, goal-setting, visualisation) were successfully employed
to improve a wide range of organisational psychological constructs (e.g., occupational stress,
well-being, self-esteem). Notwithstanding the fact that the included studies did not all assess
the same psychological outcomes (i.e., meaning that findings were not necessarily replicated
across studies), findings from this systematic review are largely consistent with other reports
(e.g., Karunaratne, 2010), indicating there may be unique advantages of NLP for employees.
Although NLP elicited benefits across a broad range of outcomes, the diverse NLP
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skills used in the included studies indicate a need for future research to examine each skill
individually, as well as a need for NLP researchers to be clear about the specific NLP skills
employed in their interventions. Indeed, although some studies provided a good level of
detail in this respect, greater clarity is required in terms of the specific NLP skills that induce
positive outcomes (Bandler & Grinder, 1979). Consequently, we recommend that NLP
researchers ensure their reporting provides sufficient information and transparency
(American Educational Research Association, 2006) as a means of improving the credibility
and methodological rigour of NLP research. Onwuegbuzie and Corrigan (2014) highlight the
following five factors that contribute to methodologically robust research: i) comprehensive,
ii) systematic, iii) evaluative, iv) defensible, and v) transparent. By satisfying these five
factors, NLP research will more closely adhere to research protocols and reporting guidelines
that have been advocated within the wider HRD field (Nimon, 2011).
None of the included studies directly explored mechanisms of action that, for NLP in
particular, may be more suitably investigated using a research approach aiming to elucidate
experiential processes (i.e., rather than conventional intervention or efficacy studies per se)
(Kudliskis, 2013). Nevertheless, the close analysis of subjective experience in NLP – using
sub-modalities and strategies (O’Connor & McDermott, 2001) – is likely to play an important
mechanistic role. While modalities refer to our five senses (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic,
olfactory, and gustatory), sub-modalities are sub-categories of modalities rereferring to the
qualities of our five sensory information. For example, as opposed to merely identifying and
labelling an image that an employee observes when they feel anxious, sub-modalities enable
them to explore the details of the image (e.g., size, brightness, colour tone) that affect our
emotional responses. For example, an employee with a fear of delivering a presentation may
have sub-modalities of a large and bright image of a bored and/or judgmental audience,
which creates the sensation of being scared, while a confident presenter may have a different
set of sub-modalities. In NLP terms, strategies are a sequence of internal and external
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experiences that create a certain outcome, often described using sub-modalities (Dilts &
Delozier, 2000). NLP practitioners can explore an employee’s strategy relating to (for
example) fear of presentation by identifying and depicting their experience in detail (i.e., how
they create the experience of fear of presentation). In this instance, the NLP practitioner
might guide employees to remember the face and voice tone of a colleague or audience
member that prompted fearful feelings. The employee would then be guided to reflect upon
how they could employ positive emotional strategies in this situation. This reflective
comparative analysis helps the employee to identify the key components of experiences that
trigger negative affective responses.
The close analysis of subjective experience in NLP is applicable to the HRD field
because reflecting on subjective experience as a form of performance enhancement and
informal learning, is a crucial component for creating meaningful changes in a workplace
(Kock & Ellström, 2011). However, the importance of such reflective techniques is often
underestimated (Eraut, 2004), which can thus compromise the effects of employee training
interventions (Froehlich et al., 2014).
In terms of other direct implications for HRD practice and research, NLP skills can
also be useful for modeling excellent results such as those identified in a literature review that
identified the psychological capital (PsyCap) of four positive psychological constructs that
account for positive organisational behaviours and attitudes, namely (i) hope, (ii) efficacy,
(iii) resilience, and (iv) optimism (HERO; Luthans, 2012). The development guidelines of
PsyCap, which include goal-setting, identifying obstacles, and how to overcome them, reflect
the key principles underlying NLP techniques such as the well-formed outcome and the
Disney strategy (Dilts, 1995; Kotera & Sheffield, 2017). The Disney strategy, modelled from
how Walt Disney realised his dreams, guides employees to access cognitive and
physiological styles of a dreamer, realist, and critique (Dilts, 1995). Among career-focused
university students, this strategy enhanced their self-efficacy, and their interviews implied
APPLICATIONS OF NLP IN ORGANISATIONAL SETTINGS
17
Sensitivity: Internal
relevance to the other PsyCap constructs (Kotera & Sheffield, 2017). Future HRD research
using controlled study designs is thus warranted to assess the effects of such NLP techniques
on workers’ PsyCap (controlled designs are emphasised because they would maximise
methodological rigour and therefore reduce ‘Pollyannaish fluff’ [Luthans, 2012, p.4] that has
been highlighted as an issue within the field of organisational positive psychology [Luthans,
2012]).
Limitations
There are several factors that may limit the findings of this systematic review. In
particular, unpublished studies or studies not published in English language were excluded,
meaning that there may be additional relevant evidence pertaining to the applications of NLP
in organisational settings. Furthermore, given that the first author is a certified NLP trainer,
bias may have been introduced when rating the methodological quality of the eligible studies.
However, independent assessment of bias by another researcher, who is not an NLP
practitioner, should help to mitigate this potential limiting factor. The Hawthorne effect (i.e.,
awareness of being observed affects the outcome rather than the intervention) may have been
present in the three pre-post design studies (Duncan et al., 1990; Konefal et al., 1992;
Thompson et al., 2010). Moreover, while some studies (e.g., Duncan et al., 1990; Thompson
et al., 2010) measured many outcomes, they failed to address the multiple comparisons
problem. This too could exaggerate the effects of the intervention. Lastly, there were only
seven studies included in this review and five of them reported no or little information about
the intervention facilitator. Therefore, it is difficult to draw reliable conclusions regarding the
extent to which the facilitator’s experience may have influenced outcomes.
Implications for Research
Findings from this review indicate that NLP may have a role in improving work-
related psychological outcomes, and that further – more methodologically robust – research is
warranted to investigate these effects further. Further research is also required to investigate
APPLICATIONS OF NLP IN ORGANISATIONAL SETTINGS
18
Sensitivity: Internal
the effects of NLP on work-related psychological outcomes that were not assessed in the
studies included in this review. For example, many workers report experiencing shame in
respect of mental health problems and may thus be reticent to fully engage in mental health
interventions. Therefore, other organisational psychological constructs that can predict the
variance of mental health problems (e.g., intrinsic work motivation) may be more effective
for some workers, as it would not stimulate their mental health shame (Kotera, Adhikari, &
Van Gordon, 2018).
Among the NLP skills used in the included studies, skills that helped employees to
have a vision for the future seemed particularly useful (HemmatiMaslakpak et al., 2016;
Hollander & Malinowski, 2016; Thompson et al., 2010). Using the Disney strategy, Kotera
and Sheffield (2017) reported that creating a clear vision for the future was particularly useful
to participants’ professional career planning. Given that workers are often preoccupied and
overwhelmed with the tasks they have to perform, NLP skills aimed at formulating a clear
and attractive future goal can help provide a sense of purpose in life (Kotera et al., 2018).
Additionally, NLP skills that focus on developing a clear and attractive future could be useful
in other fields such as clinical settings where NLP has been found to reduce anxiety and
stress (Bin Ahmed, 2010; Konefal et al., 1992). A good example is the NLP “as if” frame,
that can be used to help patients reconstruct future aspirations (e.g., using questions such as
‘what would you want to do if you could get out of the hospital now?) (Dilts, 1999).
Of the 96 articles that were deemed to be potentially relevant for this systematic
review, 80% were excluded due to being theoretical articles. This may highlight the market-
driven nature of NLP (Grimley, 2016), which in terms of its effectiveness, has relied more on
anecdotal evidence rather than empirical enquiry per se. Furthermore, the methodological
quality of the seven eligible articles was relatively weak. Indeed, the quality assessment
showed that most of the included studies suffered from selection bias and did not include a
follow-up assessment. Furthermore, clarification on what specific NLP skills (e.g., their
APPLICATIONS OF NLP IN ORGANISATIONAL SETTINGS
19
Sensitivity: Internal
functions and procedures) were used, and by whom (e.g., the facilitator’s proficiency in
NLP), was often missing. Information relating to participants (e.g., their representativeness
and how they were recruited) was also often unclear. These design issues have clear
implications for future research, which should be addressed to overcome credibility concerns
relating to the methodological quality of NLP research. More experimental studies with
control groups are also needed to more fully determine the benefits of NLP (Luthans, 2012).
Conclusion
The seven selected articles in the current systematic review indicate that NLP can be
used to improve a wide range of organisational psychological constructs including work-
related self-esteem and work-related stress. NLP employs a multi-component approach (Dilts,
1983) and may have a broad range of applications in HRD settings (Froehlich, Segers & Van
den Bossche, 2014). This is consistent with reviews of other workplace coaching approaches,
which discuss how improvements in cognitive or skill-based outcomes can lead to a greater
effectiveness across a range of work scenarios (Jones, Woods & Guillaume, 2016).
However, in line with previous reviews of NLP in healthcare settings (Pensieri, 2013;
Sturt et al., 2012), findings from this systematic review demonstrate that more
methodologically rigorous research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of NLP for
workers. More specifically, in order to draw reliable inferences as to the effectiveness of NLP
within the wider context of HRD workplace interventions, there is a need for controlled
experimental designs featuring follow-up assessments. Specific details relating to the
intervention and participants also need to be clearly reported. Thus, in light of the poor
quantity and quality of research, the present authors advocate that claims relating to the
effectiveness of NLP in the workplace be interpreted with caution.
APPLICATIONS OF NLP IN ORGANISATIONAL SETTINGS
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Sensitivity: Internal
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Table 1: Extended PICO for this review
Review
questions
How effective is NLP in helping to improve work-related psychological
outcomes? What quantity and quality of evidence is there?
Inclusion criteria
Exclusion criteria
Population
Workers in an organisation (i.e.,
employees > 18 years old)
<18 years and non-work samples
Intervention
An NLP-based intervention
Non-NLP intervention
Comparator
Any comparator including no
intervention
Outcomes
Work-related psychological
outcomes*, work performance
outcomes
Other outcomes
Study design
Empirical and/or qualitative
intervention study
Single case studies, reviews,
discussion articles, articles introducing
theories/concepts/models/applications
Other
Published in a peer-reviewed
academic journal in English
* engagement, stress, distress, well-being, security, safety, satisfaction, burnout, resilience,
efficacy, caring, trust, mindfulness, creativity, hope, emotional intelligence
APPLICATIONS OF NLP IN ORGANISATIONAL SETTINGS
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Figure 1. PRISMA flow diagram of the article selection process
Citations retrieved from
searches
(n = 952)
Abstracts reviewed
(n = 96)
Excluded as not relevant
(n = 856)
Studies included in the review
(n = 7)
Total excluded (n = 78);
Introduction (n = 36),
Discussion (n = 15), Non-
workers (n = 12), Anecdote (n =
3), Review (n = 5), Editorial (n
= 2), Duplicate (n = 5)
Full text articles reviewed
(n = 18)
Total excluded (n = 11);
Non-intervention (n = 6),
Non- workers (n = 3), Non-
eligible outcome (n = 2)
APPLICATIONS OF NLP IN ORGANISATIONAL SETTINGS
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Table 2. Details of included studies
Author, year,
and country
Study design,
and setting
Population and
participants
NLP intervention details
Assessed outcomes and
measures
Results
Duncan, Konefal,
Spechler, 1990,
Netherlands
Quantitative.
One-group pre-
post. Training
facility.
54 adults participating
as either an NLP
practitioner or a
master practitioner
training
21-day residential training
rapport, language,
anchoring, communication,
calibration, modality, goal-
setting, phobia, sorting
pattern, behaviour change,
and timeline.
Self-actualisation
measured by the Personal
Orientation Inventory
Significant increase in 9
out of 12 subscales (d
.6)
Konefal, Duncan,
Reese, 1992, US
Quantitative.
One-group pre-
post. Training
facility.
47 adult workers
including physicians,
therapists,
counsellors, college
professors, teachers,
and business
managers.
21-day residential training,
the same contents as above
apart from an addition of
shifting perceptual
positions.
Trait anxiety and locus of
control measured by the
Trait-Anxiety Scale of the
State-Trait Anxiety
Inventory, and the
Multiple Health Locus of
Control
Trait anxiety decreased
significantly. Scores on the
internal subscale of locus
of control increased
significantly (d
.6)
Ashok,
Santhakumar,
2002, India
Quantitative.
Non-randomised
controlled pre-
post study.
Workplace.
3 different groups of
49 workers (18
masons, 14 bar
benders, 17 plumbers)
NLP as mind training to
develop kaizen
Kaizen behaviours
NLP groups showed more
kaizen and creative kaizen
behaviours per individual.
Rao, Kulkarni,
2010, India
Quantitative.
Non-randomised
controlled pre-
post study.
Workplace.
36 adult workers in
counselling for
occupational stress
(18 in NLP group, 18
in regular counselling
group)
1:1 NLP-based counselling
using NLP stress
mitigation process
including relaxation,
rapport building,
anchoring
Fear of punctuality and
responsibility
NLP group showed more
reduction in fear of
punctuality and
responsibility.
Thompson,
Courtney,
Quantitative.
One-group pre-
67 hospitality workers
(26 executive
5 training sessions about
leadership, management,
Self-esteem, self-efficacy,
adaptive selling,
Except for self-efficacy,
the other measures showed
APPLICATIONS OF NLP IN ORGANISATIONAL SETTINGS
33
Sensitivity: Internal
Dickson, 2010,
UK
post.
Workplace.
managers, 41 staff)
sales, and customer care
training. Two half-day
follow-up training at 6
weeks and 6 months
organisational
commitment, social
desirability
increases over the start of
course measure.
HemmatiMaslakp
ak, Farhadi,
Fereidoni, 2016,
Iran
Quantitative.
Non-randomised
controlled pre-
post study.
Workplace.
60 nurses in critical
care, allocated to
intervention or control
group
NLP training (such as goal
setting, time management,
assertiveness skills,
representational system,
neurological levels). 3-hr
18 sessions over 6 months.
Occupational stress
measured by the
Expanding Nurse Stress
Scale
Intervention group showed
significant decrease in
stress while control group
remained unchanged
Tsimtsiou,
Stavropoulou,
Papastefanou,
Lionis, 2017,
Greece
Qualitative.
Interviews after
the training.
Used thematic
analysis
14 dermatologists
Communication training
including NLP (60
minutes 8 sessions)
Training, clients' and their
own satisfaction
Increase in clients'
satisfaction and their own
job satisfaction. Highly
satisfied with the training.
APPLICATIONS OF NLP IN ORGANISATIONAL SETTINGS
34
Sensitivity: Internal
Table 3. Reasons for excluding the full-text-reviewed articles
Author(s), Year
Reason for excluding
Loomis & Cohen, 1984
Non-intervention
Nancarrow & Penn, 1998
Non-intervention
Skinner & Stephens, 2003
Non-eligible outcome
Wood, 2006
Non-intervention
Mainwaring & Skinner, 2009
Non-intervention
Bin Ahmad, 2010
Non-workers
Knight, 2012
Non-intervention
Neudecker, Esch, Schaefers & Valussi, 2014
Non-eligible outcome
Cassidy-Rice, 2014
Non-intervention
Mikačić, 2015
Non-workers
Hollander & Malinowski, 2016
Non-workers
APPLICATIONS OF NLP IN ORGANISATIONAL SETTINGS
35
Sensitivity: Internal
Table 4. Assessment of risk of bias for quantitative research
Bias category
Selection
Comparability
Outcome
Numbe
r of
stars (0-
9)
Author, year
Representativene
ss of exposed
cohort
Selection of
non-exposed
cohort
Ascertainment
of intervention
Demonstrate
outcome
assessed
before
intervention
Comparability
of cohorts on
basis of design
(*) or analysis
(*)
Assessme
nt of
outcome
Follow
-up
long
enough
Adequac
y of
follow-up
Non-randomised controlled study
Ashok,
Santhakumar, 2002
NA
NA
0
Rao, Kulkarni, 2010
*
*
*
NA
NA
3
HemmatiMaslakpak
et al., 2016
*
*
*
*
*
NA
NA
5
Within-subject pre-post study
Duncan et al., 1990
NA
*
*
NA
*
NA
NA
3
Konefal et al., 1992
NA
*
*
NA
*
NA
NA
3
Thompson et al.,
2010
NA
*
*
NA
*
*
4
APPLICATIONS OF NLP IN ORGANISATIONAL SETTINGS
36
Sensitivity: Internal
Table 5. Assessment of risk of bias for qualitative research
Quantitative
studies
Clear
statement
of aims
Appropriate
methodology
Appropriate
research
design
Appropriate
recruitment
Data
collection
addressed
research
issues
Researcher-
participant
relationship
considered
Ethical
issues
considered
Rigorous
data
analysis
Clear
statement
of
findings
How
valuable
is the
research?
(0-3)
Score
(0-
12)
Tsimtsiou et
al., 2017
Y
Y
Y
CT
Y
CT
CT
CT
Y
1
6
Y = Yes, N = No, CT = Can't Tell, NA = not applicable
Article
Neuro-Linguistic Programming, NLP, has been actively practised for almost a half-century. However, the science of NLP has been stagnant for decades, and ethical challenges in research and practice have been reported. This commentary raises specific ethical challenges NLP encounters, relating to the definition, boundaries with other approaches, and unpreparedness for when an intervention does not work. For NLP to further grow, possibly embedded in the national level clinical and educational practices, the NLP community must work together to address these ethical challenges. Modelling the governance of existing professional bodies may inform helpful strategies to overcome these challenges.
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Article
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Thesis
Full-text available
My PhD research wanted to understand from the standpoint of NLP experts and NLP informed psychologists what NLP was. Coding transcripts from their responses I developed a theoretical model which explains NLP in the past, in the present and discuss the implications of NLP in the future. As a chartered psychologist I use this theoretical model to inform my current psychological practice
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The direct, photoacid‐catalyzed synthesis of 2‐deoxyglycosides from glycals is reported. A series of phenol‐conjugated acridinium‐based organic photoacids were rationally designed, synthesized, and studied alongside the commercially available phenolic catalyst eosin Y. In the presence of such a photoacid catalyst and light, synthetic glycals were activated and coupled with a range of alcohols to afford 2‐deoxyglycosides in good yields and with excellent α‐selectivity. Kurz mal sauer: Mehrere Phenol‐konjugierte, Acridinium‐basierte organische Photosäuren wurden synthetisiert und neben kommerziell erhältlichem Eosin Y als Katalysatoren in der Umwandlung von Glycalen in 2‐Deoxyglycoside eingesetzt. Die gewünschten Produkte wurden in exzellenten Ausbeuten und mit hoher α‐Selektivität erhalten.
Article
Objectives: Effective communication is a vital component of patient-centered consultations with favourable treatment outcomes. This study aimed in testing the effectiveness of a personalized, communication training program for dermatologists in their practices. Methods: Fifteen dermatologists were offered the educational intervention NO.TE.S. (Non Technical Skills). Depending on the dermatologists' needs, seven to nine sessions with a 60-minute duration were performed, focusing on: patient-centered care, principles of Neurolinguistic Programming, a guide to the medical interview, principles of motivational interviewing and self-care. After the program's completion, participants completed anonymously an 18-item evaluation questionnaire. Results: All 14 participants would suggest NO.TE.S to a colleague. According to the main themes identified, their participation led to a) re-consideration of the physician-patient relationship, b) more conscious application of the patient-centered model, c) improvement in communication skills, d) awareness of medical interview guides, e) increase in self-confidence, and f) techniques of self-care. Eleven physicians (78.6%) declared improvement in patients' satisfaction, fourteen (100%) in their own satisfaction, seven (50%) in adherence to therapeutic plan and seven (50%) in treatment outcomes. Conclusion: The one-to-one coaching is a convenient and well-received personalized means of enhancing clinical communication in dermatologists, leading to more patient-centered medical encounters with better treatment outcomes.
Book
Addressing the need for a discerning, research-based discussion of NLP, this book seeks to answer the many questions that clients, potential users and practitioners ask, including: what is NLP and what can it best be used for? This book looks at the research and theory behind NLP, also exploring claims that it is a 'pseudoscience'.