Japanese Managers’ Experiences of Neuro-Linguistic Programming:
A Qualitative Investigation
Kotera, Y. & Van Gordon, W. (2019). Japanese managers’ experiences of Neuro-
Linguistic Programming: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Mental Health
Training, Education and Practice. doi: 10.1108/JMHTEP-06-2018-0033
Purpose: Though several work-related mental health training initiatives have been
implemented in Japan, the effectiveness of such approaches remains unclear.
Consequently, some Japanese corporations prefer using interventions such as neuro-
linguistic programming (NLP) to improve employee mental health and wellbeing. This
language-based development methodology has been the subject of debate in terms of
the quality of the underlying empirical evidence. However, a perspective missing from
this debate is an evidence-based understanding of the first-hand experiences of
employees that have undertaken NLP training. This study sought to inform this debate
by conducting a rigorous qualitative examination of the experiences of Japanese senior
managers who had recently received training in NLP.
Design/methodology/approach: Semi-structured interviews attended by eleven Japanese
NLP master practitioners were analysed using thematic analysis.
Findings: Four themes emerged from the dataset: i) improving work-related mental
health, ii) NLP fosters a better understanding of the mind, iii) NLP helps to reframe
perspectives relating to work and mental health, and iv) challenges of NLP training.
Originality/value: While managers found NLP training skills such as reframing and
neuro-logical levels useful to their managerial practice and mental health more
generally, they raised concerns about NLP’s reputation as well as the utility of some of
the techniques employed in NLP.
Keywords: neuro-linguistic programming, Japanese management, occupational mental
health, Japan, positive psychology
There is growing awareness of mental illness in Japan (Kobori, et al., 2014)
where the number of individuals diagnosed with depression increased by 136% between
1999 and 2008 (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare [MHLW], 2015). Japan has
one of the highest rates of suicide among developed countries (Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development, 2015) and 12% of all suicide cases are
deemed to be work-related (National Police Agency, 2016). Furthermore,
approximately 60% of the Japanese working population experience intense anxiety and
stress (MHLW, 2010), and the number of Japanese workers’ compensation claims for
mental health problems increased from 200 in 2000 to 1,500 in 2015 (MHLW, 2016).
From a financial perspective, if Japan was to eradicate suicide and depression, the
yearly financial benefit would be approximately 2.7 trillion Japanese yen (JPY),
equivalent to 0.7% of GDP (Kaneko and Sato, 2010).
The Japanese word Karoshi means “death from overwork” and it refers to health
and psychological problems arising from long working hours that are typical of many
Japanese workplaces (Kopp, 2017). Consistent with the traditional Japanese value of a
focussed work ethic (Ono, 2016), long working hours have sometimes been a
prerequisite for acceptance within the Japanese office setting (Hisamoto, 2003). Indeed,
a quarter of Japanese companies have employees working more than 80 hours unpaid
overtime each month, and 12% have employees working more than 100 hours (Lane,
2017). The rate of Japanese employees working long hours (over 49 hours per week) is
higher than most of the Western developed countries (i.e., 21% in Japan, 17% in US,
13% in UK [The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, 2016]). In addition to
increasing the risk of suicide, excessively long working hours leads to a deterioration of
workers’ mental health (Kuroda and Yamamoto, 2016).
In order to reduce overtime and overwork-related problems, the Japanese
government has established several new policies. The first comprehensive programme
launched in 2002 focused on i) reducing overtime to no more than 45 hours per month,
ii) introducing medical examinations for all employees, and iii) offering consultation by
a medical professional for those working long hours (Iwasaki et al., 2006). However,
despite such efforts, overtime has remained constant and a detailed analysis of changes
in the prevalence of overwork-related health problems has not been conducted (MHLW,
In 2014, the Japanese government passed a new act to help prevent karoshi and
other overwork-related health disorders (MHLW, 2014a). To support implementation of
the act, the national budget for preventive measures against overwork-related disorders
increased from 5.5 billion JPY in 2015 to 7.4 in 2016 (MHLW, 2016). In the new act,
overwork-related disorders were defined as i) death by cerebrovascular/cardiovascular
diseases (CCVD), ii) suicide following an onset of mental illness caused by work, and
iii) CCVD and mental disorders due to work. The 2014 act also focuses on the
transparency of workers’ physical and mental health, and on whether workers are
maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The Japanese government has also recently
initiated the work-style reform which in addition to sustaining the Japanese workforce,
includes measures to help reduce overtime working (The Prime Minister of Japan and
His Cabinet, 2016).
Due to the influence of government led work-related health promotion
initiatives, more Japanese companies are providing mental health support (23.5% in
2002 and 47.2% in 2012) in the form of specialist training for managers, return-to-work
support for employees, and recruitment and training of dedicated in-house mental health
support workers (MHLW, 2013). However, there is still reticence amongst many
Japanese employers to provide mental health support services, and the effects of both
government-led and in-house mental health support initiatives have been ambiguous.
For example, 64% of Japanese companies responded “nearly the same” to the question
of how many employees took more than a month of mental health leave or left the
company in the year of the survey, compared with the previous year (MHLW, 2013).
Due to uncertainty surrounding certain national and locally-implemented work-
related mental health initiatives, some Japanese companies have preferred to utilise a
technique called neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) for improving diverse work
psychological outcomes including occupational stress and self-esteem (AUTHOR 1 et
al., 2018c). NLP originated in Richard Bandler’s observations of specific linguistic
structures that Fritz Perls, a Gestalt therapist, used in his sessions to enhance the effects
of positive suggestions for patients (Bandler and Grinder, 1979). NLP helps
practitioners analyse how outstanding results are delivered and then determine how best
to reproduce them (O'Connor and McDermott, 2001). The process of duplicating
excellent results is called modelling and can be applied to a wide range of contexts
(Ready and Burton, 2016). NLP has been used to improve various psychological
outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and stress (Bigley et al., 2010; Gray and
Liotta, 2012; Juhnke et al., 2008; Simpson and Dryden, 2011; Stipancic et al., 2010;
Wake, 2008; Witt, 2008). Furthermore, it has been used by organisations in Japan to
promote goal-setting, self-management, team building and leadership (Yamazaki,
2007). Specific NLP techniques are also believed to have applications for improving
wellbeing in diverse types of university student populations, including business students
and caring profession students (AUTHOR1 et al., 2018a; AUTHOR1 et al., 2018b).
There are various providers offering NLP training in Japan but the NLP Connection,
which was one of the first NLP organisations to establish itself in Japan, has certified
1,725 practitioners and 1,321 master practitioners (C. Hall, personal communication,
March 15, 2016).
Although NLP appears to be reasonably well-accepted amongst the Japanese
management sector, the science of NLP has been criticised for being underdeveloped
(Pensieri, 2013; Sturt et al., 2012). For example, Sturt et al. (2012) systematically
reviewed NLP interventions on health outcomes and concluded that much of the
research was limited by major methodological issues (e.g., not reporting aims,
interventions, etc.). Furthermore, other literature reviews have highlighted issues
relating to researchers’ lack of understanding of NLP (Pensieri, 2013).
However, a perspective missing from the abovementioned critiques and
systematic reviews is an evidence-based understanding of the first-hand experiences of
management professionals who have received NLP training. Thus, the purpose of the
current study was to inform the debate concerning the utility of NLP in Japanese
organisations by conducting a rigorous qualitative analysis of the first-hand experiences
of Japanese senior management professionals who have received NLP certification
An in-depth qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews attended by 11
senior Japanese managers who had received NLP Practitioner and Master Practitioner
certification training (NLP-PCT and NLP-MPCT) was conducted. The CASP (Critical
Appraisal Skills Programme) checklist (Public Health Resource Unit, 2013) was
employed to inform and enhance the methodological design of the qualitative
Three NLP trainers in Japan approached experienced managers who had
completed NLP certification training. Of the 14 managers approached, 11 agreed to
attend an hour-long interview via Skype. The lead author, based in the UK, conducted
the interviews and introduced themselves as a psychology researcher. The 11
participants consisted of eight senior managers, two directors, and one company
president. Nine participants worked in major corporations and two worked in medium-
Seven of the participants were men and four were women, and the age range was
39-68 years (M=53.4, SD=7.4; Table 1). The average age of participants in this study
was in line with the demographic characteristics of senior managers in Japan (i.e., 52
years old; MHLW, 2018). In line with the Japanese government’s aim to increase
female manages in Japanese companies, both male and female managers were included
in the current study (MHLW, 2014b). On average, participants had completed NLP-
MPCT 2.8 years prior to data collection, and all participants had completed their NLP
training at least one year prior to study commencement. Participants had an average of
16.3 years of managerial experience.
Table 1. Participant list
Mgt Exp (yr)*
*‘Mgt exp (yr)’ = Management experience (year)
Generally, both the NLP-PCT and NLP-MPCT are delivered for ten days over
three months. NLP-PCT focuses primarily on personal changes, teaching the basic
concepts and skills of NLP to enable participants to make changes within themselves
(Hall, 1983). The following eight NLP components are covered as part of the training:
representational systems, rapport-building, anchoring, language patterns, outcome
framing, sub-modalities, strategies, and trance. Completion of the NLP-PCT allows
participants to move onto NLP-MPCT, which focuses primarily on fostering change in
others. NLP-MPCT also develops participants’ understanding and NLP practice abilities
(Hall, 1983). All the skills taught in the training entail theoretical understanding,
demonstrations by the trainer, and self-practice. During the course of the training,
participants are required to produce five self-reflection reports (Yamazaki, 2004, 2005).
The questions included in the interview schedule (e.g., ‘Which NLP skill(s) did
you find most helpful to your managerial practice?’) were based on the Helpful Aspects
of Therapy Questionnaire (HAT: Llewelyn, 1988), which has been employed in
research contexts to examine the efficacy of professional training (e.g. Smith, 2011).
The questions in the HAT were suitable for the present study because they i) were
straightforward, ii) not intrusive to the interviewees, and iii) helped the interviewees to
focus on the helpful events in the change process (Elliott, 2012).
The interviews were conducted via Skype, recorded, transcribed, and then
translated into English. Each interview explored topics such as the reasons why
participants decided to undertake NLP training, what NLP skills and concepts were
particularly useful in their work (and how they applied them), and whether there were
any challenges in applying NLP in a management context.
Ethical approval was provided by the authors’ university research ethics
A point of data saturation was reached after the aforementioned 11 interviews
were undertaken (i.e., it was deemed that interviewing more participants would not add
to the overall story; Strauss and Corbin, 1998). Thematic analysis – which does not
limit the analysis to any existing theoretical framework – was employed because it was
considered to be appropriate for investigating the under-researched topic of Japanese
managers’ experiences of NLP (Braun and Clarke, 2006). Thematic analysis identifies
the essential concepts and patterns of experience within the data by means of
segmentation, categorisation, summarisation, and reconstruction of the data. The
technique illustrates patterns in experience and identifies the common themes within
these patterns (Givens, 2008).
To maintain transparency and coherency, an investigator triangle (Hales, 2010)
was formed that comprised (i) the lead author, (ii) a psychology researcher who was
familiar with NLP training, and (iii) a non-NLP-trained researcher. The second and third
member of the investigator triangle reviewed the data extracts relating to each of the
themes identified during the lead author’s analysis, and an agreement was reached in all
cases. The three individuals involved in the investigator triangle were all native
Japanese speakers and they likewise examined the quality of the translation from
Japanese to English.
The following steps were taken as part of the thematic analysis:
After transcribing, all the scripts were read and re-read in order to search for
patterns of meaning (Braun and Clarke, 2006).
2. Generating initial codes
Coding was then conducted to help formulate the data into purposeful groups
(Tuckett, 2005), yielding as many codes as possible (Braun and Clarke, 2006). Twenty-
four initial codes were formulated: NLP eight-frame outcome, reframe, neuro-logical
levels, association/dissociation, position change, understanding the human mind,
communication, goal setting, meta-model, flexibility, applicability, motivation,
coaching, identity, presentation, misunderstanding, perspective change, power of
questions, principles, swish pattern, self-control, trust, psychological safety, and
3. Searching for themes
The codes were organised into potential themes. In order to view all the codes at
the same time, while moving and connecting them flexibly, the mind-map method was
employed (Braun and Clarke, 2006). The twenty-four codes were grouped into four
themes: (i) improving mental health, (ii) understanding the human mind, (iii) frame
change, and (iv) challenges of NLP.
4. Reviewing themes
All the coded data extracts were reviewed for coherency and accuracy (Braun
and Clarke, 2006). Four types of data were identified: (i) NLP management
applications, (ii) what NLP teaches, (iii) what NLP does, and (iv) limitations relating to
using NLP in an organisational setting. The aforementioned theme of ‘improving
mental health’ related to (i) NLP management applications; the theme of ‘understanding
the human mind’ related to (ii) what NLP teaches; the theme of ‘frame change’ related
to (iii) what NLP does; and the theme of ‘challenges of NLP’ related to (iv) limitations
concerning using NLP in an organisational setting.
5. Defining and naming themes
Lastly, the central meaning and the scope of data captured by each theme were
defined (Braun and Clarke, 2006). For example, reviewing the data extracts for
‘improving mental health’ revealed that the NLP skills of neurological-levels and meta-
model improved managers ability to augment employee levels of motivation, trust, and
Four themes emerged from the analysis: i) improving work-related
mental health, ii) NLP fosters an understanding of the mind, iii) NLP helps to
reframe perspectives, and iv) challenges of NLP in organisational settings.
Table 2. Master themes and example participant excerpt
Example Participant Excerpt
Related Mental Health
NLP skills, for example the eight-frame outcome, help us to think about
how we want to be. Each member of staff can think about how they want
to be, and what actualising this would mean to their life. (Participant 1).
NLP Fosters an
Understanding of the
NLP systematically analyses our psychology, so based on that, you can
think about how to change your own behaviours (Participant 3).
NLP Helps to Reframe
My primary frame has changed from ‘Why do I (or my team) have to do
this?’ to ‘How can I (or my team) use this for the better?’ ... Now I ask
myself ‘What can I learn from this?’ or ‘What positive consequences
would I face if I did this?’ This helps me to stay focused on what I need to
do (Participant 8).
Challenges of NLP in
If I advertise ‘NLP’ training to my team, they wouldn’t be interested….
The word ‘NLP’ does not have a citizenship in my office, while ‘coaching’
or ‘mental training’ does (Participant 7).
Theme 1: Improving Work-Related Mental Health
All of the senior managers reported that by using NLP in their management
practice, they were able to augment occupational mental health competencies (e.g.,
autonomous motivation, trust, psychological safety) in both their staff and themselves:
Participant 1: NLP skills, for example the eight-frame outcome, help us to think
about how we want to be. Each member of staff can think about how they want
to be, and what actualising this would mean to their life. Helping them identify
their personal meaning to their work creates a different quality of motivation in
Participant 6: To increase our productivity, trustful relationships are very
important. When I tell my staff the company vision and future plans, it would be
meaningless if my staff didn't trust the company. Neuro-logical levels help me to
gain congruence among my vision, how I need to be and behave, and this creates
trustful relationships with them.
Participant 2: I believe sponsorship is love. We feel psychologically safe when
given sponsorship, an acknowledgement at an identity level. Many managers
more often attack their staff's identity than acknowledge it. Attacking one's
identity really damages one's safety.
These data extracts appear to support the view that NLP improved work-related mental
health, especially by augmenting positive psychological effects (AUTHOR1, 2018). In
NLP, the eight-frame outcome, also known as the well-formed outcome (Yamazaki,
2007), consists of eight frames or questions to help an individual achieve a goal:
outcome, evidence, context, ecological, resource, limitation, meta-outcome, and action
frames. Participants found this goal-setting method useful as it appeared to enhance
autonomous motivation as well as positive emotions towards both their own and their
employees’ work. Furthermore, the above data extracts indicate that participants were
making use of an NLP skill known as neuro-logical levels (Dilts, 1996). This NLP skill
is inspired by the fundamental levels of learning and change (Bateson, 1972) and helps
NLP practitioners describe and use these levels accordingly: environment, behaviours,
capabilities, beliefs/values, identify, and spiritual levels. For example, NLP practitioners
can use this skill to clarify, shape and develop adaptive working strategies that are
conducive to cultivating mental health and wellness within themselves and their team
Theme 2: NLP Fosters an Understanding of the Mind
The senior managers reported that NLP improved their understanding of the
human mind which enabled them to apply NLP skills flexibly within the context of their
work. In particular, participants appeared to deepen their understanding of some of the
basic functions of the human mind, including its desire for understanding (Yamazaki,
2007), inclination toward meaning making (Bandler and Grinder, 1975), and a
preference of pleasure over pain (Ready and Burton, 2016):
Participant 3: NLP systematically analyses our psychology, so based on that, you
can think about how to change your own behaviours. ... In counselling and
coaching, you are advised to have more experience to learn the applications,
however, NLP teaches the principles and essence of our mind, so that you can
apply each skill to your work contexts.
Participant 4: Knowing skills alone is not enough; you need to understand the
mechanism behind them, in order to create managers’ training that makes a
Insight into these core psychological principles appeared to help the senior managers
understand how and why each NLP skill works, and to be able to evaluate and compare
NLP with other interventions accordingly. For example:
Participants 4: There are so many self-help books suggesting different ways to
succeed in management. But they tend to only tell you what to do, based on what
the author did that worked in their contexts. The principles that I learned in the
NLP training help me analyse why those methods work, and what part of them
could be applicable to my context.
Participants 11: In my earlier coaching training, I didn’t really learn the logic of
how each skill works, and how to apply them to different situations. I had to rely
on my experience to learn applications. NLP taught me what coaching was
missing: how each skill works.
The above participant extracts appear to be related to a key training goal of NLP which
is fostering the ability to analyse excellence (Ready and Burton, 2016). For example, if
a client is feeling confident, an NLP practitioner might ask questions such as ‘Where do
you feel confidence in your body?’, ‘What colour is the feeling?’ etc. Assigning
qualities to feelings and linking these qualities to the five sense domains (i.e., visual,
auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory) is an NLP process known as assigning
‘sub-modalities’ (O’Connor and McDermott, 2001). Sub-modalities help practitioners
understand their client’s internal map of the world and to subsequently model excellent
results that other individuals and teams have demonstrated.
Theme 3: NLP Helps to Reframe Perspectives
The word ‘frame’ is often used in NLP (including various subsets of the term
such as reframe, pre-frame, and ecological frame) to refer to an individual’s
perspectives towards a specific situation or object. For example, ‘reframing’ is
commonly used to modify perspective, including how an individual interprets objects
and people around them (O’Connor and McDermott, 2001). All participants reported
that NLP helped both them and their employees to cultivate more effective frames:
Participant 9: It is a drastic change in my team that we now often set up a
positive outcome first in each project for the team and individuals. For example,
one member of my staff was in charge of a difficult case. She was very anxious
about it, and hesitant to take any actions. We went through the eight frames to
create a positive outcome, which helped her to have a clear vision of how she
wanted this case to be at the end, instead of what she was nervous about.
Participant 8: My primary frame has changed from ‘Why do I (or my team) have
to do this?’ to ‘How can I (or my team) use this for the better?’ There are so
many stressful things, and I used to be drowning in the negative emotions. Now I
ask myself ‘What can I learn from this?’ or ‘What positive consequences would I
face if I did this?’ This helps me to stay focused on what I need to do.
Theme 4: Challenges of NLP in Organisational Settings
Although all participants were satisfied with their experience of receiving NLP
training, they also reported some challenges in using NLP in the workplace. One
notable challenge related to the use of the term ‘NLP’ in the organisation:
Participant 7: If I advertise ‘NLP’ training to my team, they wouldn’t be
interested. So, instead I say it’s coaching, training, or we will do some ‘mental
training’, then they would listen to me. The word ‘NLP’ does not have a
citizenship in my office, while ‘coaching’ or ‘mental training’ does.
Participants 10: While working, I earned a master’s degree in psychology,
studying part-time. During my master’s, I told some of the university faculties
that my research focus was on NLP, and they replied, ‘oh that commercialised
one’. It is very strange because coaching is more commercialised; more frequent
renewal fees and expensive training.
The above data extracts suggest a degree of frustration amongst participants in
the sense that they were convinced of the utility of NLP, but could not understand why
the technique was not more popular. In this context, some participants referred to how
the seemingly more acceptable practice of coaching – a collaborative development to
foster a client's ability to grow autonomously (Stober and Parry, 2005) – utilises
numerous practical assumptions that are based on NLP (AUTHOR1, 2018; McDermott
and Jago, 2006).
Another challenge identified by participants relates to the fact that NLP
originated in clinical practice. For example, some NLP skills require a long period of
time, a relatively large space, and/or body movements to be conducted, which can be
difficult in implement in a workplace setting. Furthermore, describing feelings and the
internal world is not natural for some business professionals, who sometimes prefer to
deal with objective (i.e., rather than subjective) facts:
Participant 9: What was hard to use for me was letting them move their body or
describe their feelings. ... Especially male staff or staff who rely on logical
thinking found difficult to engage in those exercises.
Participant 7: Especially elder staff showed difficulty describing their feelings,
because they were a generation who has endured severe criticism from their boss
and clients – and developed their mental resilience. They believe talking about
feelings is a sign of weakness, and a failure to maintain professionalism.
Participant 3: Some of the skills take a long time to conduct. For example,
though it is useful, the eight-frame outcome has eight questions to cover. In a
busy workplace, it is unrealistic to go through all of them. Five may be doable,
and three would be ideal.
The current study conducted a rigorous qualitative analysis of semi-structured
interviews attended by 11 senior Japanese managers who had completed NLP-PCT and
NLP-MPCT. Four themes emerged from the dataset: Improving work-related mental
health (theme 1), NLP fosters an understanding of the mind (theme 2), NLP helps to
reframe perspectives (theme 3), and the challenges of NLP (theme 4).
In organisational settings, NLP is often used to improve work mental health,
especially by augmenting positive psychological constructs (theme 1) rather than for
reducing negative constructs per its use in clinical contexts. This is consistent with
findings from the current study, where participants reported that NLP benefits
psychological wellbeing in different ways. In particular, managers reported that the
NLP skills of neuro-logical levels and well-formed outcomes played an important role
in supporting employee mental health. Neuro-logical levels appeared to help
participants identify the benefits of their work to the immediate and wider community,
and well-formed outcomes appeared to help them to formulate a detailed and realistic
plan in order to achieve a goal. These NLP skills are related to positive psychological
constructs such as mission and meaning, and other NLP studies have linked them to
improvements in work-related mental health (AUTHOR1 and Sheffield, 2017).
Throughout NLP certification training, participants learn several principles
relating to the functioning of the mind (theme 2). In NLP, this understanding is arguably
most directly cultivated via the process of modelling (i.e., modelling excellent
communication and results). Modelling strategies are a fundamental part of NLP and
have been used to help inspiring leaders such as Steve Jobs and Walt Disney (Dilts,
1996). A key factor that contributes to the modelling process in NLP is sub-modalities,
which constitute the detailed internal map of our inner experience. Sub-modalities are
similar to a philosophical concept known as qualia (Stanford University, 2015) as well
as a Buddhist concept known as rokkyou (‘六境’; Soothill and Hodous, 2014). Qualia
refer to the properties of sense data as well as how these properties are represented
internally (e.g., experiencing anxiety as a red large ball rising from the stomach;
Stanford University, 2015), and rokkyou refers to our internal experience of visual,
auditory, olfactory, gustatory, kinaesthetic, and ideological fields (Soothill and Hodous,
2014). Findings demonstrated that the senior managers believed that sub-modalities
helped both them and their employees understand that there is an idiosyncratic sensual
interpretation of the external world, and that becoming aware of this is an adaptive
means of relating to both feelings and sensory information.
Theme 3 indicated that NLP helped the senior managers and their employees to
formulate new, more adaptive, perspectives. NLP makes frequent use of presuppositions
such as ‘There is no failure, only feedback’ or ‘Behind every behaviour there is a
positive intention (O’Connor and McDermott, 2001).’ These presuppositions, modelled
from excellent communicators, are pedagogical devices intended to help practitioners
impart internal changes as a result of clients or employees revaluating assumptions,
thoughts and behaviours (Grimley, 2013). More specifically, theme 3 appears to
highlight a central function of NLP which is to challenge or change mental frames
(Rosen, 1991). Indeed, consistent with NLP studies of leaders working in clinical
settings (Dilts, 1996), the senior managers reported that in addition to changing their
way of thinking and how they relate to employees, NLP presuppositions and reframing
techniques enabled them to offer more supportive and motivational leadership.
Theme 4 highlighted some of the challenges of using NLP in Japanese
organisations. Indeed, as opposed to using the term NLP, the current sample of senior
managers preferred referring to the practice as ‘coaching’. This is consistent with wider
perceptions of NLP amongst professional bodies in both Japan and overseas, and it
indicates that ‘coaching’ is a more accepted term than ‘NLP’. For example, coaching
psychology was acknowledged by the British Psychological Society (BPS) in 2004
(BPS, 2005), while NLP has not been officially recognised to date. This is despite the
fact that there are significant overlaps between NLP and coaching in terms of both their
theoretical underpinnings and the techniques they employ (McDermott and Jago, 2006).
A plausible explanation for the difference in credibility between the two
approaches is that NLP is more commercialised (Grimley, 2016). Furthermore,
coaching is regulated by the International Coaching Federation yet there is currently not
an established regulatory body for NLP (Grimley, 2016). However, as reported by one
of the participants in the present study – who holds both NLP and coaching
certifications – coaching could also be considered ‘commercialised’ as it involves more
frequent licence renewals than NLP.
In addition to the credibility issue, there is also the question of whether NLP is
culturally syntonic for Japanese workers (AUTHOR1 et al., 2018). For example,
participants reported that a further challenge of using NLP related to a reticence
amongst some Japanese employees to discuss emotions at work. This may be due to
Japan’s masculine culture (Hofstede and Minkov, 2010) and the fact that some Japanese
workers feel considerable shame when discussing mental health issues (Tanaka et al.,
Given the logistical and psychological demands of using NLP in organisational
settings (e.g., duration of intervention, space availability, use of body movement
exercises, and voicing of feelings, etc.), there is a need for a greater understanding of
which specific NLP skills are most suitable for the Japanese workplace (i.e., exploring
the research question of whether there should be a subtype of NLP specifically tailored
for use in Japanese occupational contexts). The development of such a subtype has been
implemented to some degree (e.g., Knight, 1995), but a more focussed and centralised
approach is recommended.
Findings from this study are subject to a number of limitations. Indeed, as with
all qualitative studies, findings are specific to the current sample of study participants
and may not generalise to other Japanese senior managers. Furthermore, bias may be
present given that all participants were trained NLP practitioners that regularly use NLP
as part of their work. The lead author’s involvement with NLP also might have caused
bias, however this was countered by the investigator triangulation, and the second
author i) assessing the interview questions, ii) reviewing the data analysis, and iii) co-
creating the reporting. Qualitatively exploring the experiences of managers’ employees
would also likely deepen understanding of the utility of NLP in Japanese corporations.
The present study demonstrated that Japanese senior managers experience NLP as an
effective means of augmenting work-related mental health and performance in both
themselves and their employees. In particular, although the Japanese senior managers
that participated in this study made reference to the challenges of using NLP, they
emphasised the value of NLP skills in terms of helping individuals understand their
mental processes and relate to work problems in a manner that fosters mental wellbeing
The current findings, that explore participants’ first-hand experiences of using
NLP, also help to inform the wider debate concerning the utility of NLP. More
specifically, while previous NLP organisational studies have tended not to focus on
evaluating the dynamics of how NLP works from a manager’s perspective, this study
identified that there are a number of key NLP skills (e.g., reframing, well-formed
outcome, and neuro-logical levels) that are experienced as being beneficial by senior
Japanese business leaders. A further investigation of these skills may contribute to the
development of novel solutions in terms of addressing mental health and managerial
problems faced by Japanese organisations.
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