NLP Techniques: Positive Intent

Submitted by Craig on Tue, 04/25/2017 - 01:42

The Idea:

In NLP, there is a powerful presupposition that at some level, every behavior has some positive intent behind it... even those behaviors that seem negative. Though many people outside of NLP might disagree philosophically with this presupposition, we stand by its power to deliver great results in change work, or in an arbitration setting between two parties. As we address problematic emotions and behaviors, we assume that they serve or have served some useful purpose, and so by learning what that positive intent is or was, we can find a better substitute motion or behavior that delivers that same intent.

In order to replace a negative emotion or behavior with a more positive one, we must first give it an audience, hear and honor it for its positive intent, and ask its permission to do something else instead. Once the positive intent is satisfied, then the negative emotion or behavior is no longer required in order to achieve it.

The Pattern:

1. Identify and negative emotion or negative behavior

  • What is the problem or trouble that seems to serve no useful purpose for you?
  • What difficulties do you struggle with that seem to be negatively motivated?
  • Is there a part of you that makes you act selfishly, hesitantly, brashly, irresponsibly?

2. Find the part responsible for the negative behavior, and address it directly

(Remember that there are really no "parts", but there are aspects of our personalities that we can address as though they were distinct parts.)

  • Close your eyes and go inside yourself, and get in touch with the part of you that causes you to behave that way.
  • Ask that part, what is the positive reason or intent for that behavior?
  • Ask that part, what other positive reasons or intentions might there be?

3. Ask questions that chunk up on a positive intention until you arrive at a level where new agreement can be made

  • When that part of you gets what it wants for you, what does that get you?
  • And when you get that, then what does that get for you?
  • And when you get that, is the intention fully satisfied?

4. Ask permission of that part to find a new way to achieve that highest intent

  • Is it okay now for your unconscious mind to find a new way to achieve that intent?
  • Are there any aspects of that part of you that might not allow you to find a new way to achieve your intent?
  • Is there any other part of you that objects to finding a new way to achieving that intent?

When To Use This Pattern:

Use this pattern in your own life when trying to replace that nagging voice in your head with another voice is more soothing, encouraging and positive. Use this pattern to understand the positive intent of others who might have ignored, shamed, or otherwise harmed or hurt you. This does necessarily mean that those who might have gravely harmed you should not be prosecuted, but it will help your unconscious mind to reach a place of understanding, leading to forgiveness, so that you can move on with your life.

Use the Positive Intent pattern with your clients to help them understand that it's okay to find better ways to achieve a positive outcome. This pattern is great for diminishing guilt, self derision, and for helping to repair or improve relationships.

Use the Positive Intent pattern in negotiations when two parties cannot agree on the details, but may agree by chunking up to a higher level.

The Positive Intent pattern also works great with kids and teenagers, and is a life skill to be developed early and often.


Michael Hall, and others.