I was teaching my Coaching for Change/NLP Coach course over the weekend, as part of it we give an overview of the GROW model developed by Sir John Whitmore. The GROW Model has become one of the standard coaching approaches over the years, particularly in the world of business or executive coaching, so it is necessary to give an overview of the model.

The GROW model was one of the first real attempts to represent what goes on in the coaching interaction. The key word in the GROW model is “model”.

So, lets go back to first principles for a moment, what is a “model”?

In it’s broadest definitions a model is “A three-dimensional representation of a person or thing or of a proposed structure, typically on a smaller scale than the original.”

In more specific scientific terminology it can be defined as “A schematic description of a system, theory, or phenomenon that accounts for its known or inferred properties and may be used for further study of its characteristics.”

What does that mean for NLP? NLP is the “study of the structure of subjective experience”. It is an attempt, in some meaningful way, to create a representation of what is going in our minds. We can use this model to inform our behaviours. Developed from this model has been some formalised processes, applications and “techniques” as well as some other more detailed or context specific models; the Strategy Model, or the Sleight of Mouth Model for example.

Unfortunately these models are so often presented as processes, or worse, techniques. One of the biggest problems of NLP is that it can be offered as a “bunch of techniques”. These techniques are NOT NLP they are applications developed from the model of NLP.

But what is the problem with presenting them as processes or techniques?

The problem with taking models and presenting them as processes or techniques is two-fold:

  1. The problem with all process or technique based thinking is that you end up with a fundamental inverse of what you should really be doing. You create a Procrustean bed; you expect the world to fit your technique and not the technique to fit the world. You use the wrong criteria to judge success (whether you completed the process effectively, rather than whether the process had any effect) and if the process doesn’t work you tend to blame the world not your techniques.
  2. It removes any form of flexibility. The reason the GROW model is presented as a model is that it is trying to capture, in some meaningful way, an approach to coaching. It is flexible and dynamic (as are all good coaching sessions and coaches), if you present it as a process (as is so often is), with a  “start here, end here” approach you remove that necessary flexibility (and miss the point of what a model actually).

There is nothing wrong with using a technique, it is a formalised short-cut to getting a specific result in a specific context. But don’t confuse Model with Process, be aware what the difference is (for example, is the Swish Pattern a process or a model?) and it is appropriate to apply a model or use a technique.

1 reply
  1. Martin Messier
    Martin Messier says:

    Hey Matt,

    Great article.

    I’ve started using the term “protocol” to refer to those step-by-step techniques like the Swish, Compulsion Blowout, etc.

    My understanding is that models are descriptions, not injunctions. An example of a model is eye accessing cues. It describes and maps out a particular system, without having any step-by-step instructions associated to it.

    Patterns refer to actual behavioral strategies used by people. Erickson’s language patterns, for instance.

    So models, protocols and patterns. And the fog starts clearing up.

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