Leadership at the peak

Behind every behaviour is a positive intention

By George W Nyabadza

THE Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) model identifies three key qualities that excellent communicators live by –

identifying explicit and achievable outcomes, using sensory awareness to notice responses and flexibly altering behaviour to achieve outcomes.




This week I would like to share with you the key aspects of the third quality. I continue to draw from my training as a qualified NLPer as well as the teachings of my mentors, Van Wyk and Hall.


NLP bases its model and transformational processes around 20 or so core pre-suppositions. Pre-suppositions are ideas or assumptions that are taken for granted for a communication to make sense, or in a more literal sense of the definition of the phrase, that which holds (position) up (sup) a statement ahead of time (pre).


Each pre-supposition unlocks the communication complex in a unique and powerful way. The one that I love the most and which I find deeply empowering states; “behind every behaviour is a positive intention driving it, find the positive intention and you can create more choices for behaviour patterns”.


The first time I heard this statement my mind refused to believe it. It was easy enough to accept when I observed my positive behaviours but when I looked at what I personally knew where negative or unacceptable behaviour patterns, I struggled to appreciate that there was any positive intent behind it all.


Too often we associate the behaviour with the intention and even more deeply troubling, we further add in a more disempowering association when we link the person with the behaviour. So the criminal just wants to hurt and cause pain and is at the same time a ‘”societal misfit”.


NLP says separate the behaviour from the intention. The criminal has caused pain but the deeper intention may not be to cause hurt and pain but may be driven by low self-esteem and therefore an inability, arising out of stunted emotions or distorted neurological maps (see “The well formed outcome”, (Zimbabwe Independent, October 29), to handle relational challenges.


NLP says that every behaviour has a useful value in some context. However, this does not approve of destructive behaviour. It rather separates person and behaviour and recognises that as “behaviour” there probably exists some context in which a behaviour has value.


When we engage in bad behaviour, we are seeking to accomplish something, something of value, something important, and so we do the best we can with the resources we have. Our intent at the time involves a positive intention, but filtered through limited understandings and erroneous ideas, precisely the reason for the biblical “renewing the mind” in order to become transformed.


Part of the process of “renewing the mind” is, as you may appreciate by now, the business of changing neuro-linguistic maps. We do not respond (behaviour) to the world as it exists, but according to our map about it.


These maps consist of our beliefs, values, attitudes, language, memories and other psychological filters. Within our consciousness we experience these maps as simply “our thoughts”. Yet as the wise king Solomon said centuries ago “as we think so we are”.


In this way our internal representation maps (mind) interact with our physiology (body) to produce our states (emotions). Then our states drive our behaviour. As we can see the issue is not the manifest behaviour but rather the inner core of beliefs, values etc (the map).


In order to create more behaviour options, one needs to question the beliefs and values that the behaviour seeks to fulfill and then creatively develop alternative behaviours that can meet that need. So if smoking meets the value of relaxation and ease maybe deep meditation for 15 minutes, three times a day may still satisfy the same value but more healthily.

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