NLP Life Training - 10 Years

Content Versus Process - by John La Valle

In the natural occurrence of interacting with others, there is an often missed application of contexts in which the exchange of information can be considerably more impactful. While most people are familiar with the terms "content and process, or even "content and form", these two contexts of application are best described as "What" and "How."In NLP terms, if we take an example of the visual modality, the "what", or content, becomes those elements, objects, that make up the image, whereas the "submodalities" of the image, the size, brightness, distance, etc. are the process. This is one way to "look at it."

But, how important does each of these, content vs. process, become in any dynamic relationship, including that of managing others, educating others, even including ourselves?

A few examples of how noticing the effects of each can offer the opportunity to be more effective:

If the content is "what" is said, and the process is "how we say it", then how we say something is unarguably where we have the most probable opportunity for more success. Suppose I ask you to say this sentence aloud: "What are you doing today?", using a flat intonation, notice the effect. Now, without changing the content, keeping it the same, and changing "where" in the sentence you would place more emphasis where the work is bolded, notice how easily you can change the meaning of the sentence:

"What are you doing today?"
"What are you doing today?"
"What are you doing today?"
"What are you doing today?"
"What are you doing today?"

And suffice it to say that there is no process without content. No message to convey, no words, nothing else to change.

Just think, you can listen to your favorite CD or MP3 through your portable player, but notice "how" different it sounds through you home theater system!

In business, for example, one of the more challenging problems is not only the recognition of these dynamics, but sometimes the overdoing it of the process.

I get lots of opportunities to facilitate difficult situations, often between manager and employee(s). Simply put, the employee is given something (what) to do, or what needs to be done. Most people don't mind this. It's generally known as an assignment. When the manager also includes the "how to" do it, the employee soon becomes disgruntled. Generally speaking, most people don't mind being told how to do their job as long as they in "training", but once they are qualified, they want to liberty of doing their job the way they deem fit, etc. Now, while this doesn't mean they will always do it "right", when they don't, this means there is another opportunity for correction.
In the case where I get an inquiry where the potential customer calls, tells me "what" they want me to do, then continues on with "how" they want me to do it, I decline the offer.

So, why is it that someone's job performance ratings are determined by 2 things: what they do and how they do it. Where is more emphasis placed when it comes time for that salary increase or bonus? It's usually on both: what they accomplished and how they did it. It's also usually in the "how" they did it that was at the bottom of their successful accomplishment. In any well formed job description are 2 categories: responsibilities and role. The definitions:

ResponsibilitiesWhat the individual is required to do.
RoleHow they expected to carry this out.

I can tell you now that most people have no idea what their role is in or for their job. When I was first a training manager in a company many years ago, my defined role was that of an internal consultant, and that role was clearly defined by my director. He expected that we carry out our jobs in Human Resources as internal consultants, and not as the "people police."

Another example: Kathleen and I were once commissioned to put together some training manuals for a company. This was based on our ability to elicit information and then present it in a way that made sense to the everyday person. Our first question to ourselves was "How are we going to carry out this project most successfully?" The client company piled all of their manuals on us, including those from equipment manufacturers, vendors, etc., which well described their expectation of "what" should be in those manuals. But the real key was not what was going to be in the manuals, but "how" to get the employees to use them!

And so Kathleen and I decided that we would have the employees put together the manuals. We would organize them, facilitate them, teach them how to elicit good information from others, give them tools for getting the information recorded, facilitating their own meetings, reaching deadlines, etc. etc. Basically, this became a large, although well organized, "team building process", as well as culminating in training manuals that the employees put together. We only had to publish the manuals to look like training manuals. And, of course, be responsible for the process for which we were hired.

Now you may ask, "So what good was this process?" First, all the employees had to work together to accomplish this. Second, they had training manuals that they all agreed on. Third, they didn't have to use the training manuals much because they all became trained "in the process" of putting together the training manuals. And fourth, they now had training manuals they could "use" if and when they had a question and fifth, when they had to train new employees!

Then there are meeting dynamics: What is the meeting for? How will it be conducted? And I can go in and on and on. The danger with paying too much attention to the process is just that. Some organizations pay so much attention to the process that it becomes a game and nothing gets done, decisions don't get made or executed. They devote the process to the process and become overburdened with "how to do this."

Some very high performance managers we know have some of their subordinates read their mail and respond for them. Do you think this a a good "way" to develop people, or is it taking the lazy way out? Would you have them read everything? Respond to everything? Have meetings with them first to discuss "what" they've read and "how" they might respond? Is this a good career developmental process?

When subordinates have made a decision, do you argue with the decision? Do you ask "what" they decided then argue? Do you ask them "how" they decided this?

Remember, the content must be there, or there "no thing" to communicate. The process must be there in order to carry it out successfully. Both are necessary, and so now the quality issue becomes the marriage of both.

There are so many opportunities for looking at the dynamics of interactions, I'm wondering what you will notice next and how you will make changes to it for yourself.

So What would YOU do if only YOU could? and How would YOU do it? How we do it is very different than how others do it, and we can teach it to you

Find out more in our upcoming NLP Practitioner and NLP Master Practitioner Programs and Charisma Enhancement™ (Trainer Training) in the USA this July with Richard Bandler!


John La Valle

©2009 La Valle, all rights reserved in all media



John La Valle is the President of the Society of NLP. A highly respected trainer in business and therapeutic environments, John La Valle is famed for his wit and dynamism in all training environments. To read John's newsletter, visiti his website at:



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