Burton, Rob (2012) The potential of utilising Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in qualitative research. In: The Third International Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Research Conference, 6th-7th July 2012, Hertfordshire, UK.

The aim of this paper is to discuss the potential of NLP approaches in relation to qualitative research.
The discussion will be developed and examples provided from a part of a Doctoral Thesis entitled
‘Learning Styles and Neuro-Linguistic Programming Representational Systems in Nurse Education’.
Further discussion will then take place around qualitative approaches in NLP and the potential
utilisation of NLP techniques as legitimate methods in wider qualitative research fields. This includes
the suggestion of using logical levels, perceptual positions and the BAGEL framework (Dilts et al,
1980, Roberts, 2006,) in developing research questions and analysing data (Burton, 2009), and the
use of the NLP meta model as an interviewing method (Mitchell, 2000).’.
In the actual study the relationship between Learning Styles and Neuro-Linguistic Programming
(NLP) internal representational systems in Student Nurses was explored (Burton, 2004). It was
conducted using a mixed methods approach, quantitative and qualitative: Firstly, a questionnaire
package was delivered to student nurses to ascertain their learning styles and internal
representational preferences. Secondly, in the qualitative aspect, participants were video
interviewed to determine how they structured their learning experiences internally and how this
was demonstrated in their body positions and their language. The qualitative aspect of the research
will be used to underpin this discussion.
It is fairly well accepted that interviews are flexible and adaptable ways of finding information and
that qualitative data may be useful in supplementing and illustrating any quantitative data obtained
in research (Robson, 2002). Within the interviews in the study the questions were asked utilising the
meta-model of Bandler and Grinder (1975) to challenge the generalisations, distortions or deletions
that the informants offered. In this way the respondents were able to describe their experiences in
clear, concise sensory-grounded language. Hollway and Jefferson (2000) suggest that face-to-face
interviewing has become the most common type of qualitative research method used in order to
find out about people’s experiences in context and the meanings they hold. It could be argued that
NLP approaches can enhance the interpretation of such experiences by providing wider forms of
In the study the data were analysed using the process of content analysis. Priest, Roberts and Woods
(2002) describe content analysis as facilitating the production of core constructs from textual data
through a systematic method of reduction and analysis. The body movements of the participants were
also analysed using the BAGEL framework from Dilts et al (1980) as a basis. This enhanced the
analysis by providing a richer interpretation of the content that the students were describing.
One of the criticisms often levelled at NLP is its lack of empirical research evidence and rigour
(Roderique-Davies, 2009). Research in NLP is developing and there is a growing evidence base
around the topic. Studies into NLP have regularly used qualitative approaches as a basis. For
example, Brown (2004,) reports a qualitative study investigating NLP meta-programmes in the
classroom. Ashok and Santhakumar (2002) investigated improvement of quality in three different
occupational groups, Bolstad and Prochazka (2003) discussed two case studies related to NLP
interventions in reducing chronic pain.
In conclusion it is hoped that the discussion will raise awareness and contributions to the potential
for NLP in qualitative research.

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email